Why the Regions Hate Moscow
Published: August 14, 2013 (Issue # 1773)
A recent report by Center for Strategic Research head Mikhail Dmitriyev concludes that Russians have undergone a major attitude shift this past year. Convinced of the futility of attempts to change the country’s political and social economic system through massive streets protests such as those held on Bolotnaya Ploshchad and Prospekt Akademika Sakharova, Muscovites now suffer from “learned helplessness syndrome” and have quietly returned to their previous focus on consumerism.
Meanwhile, the center of the protest movement has shifted to the regions. It is there that the displeasure with the status quo is mounting and new hotbeds of political protest are forming.
Take, for example, the protests in early July that were held in the town of Pugachyov, population 40,000, in the Saratov region. The conflict broke out after a local former paratrooper was murdered by a young Chechen who had come to Pugachyov to visit relatives. Local residents were up in arms, and protesters blocked a federal highway. They would have seized the municipal administration building if riot police hadn’t blocked them in time.
The Pugachyov disturbance brought to the surface a volatile mix of the usual xenophobia, including demands to evict all Chechens from the city and sharp discontent with the social and economic conditions in the country’s provinces. In Pugachyov, the average salary is roughly 6,000 rubles ($183) per month. The city’s condensed milk factory, concrete plant and other industries shut down years ago, and people see no future whatsoever for themselves or their children.
Pugachyov and the Saratov region as a whole are perfect examples of the blight and hopelessness in provincial towns, cities and regions. The Saratov region has a debt of 40 billion rubles ($1.2 billion). Its roads and social services are in ruins. Saratov, like nearly every other region in the country, is withering away because of lack of funding, poverty, closed factories and no jobs. The only things that are increasing in these regions are alcoholism, domestic violence, crime and drug abuse.
Embittered and impoverished Russians are ready to blame the decline of their cities and regions not only on migrants, foreigners, people from the North Caucasus, gays and lesbians, but to an even greater degree on local regional and federal authorities. After initially demanding the eviction of all Chechens from the town, angry protesters added to their list of demands: raising salaries, lowering utility rates, creating new jobs, restoring municipal infrastructure such as roads and street lighting and improving medical care.
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