Friday, June 23, 2017

17 Russian Regions Seek to Opt Out of Compatriots’ Resettlement Program



Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Hard-pressed to meet their responsibilities under the unfunded liabilities Moscow has imposed on them in many areas, 17 federal subjects have applied to exit from the politically sensitive but often prohibitively expensive program to resettle Russian compatriots on their territories.

            Aleksandr Gorovoy, a deputy interior minister, told the Federation Council this week that the decisions of the regional governments reflected “not only economic problems such as the absence of housing and jobs but also about the demographic risks arising from the program” (polit.ru/article/2017/06/22/regions/).

                Natalya Zubarevich, director of regional programs at Moscow’s Independent Institute of Social Policy, tells Polit.ru that the actions of the regions reflect the difficult economic situation many of them are in. They don’t have the money to give these people what Moscow has promised, and they don’t need them as workers because there is no work.

            But Ilya Grashenkov, the director of the Moscow Center for the Development of Regional Policy, says there is another reason: the arrival of returning compatriots creates problems for regional officials because the program as defined by the center requires them to give these people preferences and advantages that they can’t give to their own people.

            That creates tensions that no regional leader needs, he says.

            What makes this action by 17 regions so important is that it constitutes a regional fronde of protest against the unfunded liabilities Moscow has been imposing on regional administrations in recent years and in an area which Vladimir Putin himself has indicated he takes a personal interest.

            If more regions join this protest or if various regions make similar demands to opt out of unfunded liabilities that Moscow has imposed, that has the potential to revive a certain fiscal federalism that Putin has done everything in his power to suppress. At the very least, it will create problems for the center that the Kremlin will be compelled to address.

Bryansk Parents Fighting Putin’s Closure of Rural Schools



Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Parents in rural areas of Bryansk Oblast, long dismissed as part of the red rust belt and one of the most traditional and deferential places in the Russian Federation, are now fighting to save their schools from Moscow’s “optimization” program, something they say is nothing more than a euphemism for “closing” what are often the main centers of village life.

            Given the dying out of rural Russia in recent decades, with tens of thousands of villages now ghost towns across the country, it is no surprise that the government is closing schools where there are no people left, but its “creeping optimization” has now come to places where there are still residents – and Russian parents are responding with outrage and activism.

            When schools are closed, they say, their children often cannot get to the proposed alternative because they don’t have cars and there are no buses or even roads.  One regional suggested these parents “home school” their children, an impossibility for most who work full time (takiedela.ru/2017/06/polzuchaya-optimizaciya/).

            According to Takiye Dela journalist Anastasiya Lotaryeva, this is turning the most improbably people into active protesters, who are taking to the streets, confronting local officials and writing appeals to Moscow leaders simply because they don’t know what else to do to ensure that their children get an education and their villages survive.

            One woman Lotaryeva met with pointed out that she “doesn’t’ have a driver’s license and goes everywhere exclusively by foot. I do not understand how my child will get to school.” The roads are terrible, there are no buses, and she herself works two jobs, having lost another one when she allowed her daughter to come to her workplace to wait after school.

            The regional and local authorities have tried a variety of schemes to force the closure of schools, the journalist says, seeking to declare their buildings unsafe and in no case informing the parents in advance of what will happen to their children after the school is closed.  The authorities have been equally incommunicative with teachers.

            The parents are more active than the teachers, the journalist says, because the teachers have been told that they will lose their jobs if they complain. But as one of them noted, she is a parent too and thus should have the right to defend the interests of her child. That argument has been rejected by the authorities, Lotaryeva says.

            When the Takiye dela writer attempted to find out who was behind the closings, officials tried to pass the buck, blaming others and refusing to take any responsibility. But their comments showed that they are all part of the problem and that they have no intention of yielding to parents or teachers, however much the latter try to defend their schools.

            The number of school closings in Bryansk oblast has been massive: In 2013, 38 schools were closed, and in the following tow years, 18 more.  A KPRF activist said he and the parents had tried to block these “optimizations” but without much success – they did save one school last year -- even when teachers continued to hold classes in schools that had been closed down.

            Those resisting the school closings have become increasingly Internet savvy, posting online their appeals to Moscow and pointing out that there is no way for their children to get to alternative schools: “We have no buses, we have no stops, our roads are bad, just look at how many crosses there are alongside them.”

            And they add: “We do not agree with the decisions of the authorities, but we also understand that no one asked us” before they acted against our interests and those of our children.” And many of the villagers fear that thanks to Moscow’s policies, they too are being “’optimized’” and will soon cease to exist.



Kremlin Aide Lists Moscow’s Five Biggest Concerns in North Caucasus



Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Magomedsalam Magomedov, the former head of Daghestan who is now deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration, told the leaders of the republics in the North Caucasus that Moscow currently has five major concerns about developments in their region that they must address.

            In remarks to the annual conference in Pyatigorsk yesterday on the carrying out of the government’s nationality policy in the region, the Kremlin official listed the following five tasks that he said should be “in the center of their attention” in the coming months (tass.ru/v-strane/4358860):  

1.      Imposing control on migration processes not only between the region and the rest of Russia but between mountainous rural areas and the region’s major cities.

2.      Blocking radicalism both religious and ethnic.

3.      Ensuring a “balanced” language policy, something that would involve both promoting Russian while avoiding a full-scale attack on the languages of the indigenous nationalities.

4.      Promoting the agro-industrial sector in such a way that its development will not harm the traditional farming practices of the population.

5.      And overcoming “’old’ inter-ethnic conflicts and territorial disputes.”

None of these are new, but two aspects of Magomedov’s remarks are worthy of note. On the one hand, he gave equal attention to ethnic and religious radicalism, a shift away from Moscow’s recent insistence that its problems in the North Caucasus are almost exclusively the result of an Islamist threat.

And on the other, his reference to territorial disputes suggests Moscow is more worried about challenges to existing borders than it has let on, challenges that threaten to destabilize and possibly disintegrate Daghestan and to lead to a redrawing of republic borders especially in the western part of the region.

As one would expect, Magomedov celebrated the fact that Russians in the country as a whole are more upbeat about inter-ethnic problems now than they have been, with only 14 percent saying that clashes are imminent in their regions. But in the North Caucasus, he pointed out, those fearful of the future in this sector are considerably more, “almost 24 percent.”