Sunday, November 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Can the People of Pskov Oblast Save Themselves by Themselves?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 30 – Ignored by Russian officials in Moscow and Pskov, some 2,000 people and businesses of Veliky Luki in Pskov oblast have organized a Union for the Rebirth of Pskov Kray to provide assistance to those who need it most in one of the most economically depressed regions of European Russia.


            The group, which journalist Aleksandr Kalinin says, has given itself “a somewhat pretentious name,” has been active for a decade and includes many who are not themselves well off but who have not fallen into the poverty and despair of many of their neighbors (


            And the Union has helped dozens if not hundreds of single mothers, veterans of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster clean up, invalids, and veterans of World War II, the Afghan war and the Chechen war, people who have slipped through the increasingly thin state-supplied safety net.


            Its individual actions may seem small and unimportant in the grand design, Kalinin says, but to those who receive its help, they matter profoundly and ultimately they may matter more than the actions of the distant political parties and equally distant state institutions.


            In one case, the Union gave a woman who had lost her cow the money to buy another one so she could have milk for her children. In another, it provided funds so that the daughter of an invalid mother could continue her education and become a nurse. And in a third, it found and renovated an apartment for a Chechen war veteran who had returned home without legs.


            All of these people had sought assistance from state agencies, assistance that they are entitled to under the law. And all had been refused. But rather than allow them to suffer, the Union raised money by various activities, helped with renovations, and secured access to those who would never have had a chance otherwise.


             But its members have done more: They have collected books for rural libraries which could not afford to buy them. They have bought furniture and other goods for poor people. They have organized concerts to raise money for poor children. And they have sent the most seriously ill to Moscow and Petersburg for treatment.


            The Union’s good works continue to expand, Kalinin says, noting that it and its members are filling a need that the Russian authorities won’t or can’t. And he concludes that while such social assistance is important, it is “secondary” to the political implications of such self-organization.


            The Union is empowering people offering the help and helping those who can’t get it from anyone else. “May God grant,” the journalist concludes, “that every one of our political parties would be conducting something similar in local areas.” Russia and not just Pskov would be much better off.


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