Streetwise Professor

December 16, 2010

Throw Momma From the Flat

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:53 pm

In Tsarist times, serfs were often rounded up and sent out to work virgin lands.  In the Soviet era, Soviet citizens were moved forcibly en masse to construct entire factory complexes and cities like Magnitogorsk.  In these eras, workers of the Russian Empire of the Soviet one were treated like cattle to achieve the power fantasies of the rulers.

Apparently this mindset hasn’t changed, although the focus now will not be on shoving workers around, but on shoving non-workers.  Specifically, both Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Belgorodskaya governor Yevgeny Savchenko have proposed forcing old people out of their homes in urban centers like Moscow into pensioner villages, thereby freeing space for employable people:

Make it so that there would be five million people living here [in Moscow], and all the issues would be resolved without capital investment,” said Savchenko. He additionally promised to help other regional governors develop the infrastructure necessary for such a project. Under the plan, villages for pensioners would be built all across Russia’s Central Federal District, which spans more than 250,000 square miles around Moscow – and possibly elsewhere. “This is a big country – there’s the Far East, and Siberia,” Savchenko said.

Siberia.  Great.  The very word evokes such wonderful memories for Russian oldsters, I’d bet.

The fact of the matter is that Moscow pensioners live practically in all of your regions – in dachas, in small cottages,” said Sobyanin. “Some live through the winter, cast aside, cold. Some in far away villages.”

The mayor said that such a resettlement strategy could help pensioners currently suffering from their apparently uninhabitable Moscow housing. “It’ll be so they feel normal,” he explained. “This past summer they choked on smoke in those boxes, and it’s better to live in good, well-built villages in nature.”

Sounds wonderful.  Little Friendshipski Villages strewn across Russia’s verdant vales (well, verdant maybe 3 months a year, anyways).  Happy babushkas, whiling away their Golden Years in some Siberian idyll.

Sounds wonderful, that is, until you recognize that the “good, well-built villages in nature” will never, ever, materialize–except for a few Potemkin demonstration projects.  Too expensive.  Instead, if this happens you know that people will be bundled away into godforsaken places in appalling conditions.  I can hear it now: “there are all of these villages that are almost depopulated.  Let’s save on capital investment by moving the old farts into them.  Out of sight, out of mind.”

It is unlikely, of course, that even in modern Russia such a harebrained scheme will come to fruition.  One of the few political challenges Putin faced was from pensioners furious that some of their in-kind benefits had been converted to cash.  That would pale in comparison to the uproar that would accompany a senior “settlement policy” (Savchenko’s exact, creepy phrase).

But the very fact that the recently appointed mayor of Russia’s most important city would discuss such a thing, and indeed say that there is “a seed of rationality in this proposal” is quite revealing.  It betrays the persistence of a mindset in which people are deemed to be little more than chattel to be moved about to achieve state goals.  And state and society in which officials at the highest echelons of power view people as cattle will never achieve even the simulacrum of modernity.

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  1. What’s wrong with Magnitogorsk?

    Comment by So? — December 16, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

  2. Were those who run Russia not so clueless, they’d realise that by the simple expedient of removing the ludicrous registration laws this problem would solve itself. Pensioners would be able to sell their apartments at a huge premium and move somewhere cheaper, same as they do in normal countries.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 17, 2010 @ 1:45 am

  3. This proposal, which will probably never happen, follows the line of similar situations that have been occurring in Moscow for a long time and seems to reflect Russia’s uncertain relationship towards private property. People with not enough clout can have their flats taken away from them if someone (typically a firm) wants the building in order to convert it into offices, or if one’s upstairs neighbor is a government minister who wants to buy your flat to turn his into a 2-story one. At least, in all such cases I have heard of, the people evicted from their homes are compensated with something of approximately equal value. The problem of course is that market value doesn’t take into account location. One can’t put a monetary value on the uprootedness of being forced to give up a 60 square meter apartment in need of some repair in the center, and compensated with a 120 squaremeter apartment right off the subway in a nice new building somewhere on the edge of the city.

    For this reason, people shopping for very nice flats in central Moscow are advised to avoid small buildings (such as pre-Revolutionary ones). It’s easier to uproot a few dozen people than it is to do so with a few hundred.

    The background context to this situation is that most of the pensioners did not buy those flats anyways; they simply inherited them by living in them when the USSR fell and everybody was given title to the place they happened to live in at the time of the collapse. Many of the ones who ended up with prime real estate in the city center have, in a sense, “won the lottery” and have sold their places for a lot of money, exchanging them for much larger (or several) flats outide the city center for themselves and their families. Others are financially successful and are in little danger of being pushed aside. The ones remaining in their city-center flats who are at risk of the plan described in your post are probably those without children, or children who have moved abroad, who never adjusted to the post-Soviet reality and who let their flats sink into very bad shape due to the inability to care for them.

    I saw such a woman once in Yeliseyevska (the beautiful gorcery store on Tverskaya). Dressed in a fur that my wife said was probably quite expensive when bought in the 1970’s, thw woman (probably in her 80’s) appeared to be quite shabby and was bitterly complaining to anyone within earshot that she couldn’t afford to even buy food in “her” neighborhood anymore. The old Soviet-era grocery stores or bulochnayas now sell cakes flown in from Germany, or have been transformed into expensive cafes. She was a relic of Soviet times, living off nothing but her miniscule pension which is now useless in the city center, probably the childless wife of some government official or general who had died long ago, living in poverty in her $500,000 flat. There are probably many such people, refusing to sell because money means nothing to them, standing in the way of “progress.”

    Come to think of it, the Russian proposal to move these people out seems to have the flavor of what happens in the USA when an older person is deeemed unable to care for themself, provided with a court-appointed conservator who makes all their decisions for them, and forced to move out of their home and into a skilled nursing facility. In America, typically their assets are taken over by the nursing homes in order to pay for their care, and once all the person’s money is gone medicare kicks in to start paying for their care.

    Comment by AP — December 17, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  4. “But the very fact that the recently appointed mayor of Russia’s most important city would discuss such a thing, and indeed say that there is “a seed of rationality in this proposal” is quite revealing”-
    The words of Sobyanin in full are “Regardless of the fact that it seems amusing on the surface, there is a seed of rationality in this proposal” In russian that was ? ???? ???????????, ???????? ?? ??? ??????? ??????????????, ???? ? ???????? ?????
    Sobyanin is not happy that a nobody called Savchenko tries to rule in Moscow, placing such absurd ideas.

    Comment by a.russian — December 17, 2010 @ 9:54 am

  5. In case you thought this was bad enough: the NSRAP United Russia party is proposing to halve the number of subjects taught in 9th grade to fill the time so freed with “military patriotic education”. Ignorant but very militarily patriotic – what else can a fascist regime dream of?

    Comment by Ivan — December 18, 2010 @ 2:26 am

  6. Well good for Russia that they can draw on your best bud Saakashvili’s vast prior experience on promoting “military patriotic education”.

    But then again are they even going to try to match Georgian fascism? I’ve done a quick search of Russian and English news on this supposed proposal and found nothing. Give a source Ivan.

    PS. Well done for using the Hitler fallacy from your first sentence. 🙂

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 18, 2010 @ 5:18 am

  7. S.O.,

    obviously Russia won’t try to match any other fascism – it is perfectly capable of cultivating its own culturally unique one. Western supremacist inside you raises his ugly head again.

    As to sources: don’t worry, you won’t miss it once the shit hits the fan this enlightened policy is implemented.

    Comment by Ivan — December 18, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  8. So you don’t have any? So you basically imagine up scenarios of Russia’s imminent slide into fascism… projecting from what is already happening in Georgia in the real world? Dude, I think you might have problems. See a shrink.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 18, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

  9. S.O.

    All of your hypotheses are wrong. Dude, I think you might have problems. See a shrink.

    Comment by Ivan — December 19, 2010 @ 2:13 am

  10. From Hitler fallacy to playground debate style. Keep it up! 😉

    And I’m still waiting for your sources (if they exist).

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 19, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

  11. @So? When Magnitogorsk started, there were no provisions for housing the workers, who ended up living in makeshift, crude hovels in their tens of thousands. And the point I was making that they had no real voice in whether they moved there or not.

    As for what’s wrong with Magnitogorsk, these folks apparently answer: “a lot.”

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

  12. “In these eras, workers of the Russian Empire of the Soviet one were treated like cattle to achieve the power fantasies of the rulers.”

    Much more civilized in how the American West was one with the genocide of the Indians. Yeah! Per capita decline in population, that includes being put on reservations with lousy care.

    Hypocritically bigoted bastard.

    Comment by Andrew#3 — December 19, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

  13. @Andrew #3. Thanks for being a pitch perfect parody of whataboutism. Yes, and in the South they used to lynch Negroes. Believe it or not, in writing a post about Russia, it is not mandatory first to recite all the sins real and imagined committed in the United States, or what is now the United States.

    Your historical example would be more appropriate had I been writing about Russian treatment of indigenous inhabitants of vast swathes of Eurasia colonized by Russia. I readily acknowledge that both Anglo-American and Russian treatment of tribal peoples was generally shameful, though the history is somewhat more complex in both cases than is usually recognized in didactic history used to score present day political points. As an example of how an Anglo-philic historian can analyze these issues evenhandedly, I suggest you read Paul Johnson’s Birth of the Modern, which discusses the mistreatment of indigenous populations at the hands of colonizers around the world, and which does not spare the British or the Americans.

    But my post had nothing do to with that subject, so your left-field heave about the treatment of American Indians is about as relevant to the topic at hand as the aforementioned lynchings in the South.

    Do you dispute that people were against their will forced to go to places like Magnitogorsk? Do you dispute that it bears some similarity to current proposals to force people to leave their homes against their will to achieve some purpose of the state? If you do, I’d like to hear the basis for the dispute.

    For my part, it seems more than appropriate to point out the historical continuity involved here. Whatever happened to American Indians, it had nothing to do with what is happening Russia today, or what happened in Magnitogorsk in 1929.

    And as for being a bastard goes, I have the paperwork to prove you wrong.

    Merry Christmas!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 20, 2010 @ 10:09 am

  14. This is offtopic to Magnitogorsk or to the case of the elderly, but it doesn’t seem that the Russian treatment of the primitive indigenous in Sibera/the East/Alaska was really comparable to that of the Anglo-English. It’s a gross generalization but the Russians seemed to have followed a model similar to that of the French towards the natives in North America: they traded with them, converted them to Christianity, intermarried with them. They established political dominance but generally left them alone to live their lives. There were some occasional incidints of violence, of course, but none of the massive population transfers and mass killings that characterized the Anglo approach.

    With respect to the issue of the elderly, upon rereading this it really seems to me to be a case limited to old people who can’t take care of themselves and have no family (do you think someone’s grandchildren are not going to prevent grandma from being tossed from her apartment or that if she is cognitively intact she won’t be able to fight back?). In which case it’s not much different from what happens to the eledrly in the USA who get into a similar situation: they lsoe their home and are sent elsewhere. I’m sure in Russia there will be a corrupt aspect (someone’s with conenctions will end up with a sweet apartment) but in principle old people incapable of caring for themselves do end up losing their homes and being sent off, frequently againt their will, to some place they don’t want to be in the USA. Nursing homes are full of such people. In our case, the government gets their homes and all their assetts. Literally. Once the court deems them incapable fo caring for themselves, they are sent to the home. Their homes and assets are liquidated, and the funds (as well as their pensions, savings etc.) go to pay highly monthly cost of care at the nursing homes. Only once they are down to their last $2000 or so does the government step in and start to pay for their care. One way to avoid thsi is to transfer the assets to the children. However the government is not stupid – it will still take them unless the transfer occured at least 3 years prior to them going into the nursing home. I suppose an anti-American Rusian could write an article about this in order to show how the USA horribly mistreats its elderly, comparing the nursing homes to the delightful idyllic elder villages being built in Russia.

    Comment by AP — December 20, 2010 @ 10:33 am

  15. With penal colony Australia being another example, you’re the perfect parody of bigoted hypocrisy.

    The biggest users of “whataboutism” are the very people who seem to have initiated that term (at least on Russian issues).

    Comment by Andrew#3 — December 20, 2010 @ 1:23 pm

  16. AP,

    > if she is cognitively intact she won’t be able to fight back?

    A cognitively intact average grandma vs. Russian state… Let’s see… Would you say a case of a cognitively intact young billionaire vs. Russian state might give some indication of a probable outcome?

    Comment by Ivan — December 20, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

  17. Yes Ivan, a cognitively intact grandma will make a fuss with her neighbors and cause a problem if she is forced from her flat, enough of a problem that she will not be targeted fro eviction any more than would be a young healthy person. Haven’t you seen any active Russian babushkas? OTOH someone quietly living with dementia would not (or would not get support from anybody if they resisted being moved for their own good).

    Again, old people who suffer from dementia or from physical disability are forcibly removed from their homes in the USA too, all the time. Moving them into old people villages as proposed in Russsia vs. skilled nursing facilities as happens in the USA is simply a different twist of the same story.

    Comment by AP — December 20, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

  18. > a cognitively intact grandma will make a fuss with her neighbors and cause a problem if she is forced from her flat

    Right. Khodorkovsky has been making a lot of fuss, so has been Browder, they have plenty of resources to do so. How is that working out?

    If you are wondering specifically, how much “a fuss” is helping to protect someone’s home in Russia, google “Butovo dispute”.

    Comment by Ivan — December 21, 2010 @ 12:59 am

  19. As I said, a cognitvely intact grandmother would have no more problem than would a healthy young individual when dealing with the state. Thus the implication of this post that there would be some sort of discrimination against all old people isn’t very realistic.

    Comment by AP — December 21, 2010 @ 7:24 am

  20. So Ivan I’m still waiting for your sources.

    Put up or shut up.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 21, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

  21. I’ve done a quick search of Russian and English news on this supposed proposal and found nothing…

    Comment by peter — December 23, 2010 @ 3:34 am

  22. So Peter,

    First, it’s not a main news stories. So no need to patronizingly use the “let me Google that for you” tool.

    Second, Ivan said “military-patriotic”, so I was Googling ??????-?????????????? “?????? ??????”, when in actual fact the key word was ??????????????.

    Third, and most hilariously, ?????????????? is natural history; the main idea is to combine chemistry, physics and biology into one subject. There is nothing controversial about that. Most basic science is boring and useless to the average citizen. I know that in the UK, at the equivalent of Russia’s 9th grade, the GCSE qualification for Sciences is almost always combined physics, chemistry, biology. In the A-Level that’s Russia’s equivalent of 10th-11th grades, people study these sciences further, and specialize, only if they want to.

    Fourth, this isn’t actually UR but the “??????????????-??????????????? ????? ??????” (state patriotic club of the party) which isn’t synonymous with United Russia. Of course attempts to idealize and subvert history are hardly unique to Russia, as demonstrated by the Texan school boards plans to mythologize the founding of the US and use “the free market system” to describe capitalism, or how West Virginian schools teach that burning coal is good for the environment. All such projects be they in Russia, the US or elsewhere can only be condemned.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — December 23, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

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