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Conference reports Modernization is much needed in Russia

Natalia Zubarevich, Department of Geography, Moscow State University, is keynote speaker at Baltic Worlds Annual Roundtable: Market Reform and Socio-Economic Change in Russia, October 6. She notes a growing polarization between people and regions. Modernization is necessary.

Published on balticworlds.com on september 19, 2011

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Conference paper

Today, twenty years after the transition in Russia, there is a polarization between regions and between people. Moscow as a region attracts people from all over the country, there are jobs and opportunities to start and run businesses. Income differences between people are also particularly high in the rich areas, such as Moscow and the natural gas–rich Tyumen region. Other areas of the country have extremely high unemployment, large amount of poor people and unfavorable conditions for starting businesses.

This process is noted by Natalia Zubarevich, Department of Geography, Moscow State University, who is keynote speaker at Baltic Worlds Annual Roundtable: Market Reform and Socio-Economic Change in Russia, October 6.

Via telephone from Moscow she says:

“ To start business is difficult everywhere in Russia, but in Moscow there are more job opportunities than elsewhere in Russia. At the same time you find the highest amount of poor in Moscow, more than one million people. Also you find large differences in income distribution, more than 32 times. Here you find both the richest and the poorest.”

To counter the polarization between regions and people, the state has introduced a compensational tax system. Resources are redistributed from rich regions to poor so that people will remain there and receive social services. In the 2000s, this tax policy has meant that incomes have increased, and that the poverty rate has decreased. On the other hand, the tax policy, according Zubarevich, has not given the regions an incentive to try to modernize and participate in socio-economic development. Moreover, as she notes:

“The distribution policy has led to the beneficiary regions, rather than trying to create their own growth, throttle back in order to receive as much funding as possible – funds that do not always end up where they are most needed.”

Modernization is necessary to get the country going, stresses Zubarevich. She paints a picture of a society where opportunities to improve one’s life are few. Even those who study diligently and are prepared to work hard encounter many obstacles.

“Mobility is low – social, economic, institutional, indeed, mobility at every level. There is a feeling of being stuck and not being able to change one’s situation. People are focused on survival, and are waiting for better times. Putin and the government say they will take care of people, that everyone should be able to live well. Putin is popular here in Russia. But this makes many people take it easy and assume that the state will take care of all problems,” says Zubarevich, via telephone from Moscow.

One basic problem is that people do not trust one another, she continues. There is no solidarity. Nor is civil society able to organize itself, according to Zubarevich. People might help in an acute emergency like a fire, but in everyday life there is few possibilities of receiving help from anyone aside from the few nearest and dearest. People look after themselves, and focus on the present.

“Few Russians ever leave their country. Five percent traveled to another country last year. They are not interested in the outside world, and what they know about it they get via Russian TV.”

The modernization process is difficult to implement. Necessary reforms meet resistance.

“Teachers do not want to implement reforms in the schools that mean lower wages and more responsibility. And policy makers are incapable of communicating why it is necessary and in the long run good to make these changes.”

Another fundamental problem is the distance between decision makers who design the reforms and the people who are expected to implement the reforms. The lack of communication between them is fundamental, Zubarevich maintains.

So one cannot speak of a functioning, representative democracy?

“Ha ha, I’m Russian; I can only laugh at your question. Russian society is still governed by a traditional way of thinking that stems from the communist era.”

NOTE: Down load Natalia Zubarevich’s abstract here.>>