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April 3, 2004 by AK

From Dubai to Nizhnekamsk

Tim Newman of We the Undersigned has published an account of his visit to Russia — of all places, to Moscow and Nizhnekamsk. I enjoyed reading it so much that I recommend Tim’s travel notes without reservation; I have a few comments to make but not before you have read it.

Nizhnekamsk is a medium-size town in Western Tatarstan, the site of a refinery that is now being modernized and turned into a petrochemical plant, and a tyre factory. Apart from the big cities and the small towns and villages, the sub-universe of industrial towns is an essential component of the chaos we know as Russia. I sometimes imagine the Russia of Nizhnekamsks as a huge, depressed low-class neighborhood. With hard work and luck, one can get a decent education and a decent job, or even start a business there; one can buy a better apartment or a house, but one will find it rather hard to move out of the ‘hood without losing one’s hard-earned status. (Compare income levels and property prices in Nizhnekamsk and Moscow and factor in Moscow City’s de-facto residence restrictions.) A ‘normal’ individual or a family living in a ‘bad’ neighborhood faces a standard range of inconveniences, from having to come into contact with people who have a weird idea of common decency, to having to protect your children (good kids) from the influence, and sometimes the fists and knives of ‘bad kids’. (To say nothing about common crime.)

The economic side of this abnormality is one of the post-Communist Russian economy’s chronic sores: labor mobility, i.e., near-lack thereof.


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