Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 18, 2013

Anecdotes to consider

Ellen Barry, writing in The New York Times, offers some powerful anecdotes about Russia's political culture, but they're anecdotes, not valid generalizations. They're also impressionistic stories, not tested hypotheses.

Nonetheless, they offer some good opportunities for reflection after considering a textbook account of Russia today.

The Russia Left Behind: A journey through a heartland on the slow road to ruin
On the jarring, 12-hour jounrney from St. Petersburg to Moscow, another Russia comes into view, one where people struggle with problems that belong to past centuries…

As the state’s hand recedes from the hinterlands, people are struggling with choices that belong to past centuries: to heat their homes with a wood stove, which must be fed by hand every three hours, or burn diesel fuel, which costs half a month’s salary? When the road has so deteriorated that ambulances cannot reach their home, is it safe to stay? When their home can’t be sold, can they leave?…

Eight miles west of the M10 lies the village of Pochinok, one of hundreds of disappearing settlements. The wilderness is closing in around Nina and Vladimir Kolesnikova and their children.
Most Russians live in housing built in the late Soviet period. A report released last year by the Russian Union of Engineers found that 20 percent of city dwellings lack hot water, 12 percent have no central heating and 10 percent no indoor plumbing. Gas leaks, explosions and heating breakdowns happen with increasing frequency, but in most places infrastructure is simply edging quietly toward collapse.

There is a reason for this: Compared with populist steps like raising salaries and pensions, spending on infrastructure does little to shore up Mr. Putin’s popularity, said Natalya Zubarevich, a sociologist at Moscow’s Independent Institute of Social Policy. If something goes wrong, the Kremlin can always fire a regional official…

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