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Russia's Far East Lags behind in Modernisation

Despite the Russian government's efforts to support economic development in the Far East of Russia, this area still lags behind in terms of modernization. Many of its residents are planning to migrate to elsewhere in Russia or even another country. According to Anna Nemirovskaya, Senior Research Fellow at the HSE's Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR), the federal government needs to step up its efforts to remedy this situation.

As part of her research project*, Nemirovskaya examined a number of ratings and indices reflecting both economic development and sociocultural environment in Russia's Far Eastern Federal District (FEFD). In particular, she used data available from Rosstat and from the Centre for the Study of Social and Cultural Change (CSSCC) at the RAS Institute of Philosophy. Nemirovskaya published her findings in the Sociological Research journal.

She found that local initiatives might not be sufficient for a modernisation breakthrough in the FEFD; the local public seems to rely on the federal government to make it happen. Therefore, Nemirovskaya concludes, the federal authorities should step up their efforts to assist the region and monitor its development.

Still At Early Stages

Covering more than one third (36.4%) of Russia's territory, the vast Far Eastern area is home to just 4.4% of the country's population spread over nine federal subjects (regions), including the Amur Region, the Jewish Autonomous Region, Kamchatka, Magadan, Primorsky Krai, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Sakhalin, Khabarovsk, and Chukotka.

Despite its wealth of natural resources and good economic potential, the area's macroeconomic indicators are fairly low for Russia.

Uneven development across its constituent regions is a major challenge for the FEFD. According to Nemirovskaya, a decline in modernisation indices was observed in Kamchatka between 2000 and 2005. In Primorsky Krai and the Amur Region, modernisation does not seem to be moving forward, while Chukotka and Sakhalin – Russia's leading local economies coming first and third, respectively, in terms of per capita GDP – still experience economic instability. Yakutia is the only part of the FEDF with positive modernisation dynamics.

In studying economic modernisation in the Far East, Nemirovskaya used the methodology and tools developed by the Center for Modernisation Studies of the Chinese Academy of Sciences adapted for Russia by the CSSCC. Details of the study's methodology can be found in China Modernisation Report Outlook. This methodology distinguishes between primary modernization, based on the economic, social and knowledge-related characteristics of society, and secondary modernisation driven by innovation, knowledge transfer, quality of life and quality of economy.

According to Nemirovskaya, the FEFD has remained at the primary modernisation stage and has failed to advance to secondary modernisation over the past decade.

Now, according to the CSSCC, the North Caucasus and the South of Russia are the only parts of Russia with lower modernisation indices than the Far East.

People Moving Elsewhere

According to Nemirovskaya, key barriers to modernisation in the Far East include undiversified economy, underdeveloped social infrastructure, harsh climate, low population density and high rates of depopulation, as people migrate to European Russia or to other countries. Her paper focuses on depopulation in particular.

The Far East is the only area in Russia which has experienced a steady and continuous decline in population since 1990, except for brief interruptions of this negative trend in Yakutia and Chukotka between 2005 and 2006 and some positive dynamics observed in Primorsky Krai since 2012. Overall, the FEFD population declined by 1.81 million between 1990 and 2013, and some 40% of the current residents would like to move elsewhere, according to WCIOM's 2012 survey data.

The high cost of living, poor housing, alcoholism and drug use are just a few concerns prompting many people to consider migration. According to WCIOM, more than half of the local respondents (64%) have not noticed any changes in the local situation, while 10% believe it is getting worse.

Federal Government's Involvement the Only Hope

However, more than half of the surveyed Russians would be willing to live in Siberia and the Far East if the government were to launch a new large-scale national project in the area, while another 15% would stay if offered high wages, decent housing and tax breaks.

According to Nemirovskaya, Russians currently living in the Far East expect the federal government to take the lead; according to surveys, 73% agree that the federal government's targeted efforts could provide a development solution for Siberia and the Far East, while response options such as 'promoting SME development', 'lobbying the regional agenda vis a vis the federal centre' and 'giving the regions more autonomy in addressing social need' were unpopular with the survey respondents.

Thus, paternalistic attitudes appear to prevail in the FEDF, as evidenced by the CSSCC's Our Values and Interests Today survey finding the highest level of agreement in the Far East with the statement 'the state should provide a minimum income to citizens', surpassing even the federally-subsidised North Caucasus in this respect.

"Perhaps instead of expecting independent initiative from the general public in the Far East and Siberia, federal and regional authorities should intervene with substantive measures and monitor progress," Nemirovskaya concludes. She also believes that modernisation is unlikely unless public expectations are taken into account and urgent social problems are effectively addressed.

* The study was part of the CSSCC's research project to examine modernisation in Russian regions, led by Professor N. I. Lapin

 

Author: Marina Selina, March 03, 2015