Rural life

   The sheer size and diversity of the Russian Federation make describing the country’s rural life problematic. While there are highly developed rural settlements in European Russia, other parts of the country—particularly in Siberia, the North Caucasus, the Far North, and the Russian Far East—may appear quite backward. The same region of Russia may contain sections with a complex rural infrastructure and, at the same time, almost derelict outposts. Therefore, the geographical location of a specific place, especially in relation to major transport links and urban centers, are definitive in terms of economic potential, social development, and cultural life. The Russian word glubinka (remote place) denotes distant settlements where life continues without much interference from or contact with the modern world. Rural life is paradoxical: while some villages may not have access to running water, they will have access to and use satellite television and the Internet.
   At the end of the 19th century, 87 percent of the Russian population lived in the countryside; in 1913, 82 percent; in 1970, 38 percent; and in 2007, only 27 percent. Such a dramatic drop in the rural population was the result of a series of agrarian reforms, each of which was intended to meet specific economic, political, or social needs in rural society. During the course of these reforms, Russia was transformed from a backward, peasant society to one that is increasingly urban and modern. The reforms not only made Russian peasants leave for cities, but also educated them and mechanized agricultural production.
   However, even in the 21st century, in many rural areas there are households that use quite primitive forms of agriculture and animal husbandry, and horse-driven carriages are not uncommon. Late tsarist-era reforms attempted to change the land and class structure of the Russian countryside, which had existed largely unchanged for centuries. Under Joseph Stalin, state (sovkhozy) and collective (kolkhozy) farms were introduced, forcing peasants to form communal holdings. Soviet agrarian policy favored large mechanized collective farms that exercised political and social control over the rural population. Nikita Khrushchev relieved the rural population from high taxation on private plots that had been introduced by Stalin, which boosted production of farm goods on privately owned plots. Under Leonid Brezhnev, massive funds were allocated for rural development; rural cultural institutions such as cinemas and libraries became common during this period. In the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev allowed average Soviet citizens to own small plots of land that were called dachas; many of these were used for essential farming rather than for leisure activities often connoted by the term.
   In the postindependence period, economic reforms were introduced with the purpose of creating a private agricultural sector to replace the collectivist structures inherited from the Stalin era. The main outcomes of the reforms are the privatization of farmland, the development of commercial real estate, and changes in the food distribution systems. Incentives introduced in 1992–1994 resulted in a tremendous increase in the number of private farms. However, the Yeltsin government failed to replace the organizational structures of the Soviet era with a new set of institutions to support village communities, and it was only under Vladimir Putin that considerable investments into education, health care, and local transport systems were made. Yeltsin’s failures in the Russian countryside were partially attributable to his inability to secure the political support of the rural population. Federal attempts at agrarian reform eventually deteriorated; as a result, in 1999, for example, meat production was less than 60 percent of its 1992 level and the country came to rely heavily on food imports (in large urban centers, up to 75 percent of food was imported in 1997). At the same time, the economic reforms of the 1990s and the more stable economic environment of the 2000s has encouraged many rural citizens, especially young families, to establish small businesses that rely on farming and also production of foods such as butter and oil, and to construct high-standard housing in rural areas that were bypassed throughout decades of development.
   Russian village life maintains many aspects of traditional country living, including family and work relationships, pastimes, and rituals. The running of the country house is a responsibility of women. Men traditionally use machinery, while women work the private plot by hand. Rural families tend to be larger. At the same time, across Russia there are the so-called dying villages, that is, settlements with just a dozen elderly citizens who reside in quite remote areas. They typically rely on the support of their children who reside in urban centers, and who travel often enough to provide them with essential goods and services.
   Russian villages traditionally consisted of wooden houses, a church, windmills and storage sheds, and other buildings spaced around to prevent the spread of fire. Until recently, wood was the most common building material; however, it has now been replaced by brick and concrete constructions. The spacing between houses is no longer used as a fire prevention technique but rather indicates the boundaries of private property. Historically, the term derevnia describes a small village without a church, while a selo possesses both a church and a market. This distinction is maintained these days through educational and health institutions: a selo will have a school, while a derevnia will not; the same applies to postal services, banks, and other institutions.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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