Working Paper 35

Ambigious Transition: agrarian reforms, management, and coping practices in Murmansk region reindeer herding

Yulian Konstantinov, Vladislava Vladimirova

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 35

Reforms in the Russian Federation have so far shown a significant degree of ambiguity. Taken as leading to a transition from a totalitarian state of command socialism to a democratic state with a market-oriented economy, the reforms tend to show only surface resemblances to such a process. Taken in an "oligarchic" sense, that is, as dispensing with social security and greatly expanding the sphere of the informal ("grey") economy, the process seems to be fully completed.
Against this background we ask how specifically agrarian reforms reflect on reindeer herding in the Russian North. Field research based data indicates that while local administrations continue to rule in a Soviet manner, in a mix with high orbit "grey" economic practices, agricultural workers rely on lower level informalities to cope with a continuing economic and social crisis. Searching for reliance on traditional or neo-traditional land-use is pronouncedly absent and in this context the Murmansk Region seems to stand apart from developments in many other parts of the Russian North and Siberia. Reasons may be found in the longest history of colonisation of this region (since the 10th century), in a traditionally nonnomadic herding, and in very strong local preferences for state socialist forms of management ("sovkhoism"). At the same time, there are signs of opposition to the current management practices of village cooperatives, fuelled by the appearance of new liberal agrarian legislation. This is the point at which agrarian reforms acquire real life significance locally. The article describes and discusses such a situation on the basis of recent material from six months of field work with reindeer herders and the administration of SKhPK "Tundra" in the settlement of Lovozero, Murmansk Region. The field work was carried out in three consecutive periods in 2001.

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