Staunton, November 20 – Given the low level of formal institutionalization of Russian social and political life, those who seek to understand it regularly discuss it in terms of bands or clans, typically analytic constructs in which the individuals involved are linked together by personal ties based on economic interests, past service in particular organizations and the like.
But there is a category of organizations between such analytic abstractions and formal political organizations that is a significant part of Russian life and deserves more attention than it normally does. This involves so-called “zemlyachestvas” or organizations made up of people from a particular region.
The national-cultural organizations of non-Russians in places outside of their traditional homelands are well-known if only in a few cases extremely influential. (The Kazan Tatar group in Moscow is a notable exception.) But those consisting of people from predominantly ethnic Russian regions are less often the subject of study, even though they are more significant.
One of the most important of these groups is the Urals Zemlyachestvo Society of Moscow, a group that includes some of the most important movers and shakers in the Russian capital and that is now receiving more attention than usual because it is in the process of electing a new leader. (The new head is likely to be Vladimir Strashko, the vice president of the Trade-Industrial Chamber, who earlier worked as deputy interior minister of the USSR.)
The Urals Zemlyachestvo was formed in 1992 by former party and government officials from Svedlovsk oblast by the former permanent representative of that region to Moscow, Vladimir Melentyev, who headed it for many years and whose death earlier this year has made the election of a successor necessary.
The club has approximately 1500 dues-paying members and about 200 who regularly take part in its meetings, which include monthly sessions and an annual general assembly. According to its members, “the Moscow Sverdlovians actively help one another and use the organization as a communications hub for contacts” political, economic and personal.
Dues are 1000 rubles (22 US dollars) a year for those who are working, and 100 rubles (2.2 US dollars) for retirees. According to its officers, the club’s members represent the top of the estimated 300,000 Sverdlovsk region residents in the Russian capital and are active in helping not only each other but their “compatriots” more generally.