Friday, November 08, 2013

The Tragedy of Pskov

Pskov is one of the very oldest cities in Russia. It is 1110 years since the putative foundation of the city in 903 and it still possesses its ancient citadel - the Krom- and much of the city walls- dating from the time of the Pskov Republic, which like Great Novgorod, tells of an alternate, non-Czarist Russian tradition.

Unlike many Russian cities, Pskov lies close to the border of Russia- only 20 kilometres from the Estonian border. It has a history of trade and contacts all over Europe. Sometimes Pskov has been at the very centre of Russian events: Czar Nicholas II abdicated close by, and the most beloved Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin lived and worked- and is buried- in the region.

Yet there is little or no tourism in Pskov.

There is little or no anything. The bureaucracy of late Putinism and the corruption of the local civic leadership has strangled any potential this extraordinary city might have. No one goes to Pskov, few indeed have even heard of it.

Recently the local government set up a program to try to attract Russian speakers from neighbouring Estonia to settle in the region. Despite significant financial incentives, a pitiful total of 11 people made the move- mostly, it seems for family reasons. The fact is that the endless queues you need to negotiate in order to deal with the Gogolesque nightmare of the Russian state authorities is a standing rebuke to those used to dealing with the efficiency of Estonian government services.

Some newcomers have indeed come to the city- about 40 recently moved from Tajikistan- and all were "Slavic"- for dirt poor, isolated Pskov has also seen the racist violence that has convulsed Russia in recent weeks.

The stagnant, corrupt incompetence of late Putinism is as much a failure as the shabby tedium of late Communism was- and Pskov is just one of hundreds of cities across Russia that are slowly dying because no-one can change anything without the say-so of the Government Inspector.

What a waste.

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