The Magadan exhibit is part of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute�s 50th anniversary celebration.
(Edmonton) Abandoned houses strewn across a once-populated northern region, the victim of shifting political and economic conditions, left by many of the North�s former inhabitants who have migrated to more prosperous regions.
While the narrative would seem to fit parts of northern Canada, the scene is also descriptive of Magadan, a city in northeast Russia. Magadan is the focus of a project being conducted by Elena Khlinovskaya-Rockhill of the University of Alberta�s Canadian Circumpolar Institute. Khlinovskaya-Rockhill has completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded project studying migration patterns to and from the greater Magadan region, a work that is part of a research project, itself part of a larger international program funded by the European Science Foundation.
Khlinovskaya-Rockhill also worked in collaboration with two Magadan photographers, Pavel Zhdanov and Andrei Osipov, along with Lawrence Khlinovski-Rockhill, a visiting scholar at CCI, to capture photos of the devastation, but also the resilience and determination of the region�s remaining inhabitants. Images from this collaboration are now on at the Rutherford Library until July 31. This exhibit is part of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute�s 50th anniversary celebration. In October 2010, the display will be moved to Cameron Library.
A thriving town during the Soviet era, Magadan�s population once grew due to state-funded migration and settlement allowances, said Khlinovskaya-Rockhill. The Soviet Union used a variety of monetary and non-monetary incentives to attract people to the region, she notes. Propaganda played on the patriotic nature of the peoples who would help mine and develop resources for the collective good of the state. However, the state�s intention was to support a sedentary, not necessarily permanent population in the north. The idea was to generously remunerate the working population, while upon retirement, people would move back to more temperate regions.
However, she explained, in post-Soviet times, state funding cuts resulted in an unprecedented outmigration towards western Russia. �Starting from perestroika (the policy of political and economic restructuring within the former Soviet Union), the population just went downhill drastically, it really plunged,� said Khlinovskaya-Rockhill. �Many communities within the region from which the state had withdrawn were affected more than the city itself. Nearly 60 per cent of the population left the region�.
She says that issues of resource and mineral development were contrasted by the sheer cost of shipping goods to, and maintaining, the far-flung territory. An example of decreased state presence in the region was the reduction of the annual resupply of goods and provisions to the port city. Further, relocation programs were introduced to help move people to other, more �sustainable� areas of the Russian Federation, notes Khlinovskaya-Rockhill.
�The state lessened its presence, so there is not much left from the previously pampered region,� she said. �But, there were various programs developed on different levels in order to assist people moving from Magadan.�
Yet, an interesting phenomenon that is part of Khlinovskaya-Rockhill�s research, and is evident in the photo exhibit itself, is the spirit and resilience of the people of Magadan, indigenous and non-native, who have remained. Many prosper, despite the lack of any substantial state support or economic stimulation. The transplanted citizens have developed a level of attachment to the area, and their desire to remain is no longer influenced by state-induced incentives, monetary or ideological.
�This is not where they were born, it�s not where they thought they would retire. But for a whole set of reasons, they still remain,� she said. �Some of them consider that place to be their home.�
Khlinovskaya-Rockhill contends that arguments can be made as to whether the north ceased to be a priority for the Russian government or whether it simply could not sustain previous economic policies in the face of greater, burgeoning economic and political challenges. State resources � healthcare, education, administration � are still present in Magadan and continue to work effectively within the surviving communities in the region. However, she says, many residents consider themselves to be abandoned or forgotten.
Yet, Khlinovskaya-Rockhill says, it is the people, not the government who continue to make Magadan viable � an anomalous testimony that seems to defy the depopulating efforts of the central authorities in Moscow. This variance, she says, is something that is by no means unique to Magadan, and can be found in northern communities around the world.
However, Magadan�s residents have created their own golden opportunities in keeping their now-smaller communities alive and vibrant. As a social anthropologist, Khlinovskaya-Rockhill is fascinated by the spirit of those who have chosen to remain. To her, it is a testimony to a very different sense of what they consider to be �home� and one that may resonate with northern Canadians.