by Evgeny Pisarev
Today in the Pervomaysky district of Tambov, Russia, one hundred and four Doukhobor immigrants from Georgia have obtained permanent residence. Half of them – under the Russian Federation’s state program for the resettlement of Russian compatriots. The following article, reproduced from the Russian newspaper “Chernozem’e” (No. 4568, January 22, 2008) and translated into English by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, examines the arrival of the Spirit Wrestlers from the perspective of the local Tambov population.
Descent from the Mountains
The first 56 immigrants, representatives of the Doukhobor religious community who left their historic native land – Russia – more than one and a half centuries ago, arrived in Tambov during the summer of last year. Initially they arrived, it may be said, on reconnaissance: to observe and get acquainted with the conditions of life, for eventual permanent settlement there with their families and belongings. The authorities advised the local press not to publicize the fact of their arrival, especially as the printed word might influence public opinion. Russian relations with Georgia were not at their best that summer, and the Georgian Doukhobors had not yet entered the state program for assistance of compatriots living abroad.
A Doukhobor woman ponders her family’s future in Russia. Photograph by Agnes Montanari.
The Doukhobors arrived from the mountain highlands village of Gorelovka. Territorially the village is Georgian, but the name it carries is distinctly Tambovsky. And the surnames of the immigrants appear quite familiar: Tikhonov, Tolmachev, Popov, Tomilin, Baturin, Savenkov, Sukhorukov. Along with the other “scouts”, the leader of the community, Tatyana Chuchmaeva, has also arrived in Tambov. She is not venerated by her coreligionists in the manner of the Doukhobors two hundred years ago, but her influence is significant. Moreover, in Georgia Tatyana Stepanovna was an assistant to the chief administrator of the district, therefore she quickly found a common language with the local authorities: the officials – everywhere the officials.
However, local residents, being uninformed, welcomed the visitors from Georgia mistrustfully. There were district hearings about sectarians, rumours of the “mykhomortsy” (a type of mushroom native to Russia) spread, and the inhabitants of one of the shabby houses in neighbouring Staroklenskoye village hung out a red flag from his roof to scare away any newcomers.
Tambov regional authorities offered the immigrants seven villages in which to form a compact settlement. Having inspected the host villages, they decided on the village of Maly Snezhetok in the Pervomaysky district. And today they are convinced they haven’t misjudged things. Here they have a suburb, in actuality a settlement, which they matter-of-factly named Novoye (“new’).
Through the resettlement program, Russia has demonstrated its good will and readiness to accept its compatriots, provide them with a livelihood, and help whenever possible with housing, while at the same time, to utilize the migrant workforce to help correct the current demographic situation in the country. In this regard, the Tambov authorities announced in 2007 that they would accept one and a half thousand immigrants from neighbouring countries, and that they had housing and accommodations ready for them. They even visited Kazakhstan, where they met with Russian compatriots to promote the virtues of life in Tambov, although they did not conceal the problems which they would likely encounter in a new place.
Six agricultural districts were designated for the immigrants, located in the districts of Michurinsk, Nikiforovka, Pervomaysky, Petrovka, Sosnovka and Staroyur’evo. The question of expanding the territories for resettlement was seriously discussed – regional authorities intended to add to the list the districts of Inzhavino and Bondari, as well as the city of Uvarovo, where a business/financial zone has been created on the site of a former chemical plant. Under the planned program, by 2012 the province of Tambov should receive twelve and a half thousand migrants. The vast bulk is expected from Kazakhstan, Turkmeni, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Moldova and Kirghizia. In Kazkhstan alone, there are over 14 million residents of which five million are ethnic Russians.
However, the number of Russian compatriots wishing to leave their familiar places in search of greener pastures has turned out to be much less than expected. As of today, the resettlement process has occurred only in the Pervomaysky district. And even incorrigible optimists admit that it will be hardly possible to entice several thousand compatriots to Tambov province in the short term. It is much easier to persuade them to relocate to the provincial capital, or at worst, one of the large district centers, rather than to a rural Tambov village where there is insufficient employment for the local inhabitants.
The return to their ancestral home in Tambov offers new hope to many. Photograph by Agnes Montanari.
In any case, as of today, 109 people have relocated to the province, having privileges under the state program, along with their family members.
The Road Home
The immigrants are quietly maintained at their new place. Forty-five people live in the dormitory of an agricultural enterprise, while the others are lodged in twenty-six of the new prefabricated houses built on an expedited basis by the local construction firm.
The immigrants were met, as is customary, with bread and salt, and the bookkeeper of the agricultural enterprise, Svetlana Lepikhova, by tradition, first let a cat into the house of the Chuchmaev family. It sniffed at the corners and indicated, by its pleasant purring, that it was okay to come in. The migrants have received housing at the rate of eighteen square meters per person. Each family has received 40 sotok (4 hectares) of land for farming, and the local school has been replenished with twelve pupils. At Christmas, the immigrants received all their containers of possessions from Georgia. The costs of transporting the personal property of the participants of the program were assumed by the state.
The shadow of mistrust with which the migrants from Georgia met with local residents soon disappeared. As it was found out, their fellow countrymen have arrived. Simply, they have not been home for a long time…
The shadow of easy mistrust with which local residents have met immigrants from Georgia, has soon disappeared. As it was found out, fellow countrymen have arrived. Simply they for a long time not were at home …
Kirill Kolonchin, Vice-Governor of Tambov province:
The state program of assistance for resettlement is intended, first of all, for those who wish to relocate, but have no resources for this purpose. Taking a provincial approach, we assessed their needs from the perspective of the local economy. The province has received a total of approximately five hundred applications, but they were not all followed up with. The only ones who were consistent were the Doukhobors. In Georgia they lived in the mountains where, eight months of the year, they were engaged primarily in agriculture; therefore, I think, they will find employment in our chernozem (black earth, agriculturally productive) districts. In order to accept them, we had to negotiate debt security documents, incorporate them into the resettlement program, and before the New Year, install the immigrants in new houses. The houses are financed through a municipal development fund, and we have yet to develop repayment procedures for the buyout of the houses. The immigrants do not yet have citizenship, but upon receipt of such they will have all the rights of Russian citizens; in particular they will be able to obtain loans for the development of farms.
Several hundred Georgian Doukhobors still await resettlement to Tambov. Photograph by Agnes Montanari.
The spiritual Christian religious movement, whose adherents later became known as Doukhobors or Dukhobortsy emerged in Russia in the second half of the eighteenth century. The Doukhobors denied Orthodox rites and did not recognize priests and the clergy, or the traditional authorities in their communities. For disobeying the authorities and for refusing to serve in the military, they were persecuted by the Tsarist government and the Church. At the end of the nineteenth century, many Doukhobors immigrated to Canada. A large number of them were settled in Georgia. There, the Russian natives maintained a traditional way of life, the Russian language, culture and have endured all conceivable revolutions, wars, militant atheism and changes of political regime. In the early Nineties of the last century, they began returning to Russia, their historic homeland. There, they settled in Tula, Bryansk, Belgorod and Orel provinces, and as of last year have begun settling in Tambov province.
For additional background on the Doukhobors in Malyi Snezhetok, see the articles Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia and More Georgian Doukhobors Move to Tambov by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff as well as Tambov Doukhobors on Russian News by Drugie Novosti (translated by Koozma J. Tarasoff).