Siberiaki - Sociopolitical Organization

In the czarist period, hierarchical Russian administration was based on regional governors, but Siberiaki still shaped local economies and politics in remote villages. The heart of community rule was the peasant mir, a committee of household heads who, by consensus, determined land use, taxes, and charity and resolved conflicts. They answered to landlords, nobility, and government officials. Historical shifts in definitions of class prestige from nobles to merchants to workers left peasants at the low end of all socioeconomic and political scales. But within Siberiak villages, differences in wealth and power were rarely sharp. Power accrued and still accrues to strong personalities, some of whom claim ancestry from dispossessed nobles who once fled to Siberia. Beginning with the 1930s, the mir has had no official functions and political control from Moscow ministries become tighter and Communist party officials permeated most community affairs. Party leadership, however, was challenged in 1985. Demands for greater local autonomy were reflected in elections of young nonparty politicians, some of whom came from Siberiak families. Reform of local soviets resulted in the partial rejuvenation of the traditional mir. In industrialized Siberia, rediscovery of the spirit of the Siberian regional movement was typified by strikes by coal miners in Kemerova, Vorkuta, and Sakhalin. In 1989 a new Association of Siberian Cities was formed, and private radio stations began broadcasting. Siberiaki enthusiastically endorsed plans for a Far East Free Enterprise Zone.

Social Control. The Communist party and a rigid court system served to maintain order throughout Siberia, notorious for its penal system of labor camps and prisons. Locals sometimes served as prison guards. Yet an atmosphere of lawlessness pervades many Siberian villages and towns, in which traditional values have broken down, criminal records are common, and poverty and alcoholism are rampant.

Conflict. In the Gorbachev era open conflict erupted between Siberiaki and new groups of laborers (from Russia and the Caucasus) perceived as outsiders. Tensions between Siberiaki and natives have also increased, although they were probably at their greatest during native revolts in the earliest periods of colonization. Tensions are high between entrenched members of the former ruling establishment and reformers protesting extensive corruption and ecologically devastating development.

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