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Reportage, comment and analysis from Russia's backstage

Friends and neighbours: religious harmony in Tatarstan?

In a world riven by the conflict between Christianity and Islam, the Republic of Tatarstan offers a heartening example of centuries of peaceful coexistence, even though the Caucasus with its religious and ethnic problems is not far away. Long may it last, hopes Oleg Pavlov.

Russian regional elections: business as usual

Voting at the recent local elections in Orenburg Oblast was listless and perfunctory. Voters don’t know the candidates, who in their turn make no attempt to remedy the situation, so why should people turn out to vote for them? Elena Strelnikova tries to make sense of the election process

Outcasts — inmates of the Black Eagle

In Stalin’s time there were nearly a hundred GULag camps in Ivdel. Today, the maximum security penal colony FBU-IK 56 survives in their place. Ekaterina Lushnikova travelled there to speak to the inmates — some of Russia’s most hardened criminals.

A lesson for Luzhkov? Tatarstan’s Shaimiev shows how to cling on to power

In March 2010, Minitimer Shaimiev, the two-decade figurehead of Tatarstan, resigned when prompted by the federal centre. It was the end of an era, locals thought, yet eight months on the Tatar President has yet to leave the building. Oleg Pavlov wonders whether obedient subordination and quiet diplomacy has allowed Shaimiev to avoid the fate of his opposite number in Moscow, Yuri Luzkhov

Down on the farm: a history lesson in Kazan

Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture in the USSR in the 1930s led to famine, repression and widespread family tragedy. Oleg Pavlov visited a school in the capital of Tartarstan to find out how this period is being taught now

Oryol: when the ‘new nobility’ turned terrorist

The sleepy city of Oryol has erupted in terrorism. Investigations revealed how frustration at the state of Russia led security officers — the new nobility as their former boss calls them — to join the Oryol Partisans. Is this a one off or part of a wider movement?

Laid low by the heat

The Russian heat wave has been going on for weeks. From her dacha Elena Strelnikova gives a wry account of officials on freebies, water shortages and the catastrophic effects of the lasting heat on fruit, crops, milk yields and life in the Orenburg Region in general.

Summer days at the dacha

In theory, Russians can holiday abroad these days. In practice, most can't afford it. Still, there are the pleasures of summer days at the dacha. But what with falling water levels and paying beaches, things aren't what they used to be. It's hard work too, growing vegetables, grumbles Elena Strelnikova

Teaching History in Orenburg

Against a backdrop of an ever increasing politization of the Soviet past, journalist Elena Strelnikova returned to her old classroom. Her fly-on-the-wall account shows the contentious debates played through the eyes of 14-year-olds.

Parroting history

History teaching has fallen victim to politics in Russia. Educational standards are falling and children are not being taught to think. They learn that Russia is great, but not the reasons why. Could this be because it is easier to run a nation of naïve, illiterate people who do not know their history?

Life and death of an independent newspaper in Oryol

In 2004, some local journalists in Oryol founded an independent newspaper ‘for those who want the truth’. Although it sold well, members of staff were subject to threats, bribes, attacks and arson. Still, it lasted four years.

Winter Storm in Tatarstan

Jobs are scarce, pension rises mediocre and the local authorities have even taken away the Christmas trees. But despite the disquiet, appetite for protest in Tatarstan remains low, says Oleg Pavlov

Fleeced. A letter from the Russian provinces

Corruption has always been part of Russian life, and the Oryol region today just offers a rather extreme example, says Elena Godlevskaya. Some of the main perpetrators have been named, but the punishment being meted out to them is a joke.

Perm blaze sets Russia alight

The recent catastrophic fire at the Lame Horse nightclub in Perm grabbed national headlines. Local authorities all over Russia are suddenly having to get their act together, says Elena Strelnikova

Panicking about swine flu in Orenburg

The region is gripped by swine flu panic, much of it orchestrated, in the opinion of Elena Strelnikova. But every cloud has a silver lining – we’re all having unscheduled holidays

Life with a Heart Complaint

Life in Oryol has changed little since Ivan Turgenev wrote about it 160 years ago, though the villages he described are disappearing. Earlier this year President Medvedev removed the governor who had been in place for 16 years and some of his officials are now on trial. The resulting snap elections may well benefit the communist party, says Elena Godlevskaya

Pskov: the Paratroopers’ Town, My Town

Pskov Embankment 

Pskov is an ancient Russian city not far from St Petersburg. Life there in the 21st century is not always easy, but it's home and I shall stay, says Anna Lipina

Life in Nizhny Novgorod doesn’t stand still

Niyhnz Novgorod Kremlin

Nizhny Novgorod's Kremlin

Nizhny Novgorod is one of the largest cities in Russia. It is currently enjoying its first baby boom for many years, thus demonstrating a determination not to be cowed by the economic crisis, and the future no longer holds the fears it used to, reports Lira Valeyeva

Notes from Samara

Samara's panorama 

Each region has its own problems and ways of dealing with the economic crisis. The response of Samara's residents has been to sink back into overwhelming apathy, Sergei Khazov observes

Life in Kazan: defying the crisis

The economic crisis has reached Tatarstan, and in a land like Russia where the rich are free to act solely in their own interests, the effects are harsh. Still, regional identity remains cohesive, so in many ways life goes on as always, writes Oleg Pavlov

Kazan-Qolsharif Mosque

The impressive Qolsharif Mosque in Kazan's Kremlin attracts the faithful and tourists

Sakhalin, the Island of Cyclones and Abundant Snow

Sakhalin scenery

Ksenya Semenova comes from Sakhalin Island, on Russia's far eastern coast. She is 23, has never been to the Russia mainland, and loves the island, with its exotic natural beauty. Wryly, she describes how ‘the crisis' is hitting them, why President Medvedev came to visit and why the islanders are cross with him.

Far East is still far away

Khabarovsk panorama

The Kremlin's choice to hold the latest EU-Russia summit in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, right by China, may have been political - China wants Russia's gas too. But for the residents of Khabarovsk, the summit just meant traffic jams, and China's proximity just means industrial pollution

Summer in Saratov

Saratov Center 

Summer brings a holiday air, and seasonal jobs, to the Volga city of Saratov, observes Olga Bakutina in this Letter from Russia. But the underlying economic problems remain, and the autumn promises to be hard

The Vyatlag Archipelago

Vyatka colony cell 

Penal colonies are still holding thousands of prisoners in the Kirov Oblast, reports Ekaterina Lushnikova in this latest in our series of Letters from Russia

Letters from Russia: Lipetsk ! You can get a life – in spite of everything!

Life may be hard and is often unfair, says our correspondent from Lipetsk, but people manage, in spite of the crisis and all the other problems.

Lipetsk-Industrial zone

A sunny Mayday in Izhevsk

Letters from Russia:

It is rare that we hear voices from cities in Russia other than Moscow and St. Petersburg. Much of the political and cultural  life of the country is indeed concentrated in those two urban centres. But that other Russia of the provinces, which Russians themselves call the ‘glubinka’, is a hugely significant factor  and not just because of its rich mineral resources. The very fact of its vastness is a determining factor on the country’s politics and culture. openDemocracy Russia and our patner Russian site will be running a regular series of letters to the outside world from regional journalists, from Sakhalin in the east to Kaliningrad in the west. We have asked our authors to focus on the daily life of their neighbours, friends and colleagues, to tell us how they are feeling during this global crisis. We want to hear about their concerns and priorities. We want to share their dreams. We will hear how people are coping with hardships of daily life; how their lives are affected by corruption, how they feel about their government and the future of their country.

Let us start in the Western Urals city of Izhevsk…

Editors of openDemocracy Russia, Editor of


How do people spend a sunny public May holiday in the provincial city of Izhevsk ? Nadezhda Gladysh sets out with her collie dog Greg   Greg-collie to find out

Roman Abramovich's Chukotka project

Russia's far east is the site of an experiment in government and social development led by Roman Abramovich, billionaire businessman and owner of Chelsea football club. Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, who has tracked the Chukotka story for six years, uses his unique access to the region to send this progress report.
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