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Foreword - Столицы и регионы в современной России: мифы и реальность пятнадцать лет спустя

Modern Russia is commonly described as a multi-cultural society. It is believed to combine several coexisting lifestyle hubs, the most popular of which include the large capital metropolises like Moscow and St. Petersburg, on the one hand, and the Russian provinces, scattered with remote towns and villages that are far removed from the key industrial and information centers, on the other hand. The first category is perceived as the staples of postindustrial lifestyle, or “beacons of global civilization”, while the second category preserves the traditional culture, which is largely a blend of Soviet and pre-Soviet customs.

However, the current estimates, based on the many years’ worth of research performed by the IS RAS, show that the past few years have been seeing a certain mitigation of the capital-backwater rivalry, which was so typical of the 1990s. This is mostly happening due to the ongoing erosion of traditional subcultures and the expansion of the consumption society’s values and lifestyle patterns. As a result, the direction of the confrontation is changing as well. The mythology that use to be solely centered round Russia’s capital metropolises now often gets applied to other major cities, such as the administrative centers of various republics, krais, and oblasts, as well as key hubs in rapidly developing regions, as the people living there, just as the people living in the capitals, turn into the target of envy on the part of some people living elsewhere. Furthermore, there are objective reasons for fostering the rivalry between the capitals and the regional centers: certain regions act as donors for the federal budget, supplying more money than they take out, and in some of them, the resulting resentment towards the capitals is intermingled with long-standing ethnic and cultural differences in traditions, which give the Russian regions a sound reason to assert themselves as unique self-reliant entities. At the same time, some regional hubs turn into a manner of attraction centers for the surrounding areas, revealing their increased social and economic potential.

This logically gives rise to a number of questions. Are the people living in the Russian metropolises and the provinces as removed from one another and as unbending in their rivalry as it is generally believed? Which processes actually occur in the mindset and behavior of Russians in the capitals and the provinces (economic, sociocultural, informational, and other) against the background of changes in Russian interregional relations? How lasting are the preconceptions that form the mass mythology of modern Russia, and how does this reflect the current quality of life in different settlement types, as well as the value sets, interests, and preferences of people residing in these settlements? Is Russia still spiritually and mentally divided like in the 1990s, or does it bear the seeds of a new social and cultural unity between nations and regions? And finally, what is the relevant impact of the changes that have been occurring over the past 15 years in all aspects of Russian society’s life across all settlement types?

To find answers to these questions, and any additional questions that might arise out of them, the IS RAS carried out a nationwide study[1] in April and May 2017. The study was titled The Capitals and Regions of Modern Russia: 15 Years Later, and its results served as the key empiric base for the analysis presented in this monograph. The scope of the study’s selective total amounted to 2000 respondents, representing Russia’s adult population, aged 18 years and over. The representational value of sociological information was ensured by the use of a multi-stage model of region-based sampling with quota selection of observation targets (respondents), which was developed especially for our study. At the first stage, regional sampling was carried out across the territorial and economic areas of the Russian Federation in accordance with the guidelines suggested by Rosstat. The second stage of sampling was dedicated to singling out typical regions of the Russian Federation within each territorial and economic area, which resulted in a classification that included two capital metropolises (Moscow and St. Petersburg) and 22 other regions. The third stage of sampling involved the calculation of quotas within the regions, based on 5 settlement types: capital metropolises; administrative centers of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation; district administrative centers; urban type settlements; and villages. At the fourth stage of sampling, i.e. when the interviewers directly selected respondents for the survey at set quotas, the interviewers bored in mind the following parameters: the respondents’ social and employment-based indicators, their gender, and their age groups, split into five cohorts: 18–30 years old; 31–40 years old; 41–50 years old; 51–60 years old; 60+ years old.

The second source of data that this volume has relied on is the Megalopolises and Provinces in Modern Russia: Images and Reality study[2], carried out in December 2003 by the Institute of Comprehensive Social Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences together with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. That study was based on responses from 1752 people. Most of them (1600) respondents represented Russian population as a whole, while the remaining respondents were selected additionally to ensure better representation of the population of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Furthermore, this monograph also builds upon data from a number of several other nationwide surveys, most of which were conducted by this project’s work group between 1995 and 2017. Out of those, the most widely used survey is The Rich and The Poor in Modern Russia, dating back to 2003 (the sample of respondents representing the entire Russian population amounted to 2106 people). The rest of the data used in this book for analyzing the dynamics of various processes in certain areas was mostly taken from the different waves of the 2014–2016 IS RAS monitoring project, titled “The dynamics of social transformation of modern Russia’s socio-economic, political, socio-cultural and ethno-religious contexts” (RNF project No. 14-28-00218). Each of its waves involved 4,000 respondents.

Our study, The Capitals and Regions of Modern Russia: 15 Years Later, was aimed at conducting a comparative analysis of the results of several nationwide surveys dedicated to examining the lifestyle of Russians residing in large metropolises and the provinces, and conducted between 2003 and 2017. To meet this key goal, we had to complete a number of research and analytical objectives, such as:

1. Evaluating the actual quality and standards of living in the metropolises and other regions (this includes income structure, the everyday economic patters, material and real estate property, and other features);

2. Determining and analyzing how Russians perceive the current living conditions in the country on the whole and in their home regions in particular;

3. Assessing the social and mental state of Russians living in different settlement types, as well as the degree to which they are satisfied with the various aspects of their life;

4. Determining the actual features of mentality and life goals of people living in the capitals and other regions (this includes social and general values, notions of social norms, cultural and religious guidelines, sense of belonging and aversion towards various ethnic and social groups, attitudes towards the Western and Russian civilization);

5. Singling out the key lifestyles of modern Russians their typical leisure activities and the peculiarities of their social network interactions, as well as determining how these are influenced by the place of residence;

6. Evaluating the national and civic identity of Russians living in metropolitan areas and the provinces (including their key ideological and political landmarks, their sense of self-sufficiency, and the unifying and centrifugal processes);

7. Identifying the specific practices of social existence typical of various social groups residing in the capitals and the provinces.

Since, formally speaking, Moscow and St. Petersburg are not the country’s only metropolitan cities (although they do differ drastically from all other million-plus metropolises in terms of population size), we are going to refer to these two cities specifically as “the capitals” or sometimes “major megalopolises”. Furthermore, given that the areas beyond the cities often invoke negative connotations in Russian culture, being “provinces”, this monograph[3] will utilize several synonymous terms to describe them, predominantly “regions”, as opposed to the “capitals”. The term “province” also occurs sporadically in this volume, especially in the context of being divided into “urban provinces”, on the one hand, including the oblast, krai, and other regional centers of the Russian Federation, as well as other cities in these regions, and “countryside”, or “non-urban provinces”, on the other hand, encompassing villages and urban type settlements. The people living in both latter settlement types are the ones referred to as residents of rural areas. When we speak of villages specifically, however, as opposed to rural areas on the whole, this means that we did not include people living in urban type settlements in our calculations.

Our team has consciously utilized the diversity of various analysis swathes, as reflected by the use of our terminology, among other factors (metropolitan vs the provinces, capital population vs regional population, people from Moscow vs people from St. Petersburg, urban provinces vs rural provinces, centers of Russian regions vs district centers and regions), as these multiple dichotomies perform a momentous differentiation role across the various aspects of our analysis within Russia. Consequently, for each instance of analysis, we selected those differentiation parameters that allowed us to give the boldest outline of the differences between various settlement types. At the same time, we only have two comparison principles that are present throughout our book. The first is the contrast between the two capitals, which are also Russia’s largest metropolises (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and other regions (provinces); while the second is the contrast between Moscow and “the rest of Russia”, because our research has revealed that, judging by practically every basic lifestyle and worldview aspect, St. Petersburg is closer to regional centers than to Moscow.

This monograph has been compiled by a work group of the following researchers: M.K. Gorshkov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (head of research, author of the general research concept, introduction and conclusion); N.E. Tikhonova, doctor of sociology (co-head of research, chapters 3, 6, and 10); V.A. Anikin, candidate of economics (chapter 2); A.V. Karavay, candidate of sociology (chapter 3); U.V. Latov, doctor of sociology (chapters 8 and 9); N.V. Latova, candidate of sociology (chapters 5 and 8); Yu. P. Lezhnina, candidate of sociology (chapter 4); S.V. Mareeva, candidate of sociology (chapters 1 and 7).


1. From July 2017, known as the Federal Sociological Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
2. Became part of the RAS Institute of Sociology in 2005.
3. As the same time, as revealed in our book, the negative attitude towards the provinces is gradually fading away, and some modern Russians even consider a provincial lifestyle even more attractive in some respect than residing in the capital.

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