Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sovkhoz and chicken

Today and yesterday, I got to visit two other places in the region, Shavat and Amir Timur.

In Shavat, we were hosted by a retired kolkhoz chief in a most sumptuous manner, with pomegranates and other fruits from his garden, sweets, vodka, salads, vodka, bread, vodka, and a rather intriguing chicken dish. The chicken is cut in pieces, browned in a pan, then quince, turnip, onions, coriander seed and garlic are added, and the whole slowly simmers. Our host quoted at length from the Avesta, the book of Zoroaster, who presumably lived in this area ca 1000 BC.

Once I got over my fascination with the chicken and Zarathustra, the conversation went well, and I learnt quite a few things about the relations between kolkhoz, collective farms, and sovkhoz, state farms. The two were much more interwoven than I thought, and some of the stories we heard before, made more sense.

A sovkhoz could be initiated by players at all levels: the military could order their establishment to provide food security for bases in the republics, industrial ministries could push for state farms producing inputs for manufacturing, regional and local leaders could lobby for farms in their areas. And kolkhoz managers could move the idea forwards. If the sovkhoz was dropped from high up, the chances for success were usually lower -people were less motivated to work, more motivated to secretly privatize some assets.

If local party leaders or kolkhoz people wanted them, then they usually were part of an economic development strategy that actually made sense for the locals. Sometimes a kolkhoz director wanted a sovkhoz next door in the hope to take over the state- financed enterprise later, to expand his own business, sometimes he thought it would be important for a next generation of farmers. Local party people were interested in employment opportunities, in infrastructural investment, in synergies with other assets and activities.

These Soviet bottom- up development strategies, I believe, are not so different from what you can find in the U.S. right now: local communities have to lobby continuously with higher levels of government and with businesses for investment, to cover even the most basic needs. In the U.S.S.R., competition was as fierce as anywhere else, it is just that all players were officially under the label 'state'.

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