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The best way to bankrupt a region: the example of Samara and Mordovia.
Governor Nikolai Merkushkin has been head of Samara Province for four years now, and for 17 years before that he was in charge of neighbouring Mordovia. This is a bureaucrat who famously said, ‘If you bring in 97 per cent of the vote, you have the right to ask for, and even demand, what you need from the authorities.’ He also suggested the place to seek funds to pay arrears of wages and salaries was the US Embassy. This is a politician with a magic touch for ensuring that regions entrusted to his care rapidly become poorer, and turn from being net contributors to the federal budget to areas in need of subsidy, that they sink down the standard of living rankings, but vote more lavishly for the party in power, in some cases even overshooting the 100% mark.
In the past, when I visited Samara it was a pleasure to see the city coming to life, changing from the grey, dismal, hungry, impoverished Kuibyshev of Soviet times into prosperous Samara. But then its progress seemed to stall. Building continued, of course: numerous grandiose churches appeared, expensive mansions were inserted, like false teeth, into the old quarters of the city centre, business centres and elite high-rise buildings with poetic names sprouted. But development relevant to the lives of everybody, rather than just the local elite, ground to a standstill