Senses of place, mobility and viability in industrial northern communities: the Murmansk  region case study

fieldwork by Alla Bolotova, 2007 (photographs to follow soon)

This study is based on qualitative life-history research in the Murmansk  region, for which the process of becoming psychologically attached to the North, following physical migration, is analysed. A two-weeks pilot research was conducted in November-December 2006. At that time main attention was paid to the analysis of the state resettlement program, for that Bolotova interviewed people who were involved in this program and also local experts working on the program. Fieldwork in 2007 was conducted during 3 months (May and September-October) in three industrial towns in the Murmansk region: Apatity, Kirovsk and Kovdor. All together 70 interviews were conducted, plus participant observation by living in those cities in private apartments. Numerous local contacts were established both within the academic community and with local inhabitants. Very important support came from local civil society organizations:  the human rights NGO “Memorial” in Kirovsk and Apatity, pensioners clubs in all cities, and other organizations developing cultural activities (like choirs and film-making clubs). Fieldwork also included participant observation at several celebrations in these towns for different occasions, both organized by the local authorities and informal gatherings of local inhabitants.

Another aspect of the Murmansk 2007 fieldwork was the literature review, which included mainly the soviet literature about settlement politics, approaches and experience in the North of the country for their industrial development. Another body of literature deals with the question of to re-settling people from the north and reduce population there. A large amount of local history literature about Murmansk region was collected both published in soviet times and modern. Films about the towns made by local inhabitants turned out to be a valuable source about the immigration history of northern cities and their inhabitant’s attachment to place, as well as old photographs made by informants showing local history.

A short tentative research was done in Bugry – a settlement in Leningrad  region where a significant part of the population consists of people resettled from northern regions, mostly from Kirovsk, one of the three case study sites in the project. One of the main findings there was that mostly young people tend to move to flats there, instead of retired people who were the original main target group of the resettlement programs. Many retired people stay in the North or commute between their northern and southern residences, while they tend to give their right to acquire housing in the south to their children. This is an unintended result of the state resettlement programmes from the Russian North.