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Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold

by Fiona Hill, Clifford G. Gaddy

Buy the book: Fiona Hill. Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold

Release Date: December, 2003

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Fiona Hill. Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold

It's as though the US tried to re-create Cleveland in Alaska

The authors' main theme is that the Soviets' determination to create cities in Siberia has created an albatross that will hold back Russian economic development forever. Most of the cities of Siberia have no economic justification for existence, and by any standard, should not have been created in the first place. Even where there are large mineral or oil deposits, the cost of maintaining huge cities in the Arctic outweighs any possible profit. Getting these people to move to warmer parts of Russia would be beneficial all round, but is difficult due to housing shortages in the more desirable parts of Russia. The authors argue that Russians need to abandon their notion that settlement of Siberia is the destiny of the Russian people and will make Russia an economic powerhouse.

If there is a flaw here, it is that the authors keep hammering away at their main point, creating a repetitive tone toward the end of the book. Throughout the book there are short articles from various periodicals in gray boxes, which serve to illustrate the authors' theoretical arguments.


Never Trust A Real-Estate Agent

by John Dolan:

Every year or so, another silly theory comes into vogue among Western "Russia hands," that estimable body of scientific prognosticators not one of whom managed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union until three or four years after it had occurred.
Think of all those nineteenth-century editorial cartoons sneering at Seward for buying Alaska from the Russians. That too was worthless, frozen land, fit only for bears. Anybody want to sell it back at, say, 100 times the price? Didn't think so.
Their arguments are often the most naive sort of social-science bluff, as when they use something called "Zipf's Law" to demonstrate that Russia's cities are of the wrong sizes and in the wrong place. I'm not familiar with the work of the unluckily-named Zipf, but if anyone out there knows him, please tell him for me that if Hill and Gaddy's paraphrase is an accurate summary of his theory, he's an ass.
It's somewhat surprising to see an argument so totally illogical praised as "highly original" and "a welcome and important contribution" to Russian studies--until you see who's praising it.
Sachs is, of course, the paradigm of the incompetent, sleazy Western consultant who did so much to destroy Russia in the 90s. Pipes is a mad reactionary who has been shrilly whitewashing serfdom and vilifying the Soviets for what seems like centuries. And Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's East Bloc specialist, is a Russophobe from way, way back, a man who makes Pavel Felgenhauer look like a Rodina deputy.
And it's very easy to see why The Siberian Curse serves their ends. By blaming bad Soviet planners for Russia's fall, this book helps get a sleazebag like Sachs get off the hook, confirms Pipes' one endlessly repeated argument that Soviet = evil, and endorses Brzezinski's conviction that the further east you go, the more Russian and evil everything becomes.
Another blurb-writer, Niall Ferguson of Oxford, states with naive clarity the real reason this book is doing well: "Those still wondering why market reforms have achieved only limited success in Russia since the collapse of Communism cannot afford to overlook this timely and original book."
In other words: Thank you for your book/ It lets us off the hook. The West cannot be blamed for the "limited success" of the "market reforms" carried out by Sachs and accomplices. Turns out the Soviets did it after all-from beyond the grave, as it were.

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