Emphasizing Results-Driven Projects

The village of Guriyskaya, which would make an excellent set for an ethnographic film about the Kuban Cossacks, had 26 agricultural teams set up in place of the dissolved collective farms. Only one of these - Alabyevo - has survived.

When others were selling their inherited collective farm equipment to get new TV sets and coffee makers, Alabyevo was buying it. Now, 15 years after the start of the reforms, the team's field looks like a technical crossword, with spare parts of tractors and combines neatly laid out on groundsheets over a vast clean area.

Agricultural engineers are cannibalizing old equipment to make new tractors and combines for the spring sowing. Harvests here, in the forest foothills, are two to three times below the regional average, but without grain the households that form the foundation of the local economy would be unable to feed their pigs and cows.

The team also puts out fires in the village, cleans the roads, shoots the jackals that frequent woodsheds with piglets, and carries out an enormous number of social functions. It does all this practically for free. In 2005, a poor harvest threatened this relatively successful team with bankruptcy. But it got a loan from the regional credit cooperative under the national project to develop the agro-industrial sector.

Alexei Chadayev, a Russian political journalist and member of the Public Chamber, considers this project to be the most successful in Russia today. He has a television program about the national projects and has quite a few observations on this subject. It is his idea that the "national projects" are simply a euphemism for reforms (the word "reform" is very unpopular in Russia, although the will for change in many spheres continues to be strong). "But this is not just a change in the name. National projects deal with strategic rather than current tasks in modern Russia. The center of the reforms has been shifted to the social sphere - education, healthcare and housing," he explained. "But national projects are not profile programs within individual departments, for which the bosses allocate money to gain popularity," he added. Chadayev believes that "national projects are a major common cause, which by no means boils down to the allocation of money by the state."

He thinks that national projects can and should become instruments for making money, and compares them to the specific, goal-oriented measures to support the construction industry in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s, which became the driver of its economic growth. Moreover, education, healthcare, the agro-industrial sector and housing construction are highly capitalized industries, which bring global companies huge profits. Therefore, it would be sensible to develop the new economy by using the benefits provided by construction, healthcare, education and medical technologies.

The term "projects" is not accidental - it came to replace the word "programs," which was used in the 1990s. "The word `project' emphasizes that it deals with controlling the results rather than spending," Chadayev explained. "It is also important that these projects are called `national' rather than governmental.' Their goal is to create an infrastructure whereby citizens cease to be passive recipients of benefits from the top and become active participants in the process of building their own life," Chadayev added.

Not everything is going smoothly. The majority of experts consider the housing project the worst. As before, few people can afford housing in Russia, while investment in this project is pushing house prices even higher, thus fuelling inflation.

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