Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 161

161 Arctic Yearbook 2015 Economic and demographic change in the post-Soviet period In the decade following the collapse of communism, Chukotka, like the rest of the former Soviet Union, underwent a series of profound economic, social and political transitions. Such changes were felt across Russia, as the country struggled to create a new political system. The effects of the transition in Chukotka (and in many other northern regions), however, were accentuated by the particular circumstances facing the region, namely its remoteness from other parts of Russia, its lack of development and the high degree of dependency that it had on the central government during the Soviet period. Until the 1990s, Chukotka had been heavily supported by the central state. According to one source: A high regional wage coefficient and the northern wage increment made the wage level considerably higher in Chukotka [than] those in the country in general and in the Magadan Oblast’ in particular. It attracted [a] qualified workforce to the region and the population was increasing due to the influx (Chukotka 2014). As a result, over the course of the post-war period, the population of the region grew exponentially from 20,787 in 1939 to 164,783 in 1989, largely through in-migration from other parts of the Soviet Union. This massive influx of outsiders made indigenous peoples a minority in their homelands. In 1939, indigenous peoples comprised 75.4%of the total population of Chukotka. By 1989, the region’s indigenous population had shrunk to only 30.8% (Abryutina 2007a).3 The break-up of the Soviet Union brought about another demographic shift that was unparalleled, except in times of war and extreme civil strife. Within a decade of the Soviet collapse, the population of Chukotka had shrunk to 53,824, a decline of over 100,000 people (Heleniak 2001). While the sheer numbers and percentages alone are dramatic, what are even more significant are the imbalances such shifts create in the demographic profile of the remaining population. For example, the people who left the region tended to be younger, educated professionals who were more mobile (Hill & Gaddy 2003). This only exacerbated the political and economic challenges facing remote and northern regions such as Chukotka. The outmigration also had a distinctly ethnic dimension in that the majority of residents who left Chukotka wer e Russians and Ukrainians, many of whom came to the region in Soviet times in search of career advancement, higher wages and housing (Thompson 2008). As noted above, over the course of the post-war period, the settler population gradually overwhelmed the indigenous populations of the region. As Thompson (2008: 113) noted in his study of settler-state relations in Chukotka: The collapse of the Soviet Union stripped the settler of practically all those features of privilege that previously defined this population, and it did so with remarkable speed and thoroughness. Northern osvoenie [mastery] had been one of the Soviet regime’s most cherished projects, but the suddenness of its end showed, finally, how little rationale it possessed beyond Moscow’s fiat. Settlers once lived within a zone of remarkable abundance and earned far more than workers on the materik [mainland]. Now Chukotka suffered acute shortages of everyday goods and food, and by the mid1990s, prices rose to the highest level in Russia. Wilson & Kormos