Jan 24, 2012

Back to the village: When nature calls | Russia Beyond The Headlines - Russians find the life in big cities tiresome and leave the "concrete jungles" for countryside communities - eco-villages.

January 23, 2012
Grigory Kubatian

Some Russians are giving up the dream of a successful life in the city for living as rural people did centuries ago.

A number of Russians find the life in big cities tiresome and leave the "concrete jungles" for countryside communities - eco-villages. Pictured: The Sinegorye village in the Krasnodar Region founded by the “Anastasie" group. Source: Grigory Kubatian

A few years ago, Russians flocked to the cities where it was thought life would be easier and more comfortable, but now the tide has turned, and people are leaving to start a new life in the countryside. These people have simply had enough of life in the concrete jungle; the world of noise, smog, dirt, traffic jams, bad drinking water and artificial food from the supermarket shelves. Yet some people know how to deal with the problem. They get together, form a community and create an eco-village.

The main difference between an ordinary Russian village and an eco-village is the people that live there. Inhabitants of an average Russian village were generally born there, rarely travel, and adhere to strict local customs. People living in eco-villages, on the other hand, are exiles from city life, and they tend to hold to various ''environmental'' ideas. These ideas often have a lot in common with Buddhism: no meat, no cigarettes, no alcohol, a policy of non-violence and clean-living, and being in tune with nature as far as possible. This means only environmentally friendly building materials, and nothing but the best organic food. The traditional concept of family planning is not regarded here – people have as many children as God sees fit.

On paper, and also in the many Internet forums on ecological living, all this sounds idyllic - a return to a lost rural paradise. But what is it really like?

One of the most pressing problems facing these eco-pioneers is the question of accommodation, and at the moment these eco-villages mainly consist of cheap and simple houses. Building a traditional Russian wooden log cabin requires skilled craftsmen, and quite a lot of money – in the 21st century you can’t just go to the woods and chop down a tree. It’s therefore much simpler to build a house out of daub (clay mixed with straw), or sometimes straw on its own. Some villages have earthen houses that are partially buried underground. This is supposed to solve the problem of heating, and there is probably a lot of truth in this, however, this does not stop the people who were born and raised in the countryside from laughing at these new-age villagers: clay houses and dug-outs were the traditional abode of serf peasants before the revolution, as well as the partisans who were forced to hastily set up camp in the forest to escape the Nazis. The people who live in the eco-village have a good come-back for these comments: They say that there is nothing wrong with a cheap house – if the local authorities dismantle it, it’s not difficult to build a new one. Most of the new villagers are so wary of the government that they are prepared to live in primitive communal conditions to avoid having to deal with them.

Food is another issue. In order to “survive the apocalypse” and “guarantee the health of your children” you have to grow your own food – a good variety of it, all free of chemicals and enough to last you through the winter. The ideas of permaculture, as propagated by the Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer and the Japanese writer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka are becoming increasingly popular amongst newcomers to the countryside, who are often also new to the concept of hard manual labor. Permaculture is defined as ''permanent agriculture'' and works on the basis that cultivated crops grow in symbiosis with wild plants, and a farmer can grow crops by working with the natural ecosystem. This means there is no need to plough the earth or use fertilizers, and the farmer does not need to worry about removing weeds and pests. The idea is that in the right environment the plants will sort things out for themselves.

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