Review of recent meetings

Noel Hibbert, Managing Director of Democon Consulting Ltd, gave an interesting talk entitled "Introducing Local Democracy in Closed Military Towns in Russia", which prompted the usual range of searching questions from our audience.

Noel Hibbert has been active in the Former Soviet Union since 1987. In the course of his research and consultancy work, he has had the opportunity to visit cities which are normally closed to foreigners and see at first hand facilities such as the Nuclear Missile Train which moves between artificially created forests to avoid incoming US missiles.

Some facts and figures:

  • History of closed military towns began with Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great extending forts into Siberia
  • 1,250 closed military towns in Russia with populations of up to 50,000
  • Source of nuclear and biological warfare materials and "briefcase bomb".
  • Zvesdnyi is located 35 km from Perm in the Urals
  • Population of 50,000 people, most have spent their whole life in Zvesdnyi
  • Russian government maintains high standard of facilities

Noel's project is to assist with the establishment of democratic Mayoral administration through training Mayor and deputies, Military Governor and troops in democratic practices, helping media to involve the population in democratic processes. He is also involved in re-training programmes and linking Zvesdnyi to the EU Tele-Cities project.

The Children's Diplomacy project links Zvesdnyi and Coventry Schoolkids (16-18 years old). Perhaps this could be extended to Birmingham schools? Funding is available.

Work continues to establish mentoring and training facilities, an Internet Cafe for scientific entrepreneurs, and a larger funded proposal is under preparation to assist 5 other closed military towns.

Noel concluded that "The closed military cities of Russia are an unknown world - previously inaccessible to other Russians before 1994 when some of them were opened up. They could become potential centres for new weapons of mass destruction, as the century progresses, unless we can bring them under some form of democratic control and accountability and integration with the rest of the world."

The committee and members of the BRS would like to express thanks to Noel Hibber for giving the talk and to the Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) who helped with the advertising and shared the expenses of the evening. It is hoped that it will be possible to arrange further joint events with the RGS.

Noel left the following documents with me. If you would like to read them (and possibly keep them) please let me know.

Topical issues of management of civil-military relations
(Актуальные вопросы развития военно-гражданских отношений)
by Anglo-Russian Curriculum Development Team Moscow-Coventry
(Mostly in Russian, but introduction in English)

Magazine "Погранчик Содружества" (border guards magazine in Russian - includes interesting articles on drug smuggling).

"Городок"- local Soviet-style newspaper of military town of Zvezdnyi near Perm.

I also have some back numbers of the NATO magazine in Russian.
written by Heather Haslett - based on Noel Hibbert's notes

Two events were held during the autumn term. The first, "Helping people in Eastern Europe: Work of the Transrural Trust" was given by Gillian Rose, Projects Co-ordinator of the charity Transrural Trust. She talked on the dramatic changes in the lives of the rural poor in the former Soviet Union following the political changes and the break-up of the USSR. Her presentation was based on her experience managing rural development projects in Moldova and the Balkans. Bee-keeping was among the projects helped by the Trust. From all the interesting slides, the image that stays in my mind is that of the bees in their tree trunk and traditional hives with rebuilt houses in the background in Kosovo. Have bees or people the greater resilience? I know a bee-keeper who says we have much to learn from the way bees run their society.

Gillian's talk was equally interesting to people who knew little about the geographical area or subject matter and to those with more detailed knowledge. The question and answer session was very enlightening and clearly enjoyed by all the participants. There was a wonderful display of painted eggs from Romania, as well as other craft samples. The Birmingham and Midland Institute kindly allowed their display space in the foyer to be used for a display of the decorated eggs. Anyone interested in further information about the Transrural Trust, or able to help to sell the eggs, should contact Gillian Rose, Transrural Trust, 18 Spinners Court, 55 West End, Witney, OX8 6NJ, tel: 01993 771230, email:

The most recent presentation "Ekaterinburg and Birmingham: Two cities - one strategy?" was given by Dr Elena Denezhkina, our Chair, who is the Project Manager for the RACE Project (Russia: Adviser to the City of Ekaterinburg.) This project is funded by the DFID and is based at the School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham. The emphasis of the project is on helping the Ekaterinburg authorities to use the experience of other cities (including Birmingham) to formulate and implement their own policies. Birmingham and Ekaterinburg have many features in common - population, industry, social problems - and Birmingham has overcome many of the problems which Ekaterinburg faces at present. Elena gave us an interesting outline of the background to the project, Ekaterinburg itself, and the political and bureaucratic problems faced when trying to run such a project.

Ekaterinburg is on the Siberian boundary and was a closed city until 1991. In Soviet times it was known as Sverdlovsk and it is infamous as the city where the family of the last Tsar was assassinated. Its links with the West go back to the time of Peter the Great. Surrounded by deposits of metals and precious stones, its main industries have always been linked to metallurgy, and it was an early exporter of quality metals to the west. Ekaterinburg is a city of great contrasts in architecture and standards of living. In typical Russian fashion, people seem to manage quite well on very low official incomes. The number of universities and the level of culture are very high. The unspoilt mountains and virgin forests outside the city offer potential for tourism.

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