Field Trip Archangelsk – Mezen July 2019

Ekaterina Emeliantseva Koller

In July 2019, I went for the first time to the North-East of the Archangelsk area, to a small town of Mezen, located on the right bank of the Mezen River close to the point where it flows into the White Sea. At that time of the year, one can reach this area by flight, by road and by water. I took the fastest way by a flight with a small plane of the regional airline. Still, it took additional time to get to Mezen: the regional company as well as the airport in Mezen operate only by daylight and often stop their services because of weather conditions such as strong winds or fog.

Without the support of local history enthusiasts my work in the archive of Mezen wouldn’t have been possible, the local museum was open for me even outside the opening hours. As main result of my research I managed to collect a dense source base about a particular village which became a focal point of my project on late Soviet village – a tiny settlement of Safonovo, located on the Pyoza River in the very East of the Mezen region.

By chance and with the help of ethnographers from the University of St. Petersburg I came into possession of the house books from Safonovo from the years 1973-75 with all the detailed descriptions of households (buildings on the plot, occupants of several generations, stock, plants). The former head of the village club administration was very helpful in providing me with a lot of private materiel – visual and text sources documenting the everyday in Savonovo. Further, party meetings minutes, results of economic plans, delivery lists of consumer goods and victuals and other party and state archival documentation about the village of Safonovo, which I found in the archives in Mezen and Archangelsk, complete my source basis. I was also fortunate to meet several people from Safonovo and to talk to them about their lives between Safonovo, Mezen and Archangelsk. The case of Safonov is a peculiar one: on the one hand, Safonovo is the most remote settlement of the Archangelsk region that can be reached by road only during the winter, just several months of the year by water and only by an airplane during the whole year. On the other hand, during the last Soviet decades, this village wasn’t cut off from the rest of the region due to a well-developed infrastructure. Ordinary villagers were able to take quite cheaply a flight to Mezen’ or Archangelsk several times a week. This ambivalence of geographical remoteness and infrastructural accessibility constitutes one of this village’s specific features and is symptomatic for the characteristics of rural development in the late Soviet period: extreme diversity of rural settlements beyond a “traditional village” and such idiosyncratic forms of entanglement between the city and the village as “situational rurality/urbanity” instead of a linear one-way process of urbanization.

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