I received a link to a short article by Till Mostowlansky today on ‘Moscow provisioning’ (moskovskoe obespechenie), a phenomenon that Till also explores in his remarkable dissertation on the Trans-Pamir highway (‘Azan on the Moon’). In it, he makes the important point that ‘Moscow provisioning’ was qualitatively different from the other forms of additional payments that workers in particularly remote, cold or high-altitude regions of the Soviet Union received. It signalled a particular form of social, material and aesthetic connection too, in which Moscow literally ‘multiplied’. As Till says there:
For people in the region it also meant a cultural connection to Moscow in the sense of being modern, educated, Russophone, mobile and multi-ethnic. This cultural connection was reinforced by the presence of engineers, scientists and large deployments of border guards in Gorno-Badakhshan as well as by local people travelling to other parts of the Soviet Union for education and work.
It was interesting to read Till’s article in conjunction with Elizabeth Dunn’s analysis of botulism and the ‘variegated state’ in Georgia, which I will be discussing with my students tomorrow in ‘The Anthropology of the State’. Both pieces point to the complex and differentiated spatiality of Soviet governance, in ways that challenge rather monochrome accounts of socialist or neoliberal governmentality. They also provide two very different reminders of the way particular infrastructures (roads, canning factories, repair stations) outlive the eras in which they were envisioned, and the ways that they can contribute to a haunting of the present by the past, in quite physical and violent ways.