Barnaul and Altai Krai
First things first… A Krai is essentially a Russian federal territory, as distinguished from an Oblast, which is a provincial region named after its administrative city or centre. Krais have their administrative centres/cities too (Altai has Barnaul…), but the use of the term “Krai” refers to their historic frontier or border status (evoking a particular brand of “interesting” Wild-East history). Other than that, the functional “form” is basically the same.
To confuse things a little, there are a total of 6 types of “federal subject” and 83 subjects in total ranging from autonomous districts to major cities that function as distinct regions in themselves.
Anyway: Altai Krai…
Geographically, Altai Krai is characterised by a dynamic landscape of rivers, rolling hills, grasslands and, of course, those famous mountains, and is the place to go for many holidaying Russians… in the same way the us Brits have Sunny Skegg… er, oh…
And for tourists too, of course, it’s something of a must-see.
Due to its abundance of natural raw materials, the region supports a spectrum of modern industry ranging across chemical, engineering, power, building materials, textiles and agricultural production.
The region was also a great thoroughfare and travel-interchange for migratory tribes throughout ancient history, and today divulges evidence of occupation (including numerous remarkable artefacts) from as far back as the 2nd Millennium BC. Descendant Turkic societies still populate the region often living the modern equivalent of their traditional nomadic lifestyles (outside of city-life), or perhaps incorporating modernity either “to taste”, or more likely, budget…
It’s somewhat of a “blanket” term: “Turkic”, covering 20 plus tribal sub-categories, sometimes grouped into six broads strands… as I mentioned in a previous article.
Interestingly enough, the second largest population group here is German… though running at 3%, compared to 92% Russian. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting legacy of Empress Catherine II …better known as Catherine the Great – herself a German. Whilst not instigating the earliest wave of German immigrants (that dates back to Vasilli III in the 16th Century), she certainly opened the doors wider by proclamation and invitation in 1763, hastening the influx.
It seems that Altai grass was certainly greener in the face of European conflict, religious intolerance and poor economic conditions. She sweetened the deal further by offering significant civil rights and degrees of autonomy that immigrants would have been hard pressed to find at home, coupled with immunity from forced military service and hugely favourable tax incentives too. The term “No Brainer” springs to mind.
This honeymoon period was to end with the rise of Russian nationalism under Alexander III who firmly closed those same doors, bolting them shut in1871 by repealing Catherine’s policy and in turn marking the encroachment of a system of greater scrutiny and enforced conformity upon those who “come over ‘ere and…” We can imagine the level of ire amongst the the native Russian populace in the face of such inequality, whether perceived or real… and in a time when such a pleasantry as political correctness was not even a glint in a New-Left-Wing eye… And certainly not in Russia. This resulting backlash (and historical events) would ultimately result in the emigration of many German settlers and their descendants until a reduced “core” remained. But anyway, for a time it was no doubt sweet … not counting those Russian winters of course.
More Barnaul and Altai Krai next time…
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 48) Examining Barnaul and its surroundings