VIKTOR MIKHAILOV
"People, who can, leave, but what will happen to those who stay?"



Why do people get attached to the North? It is difficult for me to answer, because I have been on Dikson since my birth, this life is the best for me. I think, the attachment is connected with the different relationships between the people as they are not on the mainland. In hard life conditions people always share everything: the last piece of bread, the news, their problems. Leave a group of people in the forest – there is no doubt that they will stay together. It is the same in the Arctic. Hard polar conditions encourage people to form a community and value such things as responsibility, kindness, spirit, decency. During soviet times these qualities were associated with the concept of polar explorers, it was important what the person was like.

My father was a real polar explorer. He came to Dikson at the end of the1960s, worked as a wireless operator at the radio meteorological center and was later employed in a fish-factory and became a professional hunter and fisherman. He began a long distance relationship with my mum and some time later she moved to Dikson too. I was born in February 1971, went to the kindergarten and later to school there on the island. I joined the army from Dikson and after I enlisted in the Army I went back there. I lived on the island until 1998, working as the main mechanic for a wood processing company before becoming self-employed. After a 70% reduction in the population, my wife and child moved to the mainland; I joined them later.
The island part of the settlement was geographically different from the mainland one. For example we had an aerodrome and the people of the mainland had a sea port. From the window of my house, 12 in the Papanin street, I could see the ice aerodrome, which was also well visible from my way to school. While walking to school my friend and I counted the planes docked at the port and sorted them according to the type and make. Sometimes they were as many as twenty. Can you imagine how interesting it was for us children? I think there is no need to guess why the island was closed: it is always easier to support one settlement than two. Dikson always depended on the state budget and donations, so it was inevitable that the government would eventually reduce funding. They were boiler-houses, diesel power stations and so on. Furthermore at one point the number of inhabitants on the island decreased from thousands to hundreds of people. The closing of the island was an expected, but unpopular solution among the people. I doubt whether I would have accepted it as an island inhabitant.
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In hard life conditions people always share everything: the last piece of bread, the news, their problems. Leave a group of people in the forest – there is no doubt that they will stay together.
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Badge Dikson

Why did people earlier go to live in the North? Either because of romance or from taking a job for the sake of making quick and easy money. But mostly, even the people, who went because of money only, stayed and couldn't imagine their lives without the Arctic anymore. Take the case of the polar station workers. Life at the station is comfortable; the workers are supplied with products, books and films. There go hunting, fishing and so on. Though they don't earn a lot of money, they also don't need to spend anything. Life on Dikson was very similar, the people became self-assured and independent. Each person had a chance to work, to save enough money for a holiday, to save the money they earned and felt wealthy when they went to the mainland in summer. What is more, we shouldn't forget the fact that the settlement was supported by the state.
I believe, the main reason for the decay of the settlement was the introduction of the free market economy, which Dikson and lots of other Arctic settlements were simply unprepared for. It is hardly understandable how it would have been possible to prepare for such things. Whatever the case, the state has to support such territories, because it is just impossible to implement free market economics in such settlement, which are very far away from any roads, supplies and everything else.

There are five businessmen and five shops, that's why the prices are very high. There are overhead expenses on the delivering of products from Norilsk by plane, which everything is dependent on. Of course the style of business in the North is not the best. Maybe, examples abroad could be used, but it seems to me that free market economics don't work in the Arctic. There must be some sort of state intervention: preferences, donations, tax cuts and free economic zones. Private initiatives should be allowed as much as possible. Do you remember the gold-fever of Alaska? So many people were able to make money from it and remain in the North! It would be possible to adopt their methods; we are anxious for democracy, but without allowing recourses to belong to a small group of people.
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Whatever the case, the state has to support such territories, because it is just impossible to implement free market economics in such settlement, which are very far away from any roads, supplies and everything else.
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The fish-factory of Dikson was run successfully during socialism. Almost in the whole Dikson region – along Yenisey bay, near the north-eastern and north-western parts of Taymyr – the farmers, hunters and fishermen were busy catching Arctic fox, fish and seal, which was a profitable business. The fish-factory was among the first of many businesses to be closed. Then the government began to eliminate private fishing with their own hands, using bureaucratic obstacles. I remember going there two years ago and talking about that to the regional administration. On the one hand people weren't allowed to go far away from the settlement, but on the other hand, some "fish" laws began to forbid catching of fish. A lot of supervision inspectors were sat there. What people in the North needed was greater freedom instead of letting them pay taxes and catch fish, it was much better than to pull the plug.

Now on Dikson there are only 500 people per thousands of square kilometers, so bears have started wandering through the settlement. As a result we see a large underused territory whereas earlier there used to be winter huts every 20 kilometers. They still exist now, but are in ruin and there are no people there any more. In the 1990s I already had some proposals prepared on how to develop fishing, tourism and the collection of driftwood. They were proposals with the aim of developing small businesses through government finance. In the end we got nothing and the main reasons were the long distances from the roads, the costs of delivering products and the high cost of energy consumption.
As for development of tourism, Dikson is hardly ready to welcome tourists as during the last years the regularity of airliners was not credible. If the passengers' number is under 50–70%, the flight is put off till the next week, that's it. You have probably heard how Rosaviatsia forbade flying to Dikson in 2012 just with the stroke of pen. People had to go from Dudinka to Dikson by tiny boats on Yenisey. Talking about the tourism, it always needs some financial support. Could it be possible to receive it now when the interest and dollar rates are so high? The point is that I, unfortunately, don't see a big interest and any sensitivity from the local government.

Flying by plane above the southern part of Taymyr, I wandered how many settlements I saw where people lived and worked using a rotational work system. Geologists worked actively, both oil and gas derricks were set up. Dikson is too far from those deposits. Now the government chooses places which are closer to Dudinka, maybe, step by step they will go on towards the outlet to the Kara Sea. What Dikson vitally needs now is of course the highest possible weakness of administrative barriers. I remember the story about Nikifor Begichev. He was seriously ill with scurvy and when the products were finally delivered to him, it was too late, because at that time he could drink only! So does the Arctic need urgent changes. And at these rates we will never see the better times... I must say, that even Dudinka is in the doldrums: the roads are bad and lots of people go away. And we are talking about saving small and almost unused Dikson.
The huge Soviet Union needed to obtain the right for undeveloped territories, to get continuously information about predictions, satellites, movements of shipping and so on. At that time people were needed, meteorological stations, seaports, service organizations, military personnel were needed. Now we are said: Guys, what do you need the staff of sea operations with lots of people for? Satellites fly now and give the whole complete information which was given by range of polar aviation. It is economically not advantageous to build new settlements and to support their inhabitants. What provides for the developing of the Arctic now? Of course, it is pumping of hydrocarbons: oil and gas. The geologists will come, will find what and where it is possible to take from, will set up a settlement with good life conditions and will work as a maintenance staff. A modern two-storeyed house for Hydromet was built on Dikson, a kind of polar station. Ten people live there and do their job, but using antiquated computers. That is all we have now from a very potent settlement in the past.
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I believe, the best times remain in our memories only. In the modern model of development the Arctic I don't see any chance of reconstruction to give the northern settlements their previous power and prosperity. I am not a pessimist at all, I am just a realist.
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I love my region, Dikson, the Arctic and Russia. Before the celebration of the100th anniversary of the settlement I asked the people from Dikson if they would go there to celebrate or why they couldn't do that. Leaving Dikson I actually have never said good bye to it. I understood, that any moment would be right to pack and go there if I wanted. I have never felt the separation from my native land, lots of things remind me the life on Dikson: the kindergarten, the school, my family, young and older years of my life. I remember the times we went on expeditions and lived the Arctic lives. That is why I continue going on Dikson as if it was my house.

Above Dikson

Victor Mikhaiov's flight to Dikson dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the settlement
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