Puchezh District Mayor Alexander Klimov is admired both at home and abroad. US Representative Charles Taylor assessed the work of Klimov’s administration with just one short phrase: “This is the way to Russia’s prosperity.” And in 1998 then Russian Minister of Agriculture Viktor Semyonov said that “Klimov speaks the language which we are trying to teach to the whole of Russia.”
At 45, Klimov has become one of the most authoritative leaders of Ivanovo region (where Puchezh is located). He heads the most remote district of the region (157 km from Ivanovo) and one that is hardly the largest (just 20,500 residents; 11,800 in Puchezh and 8,700 in rural areas). However, fellow mayors in the district elected him Chairman of the Council of Heads of Administrations of Towns and Districts of Ivanovo Region. Klimov has the reputation of a doer who knows how to make the most out of his district using local resources.
At that, the resourceful Klimov boasts a rather typical “socialist” resume. An agronomist by education, he worked as chief agronomist, and then as chairman of the collective farm Leninsky Put (“Lenin’s Way”) after graduating from the institute. And at the age of just 33, Klimov was made the head of the Puchezh CPSU District.
But then, Mother Russia deviated a bit from “Lenin’s way,” and the CPSU and the Soviet Union both disbanded. Still, Klimov was an able administrator, communist party or no, and in 1992 he was elected head of the Puchezh district administration—effectively the mayor of Puchezh and its environs.
In 1992, the local economy was in a shambles. A brewery and a flax kombinat were left without any orders, and their workers without jobs. And these two enterprises employed over two-thirds of the district’s population. But the spiral did not end there: when the money stopped being paid, local residents stopped growing flax and the once flax-rich district risked being left without flax, jobs or factories.
But Klimov knew what he had to do. He did not do what his neighbors did, giving up on flax production. Instead, he worked towards the resurrection of his region’s flax industry. Alexander Vasilievich decided to focus on creating a self-contained, vertical development plan: field ‘ flax factory ‘ flax kombinat ‘ sewing industry. At first, the plan was funded with subsidies from the budget. After the sector was revived, investors got interested. Increased financing helped renovate the factory and buy new agricultural equipment for the villages.
Soon, flax became Puzhech district’s “calling card.” The collection of fashions manufactured by the Puchezh factory Istoki received a grant from The Soros Foundation and toured numerous cities in Russia and even traveled to the US (Waterford and Washington). School students from Puchezh demonstrated products made from flax on the stairs of the Capitol in DC.
In 1998, on Klimov’s initiative, Puchezh joined the program “Small Towns of Russia,” patronized by The Soros Foundation in Russia. As a result, the town won several grants worth over $100,000.
“Of course, it is not huge financing, but it is not the money which is primary in this cooperation,” Klimov said. “It is hard to measure either in dollars or in rubles the knowledge, information and the practical books we received during seminars.” Cooperation with Soros also served as an impetus to search for new, non-traditional solutions. And Klimov didn’t put all his eggs in one basket: “They showed us how to fish, now we need to make the rod ourselves,” Klimov said.
Thus, in addition to flax, other local industries were revived. Puchezh now boasts the region’s largest forest and mill; the Puchezh dairy factory now produces delicious cheese and the local collective farm (still called “Lenin’s Way”) annually receives gold medals for its sheep (whose breed name, ironically, is Romanov). Last but not least, Puchezh is located on the shores of Volga, and offers great opportunities for “back to nature” tourism, like hunting, fishing or dacha tours.
Free of Soviet-style “gigantomania,” Klimov has a realistic view of his region’s prospects. “Puchezh will hardly ever become a major industrial or trade center, nor will our town earn the fame of a center of science and technology. But then we simply must make the most of what we have: flax, the forest, dairy products, processing factories, people’s crafts and local talents. Now we just need to promote it all in a smart way, and then we will be ‘doomed to succeed.’”
The remote town of Puchezh has even now attracted investors from America. “When we asked them how they found out about us,” Klimov said, “they respond, ‘From the US press.’ So I guess our girls didn’t pose on the stairs of the Capitol in vain.”
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