Irkutsk
Ulan-Ude

Blagoveshchensk
Chita
Yakutsk

Birobidzhan
Vladivostok
Khabarovsk

Magadan
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Anadyr
Petropavlovsk-
Kamchatsky
Moscow

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EastRussia is not responsible for any mistakes in the translated text. Sorry for the inconvinience.
Please refer to the text in Russian as a source.

"We can cook kosher pilaf"

Alexander Levintal, governor of the Jewish Autonomous Region, tells the EastRussia portal why, even in difficult times, one should not abandon national color, local cadres and far-reaching plans

- Alexander Borisovich, you are now the governor of the Jewish Autonomous Region ... Do you miss Khabarovsk?

- Well, how can I tell you ... I have not lived all my life in Khabarovsk. I was born in Birobidzhan, grew up in Birobidzhan, studied and finished school in the Jewish Autonomous Region ... There my parents are buried and my sister still lives, she is a teacher. While working in the embassy, ​​I constantly visited Birobidzhan, and in the government of the Khabarovsk Territory I was responsible for interaction with the Jewish Autonomous Region. I often went there - plus I went to my sister's grave. There was no such thing as to leave - and how it cut off. For me, this is the homeland. On the other hand, Khabarovsk is also a second small homeland, I lived there for 40 years. My daughter is there. From any business trip to Moscow, you still need to fly to Khabarovsk, and then get to Birobidzhan by car. So, probably, I don’t get bored - because I don’t lose connections.

"We can cook kosher pilaf"
- Let's move on from personal matters to state matters. Do you have enough room to work after your previous positions? What tasks do you set for yourself and what problems does the JAO have the most painful, priority ones?

- You know, now I'm not thinking about room for activity, but about how to do everything. There are primary issues that relate to the basic life support of the Jewish Autonomous Region. Delivery of coal to boiler houses, preparation of social facilities for winter (and it comes here quickly and for a long time), and so on. All these pressing problems are compounded by the general crisis situation. The money supply is shrinking, incomes are falling, budgetary opportunities are less than planned ... Expenditure obligations have already been allocated, and there are not so many revenues to the treasury. You have to cut something and sacrifice something, and nobody likes that. But the same delivery of coal must be done 100 percent, otherwise it is simply impossible. In addition, our region is agricultural, and now it is a rather tense period when it is being decided with what the peasants will enter the winter, whether they will be able to repay the loans they have taken and more or less confidently look into the future.

And in parallel with the daily chores, the main questions arise: how to restart the economy of the region as a whole? In which direction to move and what vector of motion to set? We began developing the strategy without even waiting for the elections, so as not to waste precious time. There are many directions, but you need to choose the priority ones - what there is enough money for.

- Are you planning personnel reforms and management revolutions?

- I have to carry out a number of reorganization measures in the administrative structures of the region. This, too, does not tolerate delay. I see that in the previous government there were many overlapping functions, the work was not going very efficiently. We now need to strengthen investment programs, stimulate the development of industry - all these functions were clearly "sagging" before. We are now expanding the mining industry - but there is practically no one to deal with it, it is difficult to find specialists. And, of course, I need to form a new team that will work in today's conditions. Very, I must say, difficult, since the situation in the country and in the world is a crisis. Therefore, there is an acute shortage of people who, figuratively speaking, could push off the bottom and show the direction to the sun ...

- Will you invite the Varangians?

- In the least. We want to focus on local people to make the most of them. But it is clear that some part of the top management must come from the outside, so as not to "learn", not to swing, but to immediately begin to implement the most important tasks. We now have a Far Eastern Challenge program that will contribute to this. We have already received a databank of several dozen people who would like to move to Birobidzhan from other places in the Jewish Autonomous Region, from other regions and even from abroad. We ourselves did not expect such a reaction. The candidates have different motives - someone wants to make a career, someone needs to prove themselves ... We will consider all the options. By the way, it is not so easy to invite outside personnel - people need not only an apartment and a normal salary, but also the cultural environment to which they are accustomed. Professional theaters, good schools and clinics, and so on. Otherwise, people quickly lose heart.

But I repeat once again: we want to rely primarily on local personnel, on those who previously could not find a worthy application for themselves. The trouble is that the former leaders of the autonomous region obviously did not pay attention to the fact that it was necessary to form a personnel reserve. For objective reasons (low wages, lack of personnel work for a long time, etc.), he is not in the autonomous region. And people don't come from nowhere, they have to grow gradually. As a result, it is now impossible to select candidates either for the state administration or for the top management. The problem is that there are practically no enterprises in the Jewish Autonomous Region, especially large ones. In the same Khabarovsk Territory, and in other territories, power has always been fueled by people from business, where there is a highly developed corporate culture. And in the region there are no large enterprises - accordingly, there are no necessary competencies. Small business, of course, is present. But you cannot put a person who managed a maximum of fifteen employees at the head of a team of many thousands ... However, the leading personnel I am talking about are just a few of those we need. And we will attract the main backbone from local natives, teach, promote. We have personnel, they just lost the habit of working. They were not given serious tasks. The region has always been famous for its natives - they had a good level of education, they quickly made a career.

- Actually, in recent years, the Jewish Autonomous Region seems to have been forgotten. She turned 80 last year, but the media barely covered this event. Judging by the statistics for 2014, the region was, among other regions of the Far East, in last place in terms of development dynamics, in the penultimate one in terms of the social sphere ... Has anything changed for the better this year?

- This is not entirely accurate information. Just last year, the industrial growth rates in the Jewish Autonomous Region were among the highest. Only this, I agree with you, does not say anything good - because in the past there were such failures that against their background even a small growth seems "active".

The region really has the lowest GRP per capita in the Far East. The gross regional product is usually higher in the northern territories, where gold is mined, and the population is even smaller than in the Jewish Autonomous Region. And we have agriculture with all the ensuing consequences. And a dying industry.

For the last 10-15 For years, all the basic industries that existed in the region have practically collapsed to zero. There was a powerful light industry here, footwear, garment, and knitwear factories operated - there was no such concentration of production in this industry in the Far East anywhere. Yes, it arose artificially, in Soviet times - in order to occupy the "second family members" of the settlers. You had to find work for their wives or daughters. Everything worked and made a profit for many years. But next to us is China, and these industries, of course, could not stand the competition with it. There are no raw materials, sales markets too, but the cheapest Chinese market is nearby. The same thing happened with mechanical engineering: there is now no Dalselmash in the Jewish Autonomous Region, which produced the only tracked combines in the USSR, the power transformer plant turned into a small enterprise. Thousands of people worked at each such enterprise. Now the number of employees in our factories does not exceed 100-150 people. Livestock breeding was practically curtailed. IN 90-x Years there were 96 thousand heads of cattle, now - only 8,9 thousand, that is, 10 times less. No milk, no meat - nothing. More or less, only crop production is developing, which finally began to increase its volumes and approach the indicators of Soviet times. On the one hand, good. On the other hand, not really. These are mainly soybeans, which are exported to China without much benefit for the region and its population. Unless some people sublet the land to the Chinese and receive something from this for themselves. We have had cases when peasants took land at a price of 70 rubles per hectare, subleased the Chinese for 3, 5 thousand, the difference is in their own pockets. And the region has no mutually beneficial relations with China. We have calculated that about 25% of our land is leased by the Chinese, while 97% of the arable land is used by Chinese enterprises for growing soybeans and only 1% for grain crops. It would be in our interests to develop the processing of this soybeans, pig breeding, poultry farming, etc.

- How do people live then? And what about the inevitable unemployment?

- And unemployment, oddly enough, is relatively low here. Small and medium business solves the problem in some way. There is a lot of retail space per capita in the Jewish Autonomous Region, despite the fact that the level of income per capita is the lowest in the Far East. In addition, people partially began to work on a rotational basis, since we are within easy reach of Khabarovsk, where there is no unemployment. In the same Magadan region, people's mobility is limited: if an enterprise is closed, then you sit still. Within an hour or two, you can't even get anywhere from home by plane. We have bus and road connections, so the compactness of the region is its competitive advantage. Even from remote rural settlements, where a farm or factory is closed, an hour and a half drive to the city.

There is a demand for our labor force among the Chinese, who have built small enterprises here, for example, timber processing. Machine operators work there "their own", but low-skilled labor is brought by buses from neighboring villages. As soon as the yuan rose and the ruble fell, it became more profitable to hire Russian laborers than to bring compatriots here. For our villagers 18-20 thousands are already decent money, and the Chinese personnel are asking for more. Unlike the aforementioned agriculture, where there are all sorts of distortions, I consider such interaction to be completely normal and useful.

- During the Eastern Economic Forum, you said that an agricultural fair was held in Birobidzhan, to which 40 Chinese companies specially came. Did you manage to conclude any specific agreements? Are there any projects that are already being implemented?

- So far, I have no information about the agreements signed after the fair. But so far not much time has passed. But the project to build a pig-breeding complex in the Jewish Autonomous Region, about which we began negotiations in May with the leader of the Communist Party of China, the first person in Heilongjiang Province, has already begun. The Chinese are doing preparatory work. The complex will be designed for 28 thousand pigs. Negotiations are also underway on the construction of a soybean processing complex, which will be located in an industrial park near the bridge under construction across the Amur: we have submitted this project as an application for participation in the TOP.

- And how did last year's negotiations with an Israeli company end?

- It was not so much an Israeli company as its representative together with our Russian resident, who planned to jointly build a dairy complex. But so far the question is "stuck": our compatriot could not find funding for his part of the project - about 20%. Only then would an Israeli company be able to join the project. They are not ready to take it upon themselves completely.

- Since we are talking about Israel and the Israelis - clarify the question that many people have. There are now about 170 thousand people in the region, of which less than 1 percent are Jews. Does it make sense to keep the region in its current "national" status, or is it easier to abolish due to economic inexpediency and merge with the Khabarovsk Territory?

- If we talk about economic indicators, then according to the figures of budgetary provision there are regions even worse. For example, Kamchatka, where "own" money in the budget is only 30%. But no one is proposing to unite it with the Sakhalin Oblast. We now have a ratio of 50 to 50, which, I think, is also wrong, the situation needs to be improved. Even the initial analysis (we plan to do an in-depth one in the near future) shows that in the coming years 5-7 we we will be able to reach a 70% level of self-sufficiency through the implementation of projects such as Kuldur, GOKs, “rebooting” of agriculture and the primary ASEZ.

As for the national factor, I am convinced that it is at this stage that the Jewish Autonomous Region must be preserved. There are traditions that, despite all the economic difficulties, allow our region to create a certain "aura", its own special flavor. For various reasons, I believe that we have at least twice as many Jews as according to official statistics, although this does not fundamentally change the essence of the matter. More importantly, the region continues to preserve Jewish traditions, study Yiddish and Hebrew, dance Jewish dances and sing Jewish songs, prepare Jewish cuisine, and also hold international and all-Russian festivals, which are welcomed by actors, musicians or team members. KVN. It is a cultural layer that is important to preserve and enhance. My consultations with the Israeli ambassador to Moscow and a number of representatives of the Jewish diaspora, as well as Israeli government structures, indicate that there is interest on their part in our region. Incidentally, we recently signed an agreement on cooperation in the cultural sphere at the interfaith level - with the participation of a rabbi, Muslim and Orthodox clergy. Another step towards peace and harmony. We even had such a paradoxical concept as “kosher pilaf” - in ordinary life these are incompatible concepts, but here Jews and Muslims stood together at the same cauldron with ladles and fed everyone. On the basis of the Birobidzhan Youth Center, we opened a summer children's camp, and during one of the shifts the children studied different religions, cultures, customs, and dances. In my opinion, this is a good start and should be continued.

Of course, the economy cannot be raised by any national factors. To do this, we will use completely different methods and mechanisms. However, if economic performance improves, this flavor could provide an additional incentive for new settlers. And to attract Israeli investors to the Khabarovsk Territory, you see, is somewhat more difficult than to the Jewish Autonomous Region. We will take into account all these aspects of the image in building our development strategy - naturally, without trying to "inflate the pink ball" and assessing the situation realistically.

- History knows a lot of such “balls” (and more often “soap bubbles”) in the form of projects for the accelerated development of not only your region, but the entire Far East. Now it seems that it has finally been decided to move from words and slogans to deeds. How do you assess the current efforts of the federal government, which has proclaimed its development a political and economic priority? Are there, for example, particularly attractive investment projects in the Jewish Autonomous Region and what fate may await the TOP?

- Let me remind you that when the president said about the "turn to the East", no one meant by this a withdrawal from the West. It's just that in previous years Russia concentrated all its main efforts on the western direction: oil and gas pipelines, cooperative ties, the inflow of investments, education - everything was turned towards Europe. And in Soviet times we were famous only for our Pacific Fleet and army units. The share of the Soviet Union in the APR markets was approximately 1%. Now, too, to put it mildly, they do not welcome us there with open arms. Nevertheless, taking into account the Siberian and Far Eastern potential and the efforts of the state for its development, today we get a rather tempting chance to advance in these markets. Although, of course, they already managed to make many mistakes in the old days - for example, when, on the eve of the 2008 crisis, they raised customs duties on timber and, as a result, lost the market: Japan began buying timber from New Zealand, Canada and other countries, China also partially reoriented itself. Now, in my opinion, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Yuri Trutnev are taking meaningful steps to move to a new model for the development of the Far East.

Territories of advanced development are a good economic mechanism; for the Far East with its long distances and poorly developed infrastructure, they are not bad. As shown by the WEF, these sites are of interest to investors. But they also need to be able to interest them and, most importantly, to keep them. Investors' desire to invest in Russia certainly does not exclude taking into account serious political risks, high inflation, and expensive loans. It should be understood that there will not be a massive inflow of investments yet. It is necessary to create conditions for the future and form a "field" in anticipation of the future warming of the investment climate and the political situation too.

Compared to special economic zones, the TOP system is more flexible and mobile. In 2008, we made an application for the creation of a SEZ in Sovetskaya Gavan. It was to become the first seaport area. We submitted documents and won the competition. But since then the final decision has not been made. In today's TORs, much more attractive conditions have been created for investors, and the implementation scheme is much clearer. I hope that these factors will work in a plus. We have already submitted our application for the creation of a TOP for consideration by the Ministry for the Development of the Far East, as far as I know, there are no complaints about our materials. We are waiting for a decision.

Work is underway on all the projects that we have announced. I have already met with representatives of the Garant company, which is preparing a project for a logistics park near the future bridge across the Amur River (it is also included in the TOP). We discussed the issues of synchronizing the construction of the bridge and the park. We work closely with the companies "Graphite" and "Kuldur". We are looking for opportunities for the development of processing enterprises. We will build a plant for the production of battery rods, which are used in electric vehicles. We are launching the Kimkano-Sutarsky GOK soon. There are a number of projects in agriculture for meat and milk processing. We are getting ready to develop tourism to the extent that it is generally possible now.

- Do you plan to allocate a hectare of land to everyone who wants to? How do you feel about this idea for migrants to the Far East?

- The idea itself looks attractive: future large-scale plans, including TORs, require huge human resources, the Far East cannot cope with its own resources, it is necessary to attract new people. This very hectare is one of the ways to create conditions for their life. But it is necessary to scrupulously work out the mechanisms of such land allocation so that problems and distortions do not arise. In addition, good agricultural land has long been dismantled, is leased by someone or put up for auctions. There are no free high-quality lands on which you can immediately plow and sow. Even having received his hectare, a person will have to invest a lot in its improvement. And what is one hectare, even four (if the family consists of four) for agriculture? Almost nothing. For a simple construction of a house, this is too much, but for effective agriculture, hundreds and even thousands of hectares are needed. So there are more questions than answers. You need to think over everything to make a good idea work.

- You were born and raised here. As a true patriot of your small homeland, can you name some of the most interesting sights of the Jewish Autonomous Region that could attract here, if not immigrants, then at least tourists?

- Sure. This is, first of all, the city of Birobidzhan itself with its beautiful granite embankments, the river and hills, the station where the chaise stands - a monument to the first migrant. We even have our own pedestrian "Arbat" (the same Khabarovsk cannot boast of such a street).

Our city is a fusion of religions. On one street (by the way, bearing the name of Lenin) there is a synagogue and an Orthodox church next to it, the murals in which were recently made by artists from the Moscow region. There is a wonderful beauty of the Lotus Lake, there is a resort "Kuldur" with unique healing water and amazing conditions for recreation. There is a sanatorium where even the menu for 21 days is never repeated. And, of course, one cannot but name Volochaevskaya Sopka among our attractions. The one about which is sung in the famous song "Through the valleys and over the hills" ... It was there, during the Civil War, that the key battle of the Red Army with the White Guards took place. Blucher's relatives even put a stone on this place in memory of him. Quite recently we held a meeting there, and before that I had a conversation in Moscow with the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Vladimir Medinsky. We will repair the monument on Volochaevskaya Hill, we have already built a chapel, we will put the burial in order. Part of the money is given by the military-historical society, the rest we will find ourselves.

- “And finish your trip in the Pacific Ocean”, if we talk not only about the museum, but about all your plans for the future?

- We are not going to make global revolutions. It is important for us to improve people's lives and boost the economy. Let not immediately, but at least in the foreseeable future. It is more difficult than agitating, fighting, overthrowing and destroying. But the result is much more pleasant and useful.
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