Kate Transchel, History (photo DA)
Transchel, whose research is on drinking among Russian workers from 1900-1930, will leave Chico in February, spend a month in Kiev and Kharkov in Ukraine, then a few weeks in Saratov in southern Russia, and then travel to the Kuzbass region of southern Siberia for four months.
The Kuzbass was an important industrial stronghold behind the Ural mountains in the Stalinist 1930s, according to Transchel. The Stalinist regime sent several tens of thousands of workers to build, from nothing, one of the world's largest metallurgical complexes. "I will be looking at the conditions of the workers, how they socialized, and how they coped with the harsh life they encountered there. We know very little about the region since it was closed to foreigners until the late 1980's," said Transchel.
Transchel said, "Contemporary studies show that this area has a higher than normal rate of alcoholism, and that alcoholic psychosis is up 150 percent over 1990 levels. I am hoping to find if this is a historical trend or a more recent response to the collapse of social, political, and economic structures."
Transchel expects to find conditions there "seriously deteriorated, even heartbreaking. The Russian state has had little money to improve or even maintain such enterprises, and I suspect the workers that remain there have not received full salaries for several months to a year." Russia is experiencing a dire economic crisis, and Transchel predicts that Siberia will be running "desperately" short on food this winter. She said that the Kuzbass has run out of eggs, flour, sugar, cooking oil, and milk already this year.
"There will be food in Siberia, but not much varietyprobably potatoes, cabbage, and macaroni. On a more positive note, since the area is so removed from the center, it is more self-sufficient than Moscow or Petersburg, so it may be able to weather this economic storm a bit better. Nonetheless, I am bringing medicines and some food with me in preparation for the worst," said Transchel.