The Closed Cities

Publish date: January 9, 2003

Written by: Nadezhda Kutepova

About 2 million people from 42 cities of modern Russia are still out of the process of different democratic modernizations, civic society establishing and human rights protection. Most of them don’t even know about this process and still have no idea about such concepts. Paradoxically, most of these people consider the described situation to be normal, but not a form of human rights violation.

These people live in ZATOs, i.e. closed administrative and territorial entities of Russia. Democratic institutes and the Western society appear neglecting the fact of ZATOs existing. Some of them don’t know about such modern reservations, others consider them to be a kingdom of well-being, somebody simply profit from ZATOs existing, the fourth attitude is… However, one could hardly be reproaching with anything, because the myth about closed cities as an oasis of prosperity and problem-free life is still widely spread. And how many leaders of the remedial movement in ZATOs you have met? They were never born there due to the system conditions!

Nowadays ZATOs are totalitarian antidemocratic entities, where any forms of civic activity are restricted by public punitive mechanisms that were tested well within 50 years of its existing. Moreover, these closed cities are potentially risky in terms of unpredictable changes. These words are not high-flown. Democracy in ZATOs is the basis of risk-free existence not only of one region, but the whole Russia and the world as well. The reasons to declare it are the following:


  • Closed cities are the biggest Russian nuclear plants that have been exercising anti-ecological activities against the environment and the population under the top-secret conditions for a long time. And some of these activities are still conducted.


  • Started as the highest State secret, closed cities were established by Minatom (Nuclear Industry Ministry) and Minoborona (Ministry of Defense) under the leadership of L.Beria. Recently, the system of external secrecy was almost eliminated, and ZATOs locations were mapped. However, the population in ZATOs is still afraid of being persecuted by FSB and other State security authorities for any indications of public activity or dissidence. Such authorities are still more than powerful in ZATOs. Soviet-time mechanisms to threaten people are still alive in minds of the people who live in ZATOs. Their fear and isolation from the world society are the reasons why ZATOs can be easily managed.


  • Federal and local mass media have no access to closed cities. Besides, local media are poorly developed, scanty and usually controlled either by agencies that they belong to, or by commercial price of information. Almost the whole volume of information flow in and out of ZATOs is censoring in order to assure its safety for ZATOs system’ existence. None of independent pressmen are allowed to visit ZATOs.


  • Closed cities have formed a special mentality for people, who live and work there. This kind of mentality is a mixture of fear and power to hold the rest of the world. This is a phenomena of a closed intimidated community that still live with a conscious superiority to develop/produce nuclear weapon. The main ideological postulate of ZATOs population is the following: "No one can threaten us, but instead, everyone should be afraid of us as we handle something terrible for the whole world".


  • Closed cities is a system of "mutual cover-up" that allow hiding any crimes, which could ruin somehow a stability of ZATOs existence. First of all one should say about ecological crimes of nuclear facilities, and violation of basic human rights and freedoms. Any closed city is covered by a complicated net of kindred of interpersonal relations. In case of emergency or illegal situation, a person acts not in accordance with a law, but following his job instructions and rules, specified by a local community. Otherwise he will be either victimize in different ways, or become a social outcast.


  • Closed cities mean a lack of possibility to migrate without any limits and introduce into ZATOs ideas that differ from official ones.

Thus, every ZATO is a small-scaled Soviet Union.

The conclusion is that people in ZATOs form outwardly flourishing, but inwardly manipulated society where civic activities are suppressed, and no democratic conditions exist. Such society is potentially dangerous for the world, and the population there can’t change anything for the best without support from the outside. In case no civic movement starts acting in ZATOs in the coming future, the result could be unpredictable consequences.

Unfortunately, there is no simple or single-step solution for this problem, but instead only co-ordination of the outside interference and inside initiatives is needed. Simultaneous efforts will provide the population of ZATOs with a possibility to begin thinking about that antidemocratic environment they are living in. It’s important to create initial conditions, which allow the people to perform public and civic activities in order to protect democratic values and their own human rights. On the other hand, such efforts should be conducted very smartly and using methods understandable for different groups of ZATOs community. The purpose is not to scare them, but make to be interested in those possibilities, which would appear in their lives together with the democracy.

And the last, but not least. The basic argument of those ho support the ZATOs system in Russia today is that closed cities were established and exist now to secure military and nuclear plants, whish are located inside of them. But if so, how one could explain the fact that such an expensive "security" is protected so poorly by Russian laws? Starting from July 1st, 2002 several regulations came into the force on the territory of Russia, and thus in every ZATO as well. One of them is Russian Federation Code of Administrative Delinquency. We would like you to pay a close attention particularly to the article 20.17 of this Code, where "violation of admission regime to secure facilities" is specified.

Starting from July 1st, 2002 any citizen of Russian Federation is obliged to pay 3-5 minimal wages, in case he violates the admission regime, i.e. crosses the borders without special permission on it. Local police station is authorized to examine such cases. If registers any of them, naturally.

You can consider it as progress. Earlier outsiders could visit any ZATO with impunity. The price of ZATOs security is USD 30-50 in the end of the year 2002. So you can ask, what the government needs ZATOs for? We would like to know the answer.