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Report: Why modern vegetable warehouses have turned into hotbeds of tension?


Extensive raids on vegetable warehouse all across the city have continued this week. For instance, the Kalininskaya vegetable warehouse was checked on October the 22nd. More than a hundred of the so called illegal labor migrants were detected. And this is not the first – as is not the last - link in the chain of events.


We’ll remind you that this wave of checks by law-enforcers kicked off after events in Moscow’s Biryulevo suburb. After which a previously peaceful notion “vegetable warehouse” received a new meaning. And St. Petersburg is not an exception to that. Pavel Nikiforov studied the phenomenon of a vegetable warehouse in the context of culture, economics and inter-ethnic ties.  

Not a typical vegetable warehouse scene – even if we talk about this particular one, the Kalininskaya, on the Nepokorennyh avenue 63. Modern hangars. Everything’s tidy. No illegal trade. Not only vegetables, but even salad leaves are being manually sorted. And the very first thing catching one’s eye – it looks considerably deserted. One wouldn’t be surprised to see tumbleweed carried by the wind here. Police conducted a serious raid here the day before. Everyone was checked – mostly judging by one’s appearance. So that’s why its empty now. Usually, different things come to mind when you hear “a vegetable warehouse”

Pavel Nikiforov, correspondent: “Propiska, subbotnik, ovoshebaza – all these soviet neologisms are standing on the same shelve in terms of their meaning. These three phenomena used to be integral part of every Soviet citizen. And it seemed that by 1993 they would be gone forever. But exactly 20 years on since obligatory registration and obligatory works on a Saturday afternoon - the Subbotniks - vanished, all three neologisms have resurfaced. A vegetable warehouse  – ovoshebaza – became a name of its own after the Biryulevo riots. It even has a twitter now – here are few of its tweets “Im passing hands”, “Im being shut down without a court decision”, “The Media is lying – im clean and comfortable, you’ve eaten my vegetables haven’t you?”

Since 1978, only few higher education schools had their studies begin on September the 1st – students were sent to work in the field or at vegetable warehouses. And not only students – ? of state reserves of potatoes were gathered and sorted by ordinary citizens. People said back then that all these PhD’s are being sent to field works only for them to see – we can do whatever we want with you at any time. If they wanted a piano player pulling out potatoes from the soil – then so it happened. It was easier to dodge military duty than a vegetable field duty. 

Sergey Andenko, deputy of St. Petersburg’s Legislative Council: “What job sheet are you talking about? Everyone went to gather potatoes and beetroot. It was like a holiday and no-one complained”.

50-year old scientists probably didn’t complain – while spending the entire autumn at conveyors instead of their laboratories. All vegetable warehouses were divided into outdated and modern. The former had been created before the war and were situated at hard-to-reach suburbs. Not only were they integral part of the country’s economy, but also a necessary element of civic defense. That’s why almost every district had its own vegetable warehouse. Here is Leningrad’s phone and address directory of 1988 – vegetable warehouses make several of its pages. 

Grigoriy Kolotov, manager of a vegetable market: “St. Petersburg has as many vegetable warehouses as Leningrad used to have. It’s just that they’re developing and changing qualification”. 

Its not only the matter of vegetable warehouses’ quantity, but of their location as well. By 2013, warehouses which used to be located in the suburbs have become very close to the city center. Mainly because of rapidly growing residential areas. City’s authorities, though, are quite optimistic about the vegetable warehouses’ future.

Vladimir Dmitriyev, deputy of St. Petersburg’s Legislative Council: “Vegetable warehouses will not go anywhere – they were, they are and they will be”

The question is what form they would exist in after the recent events. Here is how vegetable warehouses look in the West: everything’s mechanized, that’s why there are no people here. And after the Biryulevo riots the main concern of the society is not about the quality of those vegetables or how these vegetables are kept. But concerns are about, in some way, the quality of the people working there. In the Soviet times we would have said – their 5th article, nationality. 

Grigoriy Kolotov, CEO “Nord-Ovosh”: “There is such thing as unqualified labor. Square forms must be carried, round forms must be rolled. This is exactly what these people of non-Slavic origins are doing”.

A typical soviet notion of “ovoshebaza” – a vegetable warehouse– has become a hotbed of tension in Russia recently. For the first time in a very long spell, something – the vegetable warehouse that is – has united everyone: opposition and the ruling circles, hipsters and nationalists, enraged citizens and policemen, the creative cluster and pensioners. The vegetable warehouse couldn’t have said it better – on a designated twitter account that is: “Im like a star, like Alla Pugachova – everyone’s talking only about me”.

Correspondent: Pavel Nikiforov