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Russian State Farms Lose Youths - and Support for Reform

TO get to the "40th Anniversary of October State Farm" you take the potholed road north out of this city for about 20 miles and continue driving over rolling hills until you see the sign.

At the sign, you make a right onto a dirt road and keep going. You will know you are there when you see some ramshackle buildings, aged and weather-beaten equipment, and a group of people concerned about the future.

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The state farm is suffering from shortages of everything - fuel, spare parts, and money. There is no visible way out of the tight spot, some farmers say.

"A crisis is already taking place here largely because of demographics," says Nikolai Makhonin, the farm's animal husbandry director.

All across Russia young people are abandoning the countryside with its poorly developed infrastructure and fleeing to the city. The trend has left the 40th Anniversary farm with an aging population of 820, holding onto conservative attitudes at a time when young blood is needed to implement fresh reform ideas.

Reformers are trying to encourage private farming, but such a radical concept is not taking root here, as farmers are steeped in the spirit of colletivization, Mr. Makhonin says.

"We don't have any individual farmers," he says. "We had one once, but he became discouraged when all his pigs died and he left. People here don't believe much in private property. We try to tell them they have the right to leave [the state farm] but they are incapable of doing so."

Many of the reformers hope that the government's private farming initiative will entice the young back to the farm. But some who have recently left this one say they are in no hurry to return.

"I'd return if the conditions were OK. But there's no organization of work, the infrastructure is poor, and you can't even start to talk about equipment," says Gennady Ivanov, who grew up on the farm but left four years ago and is now a trolley driver in Kursk.

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Mr. Ivanov, visiting his parents, says they are gripped by a conservatism that his generation does not feel.

"My parents have a different understanding - a communist mentality," he says. "Under [former President Leonid] Brezhnev they lived relatively well. Now prices are high and they wonder why do things have to change."

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