Balakovo, the second largest town in Saratov Oblast, made history yesterday when it held Russia’s first land auction. (RTR, March 5) Saratov was the first region in Russia to legalize the free sale of land. Other regions, including neighboring Samara Oblast, Tatarstan and Kurgan Oblast in the Urals, are fast behind.
No one underestimated the significance of yesterday’s auction. The mayor of Balakovo called it "the beginning of a new epoch," while the leader of the local Communist party called it "a betrayal of the Motherland." Protesters were in the minority, however, and bidding was brisk. Most of the twenty-six lots put up for sale fetched significantly higher prices than had been anticipated, reportedly earning the local authorities 480 million rubles. Competition was fiercest and the highest price was paid for a plot of land in the center of the town that could be used either as a car park or for housing development. Much less interest was shown in agricultural land, though it is to the sale of farmland that the Communists chiefly object. Of three plots of agricultural land offered for sale yesterday, only two found buyers, and they fetched lower prices than expected. The organizers of the auction explained this by the absence of a federal land code. President Yeltsin and Russia’s State Duma are locked in battle on the issue, which has been referred to a special commission for resolution. The organizers said buyers were accordingly wary of agricultural land lest its sale eventually be outlawed by federal law and they lose their investment. But, as one bidder told Russian television yesterday, "a precedent has been set and it will be hard for the State Duma to ignore it." (RTR, March 5)
Saratov’s Governor Dmitri Ayatskov, the driving force behind Saratov’s law, said yesterday that he was pleased with the results of Balakovo’s auction. He added, however, that the oblast legislature must lose no time in creating the necessary legal and financial framework to support landowners. He said that his staff are working on draft regional legislation covering banking services and real estate agencies. (ORT, March 5)
Moscow Military Urges Deserters to Return.