Former methods of settling the autonomous Jewish region of Biro-Bidjan in the Far East have been found unsuccessful and have been replaced with a new five-year rural settlement plan, not unlike American schemes in many of its features.
Jewish collective settlements will be built as “agricultural towns” of uniform design down to the architecture of the individual buildings in the Soviet’s vast experiment in returning 100,000 Jews to the soil.
Every settlement is to comprise 100 homesteads designed to accommodate 400 inhabitants. Each family will own its own home and every member of the family will be allotted nine square meters of dwelling area and a half-hectare garden.
The settlements will have communal buildings such as kindergartens, schools, reading halls, medical centres, maternity homes, agricultural laboratories and public parks. Each settlement will have a main street and a few side streets. Urban conveniences will be introduced to as great an extent as possible.
The purpose of the new plan is to attract Jewish settlers from the urban element. It was adopted at the suggestion of Lazar Kaganovitch, Commissar of Communications, and reputed to be the most important political figure next to Stalin, who visited the autonomous Jewish region after a slackening had been noted in the immigration. The region now has a population of 16,000.
Conferring at Kiev with leading officials of the Ozet, Jewish society for settlement on land, the Comzet, Government commission for the same purpose, and Emes, Yiddish daily, he made the point that the standard of living must be raised since settlers are drawn mainly from the urban element, whose culture and demands are higher than those of villagers.
At the same conference, M. Dimanstein, chairman of the Ozet, declared it was much easier to enlist immigrants to Biro-Bidjan from Jews abroad than in Soviet Russia. He said more attention would be paid to immigration from countries outside Russia.
The problem of securing sufficient settlers for the region became acute when figures released by the Comzet Migration Department showed that the goal of 10,000 settlers (2,946 families and 2,000 individuals) for 1936 had been fulfilled less than one-third in the first five months of the year.
The number of settlers transferred to the territory in the five month period was 2,913, or 29.1 per cent of the year’s quota, and 70 per cent of the first half of last year’s quota.
Immigration into the area slackened particularly during the last two months of the five-month period. Of the various regions, the Ukraine sent only 188 families and 256 individual settlers in the two months; White Russia sent 41 families and 77 individuals. Immigration from industrial areas was correspondingly low.
The conference also discussed the question of enlarging the Biro-Bidjan region. Mr. Kaganovitch indicated that this was viewed favorably. The Commissariat for Heavy Industries has already signified it will consent to incorporation into the region of the important coal-mining centre of Bureya on condition Biro-Bidjan assure labor and technical specialists to exploit the resources.