Rural Russia on the Edges of Authority: Bezvlastie in Wartime Riazan, November-December 1941
Central Russia’s Riazan province was on the front lines of World War II for two weeks in late 1941. Placed between German and Soviet forces, the province was on the edges of authorities unable to exert full control over the region. In that time, Soviet power dissolved in the countryside. Peasants raided warehouses and dismantled collective farms while enterprising local notables aided the embryonic occupation regime. Documents created during the two weeks and their immediate aftermath show that rural Russians, even collaborators, defied simple classification as anti-Soviet. Instead, they exhibited survivalist instincts and a traditional antipathy toward central authority rather than a preference for either German or Soviet power. As Soviet power returned to Riazan, authorities grappled with the mass upheaval that the power vacuum had enabled. Unlike later interpretations, which would stress the role of German atrocities in occupation regimes, Riazan authorities blamed “anti-Soviet elements” among the province’s population.