If the farmland involved is as expansive as all of Australia (which it is in Russia) or all of Germany (which it is in Ukraine), then the process of shifting from collective to private ownership merits attention. And if the transfer is more apparent than real or if it leaves the new "owners" worse off than before, then the outcome deserves explanation. The area is the famous black-earth region, now divided between Russia and Ukraine. Allina-Pisano focuses on two major subregions within it, one in Russia and one in Ukraine. After frequent field trips made between 1997 and 2006, many of them to the villages and farms; hundreds of interviews; and hours spent searching through district newspapers and quizzing the local keepers of documents and statistics, she pieces together what happened behind the façade of reform. No matter the differences in the timing and the shape of privatization in the two countries, the structure of power, the preservation of the collective farm in content, if not form, and the disincentives facing peasants guaranteed that they would not become landowners or even beneficiaries of their putative property rights.
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