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An oblast (Russian, Ukrainian: о́бласть) is a subnational entity of Bulgaria, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the now-defunct Soviet Union, approximately equivalent to a province. Official terms in other succesor states of the Soviet Union differ, e.g. voblast is used for provinces of Belarus, and oblysy for provinces of Kazakhstan.
The word is often (and sometimes inaccurately) translated as "province" or "region".
Oblasts in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria, the top-level subdivision is into regions, with further division into oblasts.
Oblasts in Soviet Union and its successor countries
In the mentioned post-Soviet republics, oblasts are one step below the national level and further subdivided into districts called raiony (Russian: райо́ны; Ukrainian: райони). A big city may also be a constituent part of oblast (Russian official: город областного подчинения; Ukrainian official: місто обласного підпорядкування) - being at the same level as raion.
In the now-extinct Soviet Union, oblasts were two steps below the national level (the higher step being the Soviet Republics). Some oblasts of the Russian SFSR have had a complicated structure including not only raions and cities, but also autonomous entities.
The oblasts in other post-Soviet countries are officially called:
- Voblast in Belarus (see: Provinces of Belarus)
- in Lacinka vobłaść
- Oblysy in Kazakhstan (see: Provinces of Kazakhstan)
- Oblasty in Kyrgyzstan (see: Provinces of Kyrgyzstan)
- Viloyat in Tajikistan (see: Provinces of Tajikistan)
- Welayat in Turkmenistan (see: Provinces of Turkmenistan)
- Viloyat in Uzbekistan (see: Provinces of Uzbekistan)
Viloyat and welayat are derived from arabic language wilaya.
Names of particular oblasts
One should note that a name of an oblast does not usually correspond with the name of the respective historical region. Oblasts are purely administrative units without any significant history: all of them have been formed in the middle of the 20th century. Typically, the Soviet/post-Soviet oblasts are named after their capital cities, officially called "oblast centers". The name of each oblast' is usually a relative adjective, formed by adding a feminine suffix to the name of respective center city. E.g. Poltava is the center of the Poltavs'ka oblast'.
Exceptions to this rule include:
- Leningradskaya oblast of Russia keeps its Soviet-time name while the respective capital has readopted its historical name Saint-Petersburg.
- Volyns'ka and Zakarpats'ka oblasts of Ukraine retain the names of the respective historical regions (see Volyn and Transcarpathia), while their capital cities are Luts'k and Uzhhorod, respectively.
Political aspects of oblast subdivision
Experts believe that Soviet government was applying not only the objective (socio-economic and geographic), but also particular political criteria in forming the oblasts. The administrative borders of several oblasts have sometimes been changed in order to reshuffle the local Communist Party organization, secure "the right" local administration for an industrial company, limit an ethnic activism etc. Such decisions were a Soviet analog of American gerrymandering method.
Recent trends in oblast policy
President Putin of Russia has dramatically reformed the actual status of the country's oblasts. Formally remaining the second level of subdivision, they de facto became included into the large federal districts (Russian: федеральные округа).
In attempts to meet new regional socio-economic and political issues, numerous projects are suggested to reform the oblast system in both Russia and Ukraine (mostly aimed to merge particular oblasts or change their borders).
- Regions of Bulgaria
- Subdivisions of Russia
- Guberniya, the subdivision level matching to oblasts in Imperial Russia and early Soviet Union
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