Thursday, November 1, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Wants More Specialists, Not More Ethnic Russians

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 1 – The Kremlin’s effort to attract Russian-speaking “compatriots” living abroad is intended not so much to boost the number of ethnic Russians in the Russian Federation, as many nationalists fervently hope, but rather to attract highly trained specialists the country’s economy can put to use.
According to Sergei Panteleyev, the director of the Moscow Institute on the Russian World Abroad, the widespread notion in Moscow that the Kremlin has designed its compatriots program to address the demographic decline of the Russian nation is just one of the “myths” about this policy.
In a speech last week to a conference on the media and migration issue, Panteleyev said that there are seven “myths” about this program that the media have created and that are interfering with the government’s ability to fulfill President Vladimir Putin’s plans (
The first such myth, he said, is that the Kremlin’s compatriot return policy is “a program of repatriation,” despite the fact that the program as announced by the government denies this and “the state organs involved have never defined it in such a way.
“Classical” programs of national repatriation, like those in Germany, Israel and Kazakhstan “are based on a precise religious-ethnic identification of the resettlers” and thus are intended to serve as “a factor in ‘the unification of the nation,’” Panteleyev explained.
But Moscow’s current program is explicitly “directed at combining the potential of compatriots living abroad with the requirements of the development of Russia’s regions” and their economies. Thus, he continued, it “bears primarily not an ideological but a technocratic character.
The second myth, Panteleyev said, is that the program is intended to be “massive, broad and so on.” If it were a repatriation program that might be the case, but since it isn’t, he said, Moscow wants to bring to Russia “far from all compatriots.” Instead, it wants only the more limited number who can contribute in specific places.
Thus, Panteleyev pointedly noted, if someone who lives abroad, speaks Russian and wants to be return does not have the skills that a specific Russian firm or institution needs, then, the Russian government under the terms of the program as it exists will not provide him with any help to come to the country.
The third myth, related to the other two, is that the program is intended to promote “the massive resettlement of [ethnic] Russians in Russia.” That is not the case, Panteleyev said. Indeed, he suggested that “the ethnic factor alone is not connected in any way with this program.”
The fourth myth is that the program is designed to allow the authorities to legalize the status of the large number of illegal immigrants already in the country. But Panteleyev noted, the program makes no provision for doing anything for those who are already in the country.
The fifth myth is the widely-reported notion that “’bureaucrats are sabotaging the fulfillment of the President’s program.’” That is simply not the case, Paneteleyev argued, noting that the media are hyping problems in certain areas but overwhelmingly officials are on board with the program and working hard to see it implemented.
The sixth myth is that “the resettlers will be provided with work and housing” ahead of Russian citizens already living here. That is only half true: Resettlers will not be supported unless there is a job for them, but they will not jump to the head of the line for housing under the program’s terms.
And the seventh myth, Panteleyev said, is the most incorrect of all. It holds that no one wants to come to Russia or less radically that those who did want to come have already returned. In his experience, the institute director said, there is clear evidence that neither of these claims is true.
Panteleyev’s comments on the non-ethnic foundation of this program are certain to disappoint or even enrage Russian nationalists in this election season, but his words on how Moscow officials should now act in order to overcome these myths will disturb all those concerned with Russian government interference in and control of the media.
At the end of his remarks, Panteleyev suggests that the best way to dispel these myths is to arrange “a closer interaction of responsible state organs with reliable experts and the media” in order to form “’a pool’” to provide media assistance to the government in implementing President Putin’s program.

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