Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Incomes of Gastarbeiters in Russia Rising Making More Immigration Likely

Paul Goble

Baku, January 29 – Foreign guest workers in the Russian Federation who are there legally saw their incomes more than double between 2006 and 2007 and go up three times in Moscow along over the same period, according to Federal Migration Service Director Konstantin Romodanovskiy.
While both the level and increase in the incomes of illegal immigrants are undoubtedly lower, Romodanovskiy's widely reported figures are likely to lead ever more people in those post-Soviet republics where incomes are lower to try their luck in the labor markets of Russia (http://severdv.ru/news/show/?id=4008&p=).
And their decisions to do will not only make it even more difficult for the Russian authorities to restrict the influx of such Gastarbeiters but also ensure that the impact of immigration on Russian life will increase, creating the potential for new clashes between longtime residents and the new arrivals.
In its regular supplement devoted to Russia's regions, Nezavismaya gazeta reported on the ways in which this influx is already changing the lives and attitudes of those far from the Russian capital. And while the impact of immigration in Moscow is greater, the influence of immigration in the provinces may be larger than many have assumed.
One article explored the situation in Irkutsk Oblast in the Transbaikal. There between 1989 and 2002, the number of Tajiks increased by 300 percent, of Armenians by 240 percent, and the number of Kirghiz, Koreans, and Azerbaijanis by 150 percent, dramatically changing the region's ethnic balance.
This shift has affected Russian attitudes, but the article notes that its greatest impact has been on the members of ethnic minorities who have lived there for a long time – Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, Tatars, Chuvash and Jews. All of them have become more ethnically sensitive and stepped up efforts to prevent assimilation.
To the extent that this pattern exists elsewhere, one of the most important consequences of immigration could be to increase ethnic self-identification of the more than 20 percent of residents of that country and set the stage for conflicts between them and the Russians (http://www.ng.ru/ngregions/2008-01-28/19_100languages.html).
Meanwhile in Nizhniy Novgorod, the Tatars who long formed the most important ethnic minority are either leaving or being assimilated, and their place numerically at least has been taken over by Azerbaijani immigrants who have a very different relationship to the authorities than did the community they are supplanting.
If the Tatars proudly identified with the oblast, the Azerbaijanis continue to identify with their homeland, even though the Tatars have sought to include them in their community with a website devoted to both national cultural autonomies in the oblast (http://www.ng.ru/ngregions/2008-01-28/18_nizhniy.html).
But beyond question the most explosive situation examined by Nezavizimaya gazeta-regiony this week is in Krasnoyarsk. Even though approximately 90 percent of that kray's residents consider themselves ethnic Russians, there are problems with both minorities who have lived there from time immemorial and those who are new arrivals.
Of the 10 percent of the population there that is non-Russian, a majority are members of groups like Ukrainians, Belarusians, Tatars, Chuvash, and Germans who speak Russian and are usually well-integrated. But there are problems with the remaining four percent of the total number of residents.
Half of them are members of the numerically small indigenous peoples of the North -- including Evenks, Nganasans, Ketos, Nenets, and Chulymets, among others – who have lived there forever, and half are immigrants from the Caucasus, Central Asia and China who arrived only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
With regard to the peoples of the North, officials told Nezavisimaya, they have had to work hard and spent a great deal of money to dispel the widespread "myth" that these people are about to disappear. That creates tensions, but the authorities have "much greater problems" with the new arrivals.
Most of the latter prefer to live in separate ethnic enclaves, a development that Mark Denisov, an advisor to the kray governor, says, city officials are continuing to ignore. And because many urban neighborhoods are now dominated by non-Russian groups, so too are the schools and other institutions there.
The situation is still under control, Denisov added, but that may not last. The non-Russians are not integrating as evidenced by their preference for burying their dead not in local cemeteries but back in the countries from which they come. And many ethnic Russians are annoyed (http://www.ng.ru/ngregions/2008-01-28/19_krasnoyarsk.html).
Indicative of their feelings, the advisor said, was an incident a year ago. At that time, the local leader of the liberal Yabloko party attracted a great deal of attention and support when he hung a sign in his office with the openly nationalist and xenophobic slogan "Russia for the Russians."
Given such trends, Denisov suggested to the Moscow newspaper, it is entirely possible that "the virus of Kondopoga" may soon turn up "even in snow-covered Siberia."

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