Thursday, February 7, 2008

Window on Eurasia: ‘Are There Any Native Muscovites Left in the Russian Capital?’

Paul Goble

Baku, February 6 – The influx of migrants into the Russian capital over the last few years has prompted one newspaper there to ask “are there any native Muscovite left?” And its investigation has shown, the paper says, that Moscow has always been “a city of migrants,” whatever some of its residents may now think.
Scholars at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology told Komsomolskaya Pravda that “Moscow has been a city of migrants from the most ancient times,” with one of them pointing out that the city was founded by Finno-Ugric tribes and that its name is “a Finno-Ugric word” meaning “the little river of the bear.”
Indeed, the institute’s Aleksandr Pestryakov suggested, if a young man comes to the Russian capital today from Saransk in Mordvinia or Ioshkar-Ola in Mari El, he has every right to say with pride “I have returned! Greetings, my historic motherland!” ( ).
Nikita Mironov, a journalist for the Moscow paper, argued that “the entire history of the capital is the history of migrants” – first of those who fled the advance of the Mongols from the Vladimir-Suzdal principality, and then from Novgorod after Ivan the Terrible destroyed its independent status.
And these migrants brought many important things with them: “Moscow did not have its own statehood” before that time, Pestryakov added. “The institution of princely rule, a professional army, the administrations, the construction of churches and fortresses, all these attributes of statehood, came from Novgorod the Great.”
Lidiya Koshman, a historian at Moscow State University, expanded upon those observations. She told the paper that “after the end of serfdom, peasants flooded into Moscow,” becoming artisans, petty traders, and “the lower middle class,” the class that formed “the basic mass of the residents of Moscow at the end of the nineteenth century.
The social upheavals of the 20th century – the world wars, the 1917 revolution and ensuing Civil War, collectivization and industrialization, the Great Terror, and urbanization – sometimes emptied the city out of its older residents and then filled it up with new ones from somewhere else.
That means that deciding who is a “native Muscovite” is no simple matter, the journalist pointed out. “Neither in the Moscow City statistical office nor in the capital’s registration service could anyone tell us the number of ‘native Muscovites.’ There is no such statistic. And the very status ‘native’ officially does not exist.”
That means that experts disagree on their number, with some like Moscow State University historian Vladimir Moryakov telling the paper that he does not think there are more than “five to ten percent.” Moscow is now as it has been throughout its existence, he insisted, “a city of people who have arrived from somewhere else.”
Because of the relative stabilization of the capital’s population at the end of the Soviet period, many Moscow residents came to think of their city’s population as “native.” But with the start of Gorbachev’s perestroika and even more after the collapse of the Soviet Union that changed.
Many of these longtime residents began to move to Western countries, city statisticians say, and at the same time, the collapse of the propiska system meant that people from other parts of the Russian Federation and former Soviet republics began to arrive in large numbers to find work.
Consequently, many Muscovites who insist on their own “nativeness” in the face of these changes that were partially registered in the 2002 census are in fact themselves only a generation or two removed from people who were the migrants to the city in their day, the paper’s Mironov pointed out.
And he listed some of the noted Muscovites who fall into this category, including Mayor Yury Luzhkov, the head of the city’s internal affairs administration, and the rector of Moscow State University, a background these three do not deny but that others are at pains to do so.
Mironov’s obvious implicit purpose is to suggest to Muscovites that they should not be put off by the new arrivals because their city has always been a magnet for people from elsewhere and has demonstrated its capacity to turn arrivals into “native” city residents in short order.
But given the passions that the immigrants and especially those from the Caucasus and Central Asia have generated over the last 15 years, it is likely that his article will not calm the situation but rather infuriate many xenophobic nationalists and prompt them to counter this article with philippics of their own.

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