Saturday, February 16, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Plan for Compatriots’ Return Falls 99 Percent Short

Paul Goble

Baku, February 16 – As part of its effort to address Russia’s demographic problems, Moscow has been seeking to attract those it calls its “compatriots” – ethnic Russians and members of other Russian-speaking groups who live abroad – to come to live and work in the Russian Federation.
But an examination of the program so far suggests that the Russian government is having little success: In 2007, political analyst Georgy Bovt noted in Izvestiya on Thursday, the government planned for the return of 50,000 but only 400 came – or slightly less than one percent (
Given the statements of various Russian leaders from President Vladimir Putin down on how important this effort is, Bovt says, this is “a most shameful failure.” But as is so often in the case in Russia today, he says, “no one has been held accountable,” something that highlights a far broader problem in Russian governance.
In this case as in others, he continues, “there is a law, money has been allocated, instructions issued and assignments given to administrations and localities.” But almost nothing happens because the bureaucracy takes care of its own needs rather than trying to fulfill the program.
One can debate the utility of the program, Bovt says, but it is a government program and its failure so far is “an illustration of the lamentable ineffectiveness of Russian government institutions” that in this case had 4.6 billion rubles (190 million U.S. dollars) and failed to achieve more than 99 percent of its goal.
There is plenty of blame to go around. The Federal Migration Service has not done its job, Bovt say, but neither have Russian consulates abroad that have failed to develop a transparent system to allow compatriots to apply. Indeed, the documents they hand out make those described “in the fantasies of Kafka” pale by comparison.
Then there is the government and Duma which created a whole series of unfunded liabilities for the regions, requiring them to act in support of this effort but not providing them with the funds needed to do so. Not surprisingly, they were not prepared, and word about this quickly reached those who might have considered returning.
But there is a bigger problem than that, Bovt argues. This “failed” program is simply “the logical extension of the extremely unjust approach to those who were born in Russia but then for various reasons left.” Unlike people living in the Russian Federation in 1992, they have never been given the chance to get Russian citizenship automatically.
Instead, they have to jump through complicated hoops, even now that Moscow has “simplified” the procedure. Were Moscow to simply declare that they could get citizenship on the basis of their birth, it would achieve far more than it has with the compatriots program.
Such a declaration, which would bring Russia into line with many other countries, would not require the enormous money and bureaucracy that Moscow is currently deploying to attract compatriots. But it would require “a revolution in thinking,” and that is something that “if one is honest, [one has to admit is] almost impossible.”
But until that happens, he suggests, the Russian Federation will continue to attract many immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus that its population does not want and not to attract precisely those “energetic and full of purpose” people that the country so desperately wants and needs.

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