Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Could the Gastarbeiter Crisis Lead to the End of the CIS?

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 21 – Rising Russian anger at migrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus as a result of the economic crisis and the impact of the return of such workers, often radicalized, to their homelands could spell the end of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). At the very least, these two trends appear likely to reduce its importance in the near term.
While some Russian commentators have suggested that the economic crisis will lead to the intensification of ties in the CIS, that crisis instead has increased tensions among that organization’s member states not only over the supply of gas but also and more critically over the treatment and fate of guest workers in the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, as unemployment has increased, many Russians view Gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus as taking jobs that should go to Russian citizens, an attitude that has led in some cases to violent attacks on such people and an acceleration of their departure for their homelands.
And on the other, the experiences of the Gastarbeiters in Russia not only mean that they are increasingly resentful of Russian attitudes but also that they have been radicalized more generally, developments that threaten to undermine stability in their own countries, few of which can provide them with employment in the current environment.
This week, Viktor Alksnis, a radical Russian nationalist, suggested in an interview with “Russkaya liniya” that Russia should break up the CIS and close its borders to workers from the former Soviet republics in order to overcome the current crisis that is afflicting the Russian people (
Just reducing the quotas for such workers as the Russian government has been doing in recent months will not be enough, Alksnis said, because it is well known that “the severity of Russian laws is compensated by the possibility of not following them.” And consequently, Moscow needs to take a tougher stand.
And as it does so, he said, Russians must not only recognize that “not one of [the former republics] wants integration [with Russia] despite the populist declarations of its leaders” and thus put before these states the question of “the character and forms of further relations and cooperation.”
Because the standard of living in most post-Soviet states is lower than that in the Russian Federation, Alksnis continued, “Russia will always be attractive for citizens of these republics in economic relations. But the majority of Gastarbeiter-citizens does not register in the necessary organs and work illegally.”
The only thing left to do, he concluded, is to introduce “a visa regime with the former ‘fraternal’ republics and close the borders.” That will effectively end the CIS, but that organization has failed to serve Russia’s interests because almost none of its members actually lives up to the agreements it has signed.
As a result, Alksnis said, “it is time to close [the CIS] down.”
The Russian government is unlikely to take such a step anytime soon. But Alksnis’ angry words and even his proposed solution to current problems almost certainly reflect the views of many Russian workers and probably a growing number of Russian politicians and officials. And their number is likely to increase as the economic crisis continues to deepen.
Meanwhile, Central Asian and Caucasian Gastarbeiters who have lost their jobs in Russian cities and who have experienced the hostility of many Russian workers are now returning to their own countries where they may add their voice to those who would like to see an end to the CIS.
Two Russian nationalist commentators, Mikhail Selman and Gleb Shecherbatov argue this week that these returning Gastarbeiters may not only exacerbate relations between their countries and Russia but become a “revolutionary” element there which will demand fundamental changes in foreign and domestic policies (
And even if they do not make such demands openly, given the authoritarian nature of political life in many of these countries, the attitudes of the returning Gastarbeiters almost certainly will cause the political elites of these countries to have a more negative attitude toward Russia and toward the Moscow-dominated CIS.

No comments: