Friday, January 9, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Migrant Workers in Russia Launch Journal, to be Given Electronic IDs

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 9 -- This week, as violence against immigrants continues to rise in Russian cities, Moscow announced two measures intended to calm the situation, but both of which in fact are likely to deepen the divide between the indigenous population and immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus
On the one hand, the Federation of Migrants of Russia, with the backing of the Russian government’s Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education, announced the launch of a journal, “Migration-007,” to serve as “the information voice” of the migrants (
And on the other, Moscow city said that they will soon begin to hand out special electronic IDs to migrants living there. These “guest cards” will contain information about the migrant’s place of work and residence and will be readable by special machines the Moscow militia will now carry (
The new journal, the first of its kind in Russia organizers say, is intended to “change the stereotypes and myths” that Russians have about migrants and that migrants have about Russians and thus to reduce tensions between the two, tensions that have been on the rise as economic conditions deteriorate.
According to its organizers, “one of the key tasks” of the new journal is “cooperation with government organs in regulating migration flows, promoting legal activities by migrants and providing them with help in the spheres of business, language and education, and culture by taking into account the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation.”
If that is all the journal does, it is likely to have little impact on most immigrants even while it serves as an advertisement to foreign diplomats and journalists as to how concerned the Russian government is about the well-being of this community. But the new and somewhat oddly named journal is almost certain to do more.
Specifically, it is likely to give immigrants or at least the leaders of their communities an opportunity to communicate with each other and with the government, something that will promote solidarity among the immigrant communities and thus reduce the ability of officials to play one group off against another as they have done in the past.
However that may be, the introduction of the new electronic ID cards for immigrant workers will profoundly affect both the migrants themselves and Russian society more generally, not only highlighting the differences between the two communities but promoting even greater exploitation of those who are unable or unwilling to register.
The new guest cards are the latest manifestation of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s populist campaign, begun in 1993 with his infamous and totally unconstitutional directive to expel from the Russian capital “persons of Caucasus nationality,” to make Moscow a city for Muscovites.
Among the consequences of that effort, all of which are likely to be exacerbated by the new “guest cards,” were increased corruption – the militia routinely have demanded bribes from those without permission to live and work in the city – and greater exploitation by business operators -- in the form of lower wages or even virtual slavery -- of unregistered workers.
But despite those obvious dangers – and none of the reporting about this new measure suggests that any efforts have been given to limiting them – Luzhkov’s officials clearly expect these new IDs to be popular among native Muscovites, especially given that the quota for new arrivals in 2009 has been cut by 50 percent in these difficult economic times.
Looming behind this effort, however, is an even more serious threat: If these electronic cards for Gastarbeiters work out, the Russian government may seek to extend the program to cover everyone living in Russia, a measure that would enlist the most modern technology to restore or even intensify some of the most draconian forms of control of the Soviet past.

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