Vienna, June 11 – After three years of effort, Moscow has succeeded in attracting the return of only 8800 of the more than 300,000 “compatriots” abroad whose resettlement in Russia it had counted on, an outcome that should not have surprised anyone familiar with Russian conditions or with poll results showing that many Russians would like to live abroad.
In an interview published today in “Argumenty nedeli,” however, Lidiya Grafova, who heads the umbrella Russian Forum of Resettlement Organizations, suggests that the causes for the failure of this Russian government program are in fact both deeper and broader than that (www.argumenti.ru/publications/9788).
On the one hand, she says, despite what appeared to be generous funding at the launch of this program in 2007 – 17 billion rubles (500 million US dollars) over three years – Moscow in fact did not create the conditions necessary for its success, in large measure because it had not solved the housing and employment problems of those who had come to Russia earlier.
And on the other, the program was marked both by traditional Russian bureaucratic failings including failure to prepare necessary forms in a timely fashion and by widespread corruption in which program officials spend lavishly on foreign travel and then claimed not to have any money for repatriates.
Grafova recounts a series of what she calls “strange things” that effectively “condemned the repatriation effort to failure. After the program was announced, she says, an entire year was lost when officials at Russian embassies and consulates abroad kept people waiting with the explanation that the necessary forms had not been prepared.
Moreover, the program’s large public relations budget could never overcome the knowledge many compatriots have about how those who had returned earlier had been treated. “Even those who received forced resettler status” – something only a small fraction of those going back in the 1990s did – “lost hope” after Moscow failed to live up to any of its promises.
Many Russian officials and commentators have suggested that all those who wanted to return had done so a decade ago, but Frafova says that is “not true,” pointing out that her frequent travels to CIS countries had demonstrated to here that “very many families to this day are sitting on their suitcases,” hoping to return.
While it is true that some of the adults have “come to terms with their second-class status and somehow integrated themselves,” few of them are willing to have their children suffer the same fate, especially since young people in many of these places “cannot obtain good education in the Russian language,” something that will limit their options.
“An attack on the Russian language is taking place almost everywhere in the CIS,” Grafova says,” but it is “especially” broad in Kazakhstan, “where the largest number of Russians live.” But despite that, it is no simple matter for people there to leave everything they have, rush into the “cold embrace of Russia, where it is necessary to begin life again literally from nothing.”
One of the most serious problems facing those returning is finding a place to live. The program called for providing them with hotel-type housing to start with and then offering them a mortgage on private property. But that is an absurdity, since “the average pay of those returning frequently does not reach” a level at which they could make the required payments.
Apparently, Grafova says with obvious bitterness, “the ideologues of the program wanted that only the rich who could buy everything on their own should return to Russia.” But there are few such people, and most Russians hoping to return have most of their wealth tied up in housing which they often have to sell at a loss.
This problem was compounded by Moscow’s decision to allow returnees to go first only to 12 “pilot” regions and then five more, thus limiting the options of any returnees and making it even more difficult for them to find the kind of employment that matched their skills or that provided them with the money needed to buy housing.
When those returning or organizations like her own turned to the officials involved for support, they were told that there was no money available to provide help. But these officials, Grafova points out, never cut funds for public relations efforts or for lavish trips to CIS countries or even to Latin America where they made contact with the Old Believers!
Now that the program has collapsed, she continues, Russian officials are blaming each other for that, with regional affairs officials saying that the Federal Migration Service was to blame and Moscow officials complaining that regional officials had failed to be sufficiently helpful to make the program a success.
Despite the failings of this program, Grafova says, some program of this kind is extraordinarily important not only for the compatriots who may or may not return but for Russia itself. For the former, it is an important indication that “the Motherland needs them,” something that can “strengthen” their positions even if they do not return.
And for the latter, the activist points to the conclusion of “all the experts” that if we lost migration, then [because of adverse demographic trends, the country will have ever fewer people of working age and will find that many of its far-flung regions will be “depopulated”] we will lose Russia as well.”