Vienna, May 26 – Migration within the Russian Federation has fallen significantly and now stands at level it was in 1897, a figure that reflects popular inertia, bureaucratic obstacles and shortages of housing stock but one that is simultaneously leading to more immigration from abroad and slower economic growth at home, according to a leader of the Social Chamber.
In an article in this week’s “Profil,” Leonid Davydov, a political scientist who heads that body’s Commission on Regional Development and Local Self-Administration, argues that “the lack of internal migration remains a serious brake on the path of the economic development of Russia” (profile.ru/items/?item=30238).
Davydov notes that this year represents a triune anniversary in that regard: the 150th since the end of serfdom in Russia in 1861, the 35th since the mass distribution of passports to collective farmers in 1976, and the 20th since the ban on the residential registration system or “propiska” in 1991.
The first of these events is known to all, he writes. The second seems hard now to believe: “Only 35 years ago, a third of Soviet residents did not have the legal opportunity to move about the country.” And the third “jubilee” is simply “laughable” given the continuing “administrative barriers to the free movement of people.”
They have “not disappeared anywhere,” and at least partially as a result, “the scale of internal migration [within the Russian Federation] has fallen 2.5 times over the last 20 years,” leaving Russia with one of the least mobile populations in advanced countries: In the US, people change their residence 13 times, in Britain, seven; but in Russia, only 1.5 times over a lifetime.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance” of internal migration for economic development, Davydov continues, all the more so at a time when Russia is experiencing demographic decline and economic problems in many parts of the country, problems that should lead Russians to move from one place to another.
Indeed, the regional specialist says, “the shifting of citizens from depressed territories with growing unemployment into more well-off areas is the only means of preserving the economic potential of the latter without massive attraction of a work force from abroad,” whose presence in Russia entails its own set of problems.
Demographers talk about “several flows” of internal migration within Russia, but “the two key directions of migration [now] as in the 1970s-1990s are from the village to the city and the regions to the Moscow agglomeration. According to surveys, more than 55 percent of those who want to move want to go to Moscow, with another 20 percent wanting to live near there.
In some respects, the decline in the numbers of people moving from one part of the Russian Federation since the end of Soviet times reflects a “positive” development. People are now able to decide to remain where they are rather than be forced to go where government planners tell them.
“But the negative factors are much more numerous,” Davydov argues, and include among other things, “the inertia of citizens, the unresolved problems of housing, and [the continuing operation of what are in most cases a plethora of illegal] administrative barriers.”
“The social-cultural inertia” with regard to residence is “colossal,” he says, with only 10 percent of the population saying it is prepared to move to another part of Russia – a figure that is only three percentage points more than the number who indicate that they are ready to move to another country!
But more serious than the continuing administrative obstacles and the attitudes of Russians is “the absence of housing stock.” Privatization has had many consequences, one of which is that it has reduced the share of rental units dramatically. In Russia today, only five percent of all housing is rental, compared with 50 percent or more in most Western countries.
Given low pay, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for people to move, even though such moves would help combat unemployment, promote economic development and even lead to a decline in the need for immigrant workers from abroad and to an increase in the chances for Russia to modernize.
Some officials recognize this reality, Davydov continues. Among them is Aleksandr Khloponin, presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus Federal District who has pledged to find work in other parts of the Russian Federation for the unemployed of his region, an idea that has generated opposition because many of those who would move are not ethnic Russians.
The state needs to promote inter-Russian mobility but doing so now is hard because during economic crises, people are less willing to take the risks that a move involved. The VTsIOM polling agency has found that the share of Russians willing to move has declined from 16 percent to only 10 percent since the recession began.
But Davydov insists, the recession will be longer and deeper unless internal migration increases, and he insists that Russians must stop thinking about “migration policy” as a means to prevent people from moving but rather as a way to give them the chance to move in economically beneficial ways.
Over time, he suggests, a successful migration policy will have other benefits, increasing reversing the flow of people from the regions to Moscow and from east to west because “the quality of life in oblast and kray centers will gradually grow and thus the prospect of leaving the ‘capital’ will not look so bad.”
But there is an even more compelling reason to end restrictions on movement and promote rental housing in key areas: “The failure of migration policy will put an end to plans for leveling out the social-economic development of the regions,” Davydov says, and it will thus make it far more difficult for Russia to emerge as a modernized economy.