Staunton, October 24 – Much of the unrest among immigrants in France in recent times has come not from the first generation of immigrants who often feel compelled to accept discrimination as a price for improved economic circumstances rather from the second whose members demand that they be treated equally.
Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow Institute of Demography of the Higher School of Economics, argues that in Russia, the situation is different and that despite the problems that country is experiencing with the first migrant generation, it is in a position to “make a bet on the children of migrants” (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2010/118/10.html).
But if that is the upside of Vishnevsky’s analysis, his suggestion that immigrants will change the face of Russia over the next several generations is likely to anger many Russian nationalists and frighten a larger number of ordinary Russians who may be drawn to xenophobic causes.
Few of the adults in the first generation of immigrants will fully integrate into Russian society, he says. “but if they have children or if such children appear already in emigration, their prospects for emigration are entirely different.” If these children learn Russian, “study together with [Russian] children, live together with [Russians], then they will fit into our society.”
As the experience of other countries shows, however, that outcome is not a given. “For this,” Vishnevsky says, “a special long-term policy directed at their integration must be conducted.” But unless Russia adopts such a policy, the decline in the country’s population will not stop.
As his interviewers noted, Vishnevsky recently pointed out that “in 2100, the current population of Russia and its descendents will be converted into a minority; that is, in essence, this will be a different and new population of the country.” Consequently, they suggested, he was talking about the formation of a new and different nation altogether.
Vishnevsky said that such a prospect was not utopian and pointed to the experience of the United States where WASPS are rapidly losing their preponderant position, and he said that “besides that, this is the only possible path for Russia,” however different it is from that country’s past and however much some Russians may object.
In the decade ahead, the problem will become even more acute than it is now, he points out. The number of young mothers will “sharply fall” and as a result, so too will the number of births.” Moreover, there will be “fewer young men,” which means fewer draftees, something the military will oppose but only with a negative impact on the economy.
Russians are not about to become a minority in their own country, Vishnevsky says, “but in the distant perspective, it is impossible to exclude that.” And because that is a possibility, Russians need to think now about how they will integrate the migrants and thereby create a new combined nationality.
What that will look like should be the subject of discussion. What is it that Russians want to preserve: “The preservation of racial identity? Or linguistic and cultural?” These are “different” things. “The racial composition of the population could be changed but the language and culture could remain Russian,” albeit “enriched” by the contributions of the arrivals.
What will happen depends to a very large extent on what Russian politicians decide to do, Vishnevsky argues, and he suggests that the outcome will depend not only on how the Russian powers that be treat immigrants but also what immigrants they encourage and accept, given that migrants is “a collective term.”
There are both permanent immigrants who will have an effect on the country’s demographic future and temporary ones who will play a major role in the economy but who won’t affect, at least not profoundly, the ethnic face of the country. Unfortunately, for policy makers, “there is no clear border” between these two groups.
As far as migration within the Russian Federation is concerned, Vishnevsky points out that “the Caucasus is the only region of Russia where there has been a demographic explosion,” and he argues that this underlies both the political and military dimension of the problem there. In sum, he says, in the North Caucasus, “there are a lot of people and only a little land.”
Vishnevsky said he had profound doubts about the possibility of promoting the return of ethnic Russians to that region as some officials have proposed. There simply are not the kind of jobs Russians want there. And of course, it will be extremely difficult to get predominantly ethnic Russian regions to accept more people from the Caucasus.
At the most global level, Moscow must permit, even encourage, more immigration if it wants to keep the population from falling. The post-1945 babies are now aging, and the number of young mothers is contracting As a result, now Russia needs about 200,000-300,000 immigrants every year. In five years, Vishnevsky says, it will need 500 to 800,000.