Friday, May 27, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Must Pursue ‘Rossification’ of Immigrants, Expert Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 27 – As many as 40 percent of all immigrant workers in the Russian Federation would like to regularize their status and become full members of the community there, an expert on migration says, but neither the Russian state nor most members of Russian society are prepared to take the steps needed to meet them half way.

In part, this reflects a reaction to demagogic commentaries which have dramatically overstated the size of the problem Russia now faces, Vladimir Mukomel, a sociologist who is part of the Strategy 2020 expert group, but in part, it represents an unwillingness to pursue what he calls “Rossianization” rather than “Russificaiton” (

In an interview with “Svobodnaya pressa” journalist Kirill Zubkov, Mukomel comments first of all on some of the figures which have prompted Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and other politicians to call for parliamentary hearings on the influx of people they suggest “do not have Russian memory” and “for whom the Russian land is something alien.”

According to Mukomel, “migration is not a problem with which one must struggle but it also is not a panacea for all problems.” It may solve some problems but only at the cost of creating others. And consequently, any discussion of how to address migration must consider both costs and benefits.

By 2030, he points out, Russia is “threatened by something worse than depopulation.” It is threatened by a decline of more than 12 million people of working age, even as the total decline of the population will be only 2.8 million. That means workers increasingly will have to support more non-workers, mostly the elderly, than in the past.

It is thus not clear, Mukomel says, “on whose account Russian pensions will live, given that the percent that they will form in the population is growing while the percentage of workers is falling.” And that will be even more true in the future, when after 2018, the current relative stabilization of Russia’s population ends and a new and more rapid decline begins.

Putting things in the simplest terms, the sociologist continues, “Russia needs new workers immediately, and Russia needs new citizens over time if Russia wants to have a future for itself.”

Many suggest that the solution is to be found in the mass influx of immigrants, but “migration is not a panacea.” And what is necessary is finding a way that allows for “the adaptation of migrants to Russian society – at least in the case of those migrants who want to settle in Russia and become equal citizens of the country.”

The total number of them, like the total number of migrants in the Russian Federation, is often exaggerated, Mukomel insists. There are about 160,000 who seek permanent residence, while something on the order of four million come for seasonal or temporary work and then return home.

The figures politicians toss about are far too large unless one counts all those now in the Russian Federation who were born elsewhere. “For the post-Soviet space, sucha method of accounting is unacceptable. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of citizens of Russia were born and for a long time lived in the former Soviet republics.

“If one follows the logic” of those who invoke the larger figure, Mukomel says, then one has to include in it such people as “Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliyev, who was born on the territory of what is now independent Kazakhstan. Moreover, the younger daughter of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Ekaterina, who was born in Dresden, also is an immigrant.”

While exact statistics are not available, the expert says, sociologists believe that “on average from 25 to 40 percent of the labor migrants who have come to Russia for work are prepared to be integrated” into Russian society.” In fact, many of them already have done so, although they are not in a position to regularize themselves legally.

The reasons for that, he suggests, lie in “the most complete lack of preparedness of [Russian] state structures” to do so as well as the unfortunate reality that “Russian society itself is not ready for the integration of immigrants,” despite the fact that most come from former Soviet areas and speak Russian.

As a result, Mukomel continues, “words about ‘the lack among those who come of Russian memory’ are also untrue: across the entire post-Soviet space, the Russian language is taught up to now and enjoys, for example in Tajikistan, serious demand” because “everyone understands” that one needs Russian if one is to work in Russia.

In other words, his interviewer says, “one is speaking about a certain variant of Russification?” To which Mukomel replies: “I would prefer the term ‘Rossification.’ In the final analysis, the entire history of Russia is the history of Russification, the integration into Rusian society of immigrant masses.”

“Karamzin, Chaadayev, Dal, even Pushkin,” Mukomel oints out, “are all descendents of migrants,” something that “should not be forgotten.” And as far as suggestions that new arrivals supposedly “will not defend the motherland,” one should remember such figures as Barklay de Tolli, Bagration, Totleben and tens of thousands of others” who nobly fought for it.

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