Friday, August 31, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Petersburg Officials Prepare ‘Secret’ Map of Ethnic Neighborhoods

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 31 – Officials in St. Petersburg are overseeing the production of a “secret” map of the city’s ethnic neighborhoods nominally in order to block the emergence of ethnic ghettos that might spark violence in Russia’s northern capital much as such “ghettos” did in Paris two years ago.
But academic specialists on this subject say that the collection of ethnic data on residents now that the nationality line in passports has been abolished may have just the opposite effect, driving members of one ethnic group together as a means of defense against an overweening officialdom.
Yesterday’s “Delovaya Peterburg” carried an article entitled “A Ghetto: To Be or Not to Be” in which reporter Nina Astaf’yev described how officials have recruited scholars to gather data for an ethnic map of the city but assumed responsibility for assembling that data and drawing a map (
According to the scholars who are working on this project, officials hope that they will be able to use such an ethnic map of the city to decide where to commit resources to help integrate new arrivals, providing special schools and other city services tailed to the needs of the immigrants.
At present, there are only two neighborhoods in the city where housing prices are not so high as to prevent poorer immigrants from settling in any numbers, Astaf’yev said, Volosovskiy and Slantsevskiy districts. And consequently, new arrivals there may become “pioneers of social ghettoes which will then be transformed into ethnic ones.
But despite the professed goal of this project and precisely because the map itself has been classified as secret, some experts see this project as “the first step toward the ghetto-ization” of new arrivals rather than as a means of preventing the formation of self-contained districts whose residents have few ties with outsiders.
Dmitriy Dubrovskiy, who teachers at the European University in St. Petersburg, told the paper that he fears that the compilation of this map, as the process proceeds, will make immigrants to the city even more suspicious and thus ever more likely to seek support not from the city but rather from others of the same ethnic background.
If that happens, he continued, St. Petersburg will be continuing down a path many cities have followed, a path that at the very least is likely to be marked by occasional explosions like those which occurred in Paris and which the city fathers say they want to do everything to prevent.

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