Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow City to Fight Appearance of Ethnic Neighborhoods

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 1 – Frustrated that the central Russian government has not been able to approve a nationality policy since 2004, the Moscow city government has come up with its own, one that calls for blocking the rise of ethnic neighborhoods even while admitting the capital is likely to become ever more multi-ethnic.
Today, “Argumenty nedeli” reports, the Moscow city government is considering “a conception of the realization of state policy in the sphere of inter-ethnic relations in the city of Moscow,” a concept city leaders expect other Russian regions and cities to copy (www.argumenti.ru/gorodm/2010/05/62168/).
Indeed, as the weekly points out, “the capital as always is taking the lead in legislation,” although it does not make reference to the city’s most notorious post-Soviet intervention, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s October 1993 decree calling for the expulsion of “persons of Caucasus nationality” from the city.
Experts who have reviewed the new concept give it high marks, “Argumenty nedeli” says, and Mikhail Solomentsev, the head of the city’s Committee on Interregional Ties and Nationality Policy, suggests that such a document is necessary to guide future policy.
Moscow city has long had its own distinctive approach to this question, given that the non-Russian component of the capital’s population has risen from 10percent in 1989 to more than 15 percent now officially and to a far higher percentage according to independent experts.
Moreover, as the Concept document points out, “judging from the practice of several European countries, the prospect of the strengthening of the ethnic mosaic quality of Moscow appears to be completely real,” something likely to be accompanied by the growth of “xenophobia among the indigenous population.”
The city recently polled residents, the weekly reports. Three out of every four Muscovites said that interethnic relations there were “tense,” but at the same time, “only 10 percent of them had directly encountered [problematic] situations” and “more than 70 percent” had a negative attitude toward nationalist groups.
The Concept paper states that “the majority of participants in contemporary migration flows” seek to maintain their own way of life in new circumstances and thus to live in compact neighborhoods or enclaves. But it specifies that the city government views these as “impermissible” and will do what it can to fight them.
“The very term enclave,” Solomentsev argues, “presupposes the opposition of one people to another. The experience of European capitals shows this clearly.” But if Moscow is to avoid the problems of others, it must work to keep nationalities from forming such enclaves or in other ways living separate lives.
“The more nationalities unite around a common activity, the fewer conflicts will arise,” the concept suggests, and it points to the success the Union of Organizations of Students from the Same Region has had since its formation in December 2009.
Moscow city officials note that “the most active participants” of this organization are people from the Caucasus and points out that those who take part in the Union are far more able to adapt to Moscow styles and to integrate themselves into Russian culture.
That becomes obvious if one compares the Caucasians who take part in these groups with those who don’t. Many of the latter, the weekly notes, are in the Russian capital because their parents have influence or “blat” and thus are often neither good students or good residents of Moscow.
The solution to that problem, the Conception suggests, is tighter control over admissions to the capital’s universities. And it also calls for tighter restrictions over migration from non-Russian republics and a greater effort to attract more people from the provinces.
“It is necessary to create all necessary conditions for internal migration, Solomentsev argues, so that more Russians living in poor regions can come to “the more well-off subjects of the Federation.” And to that end, a number of steps need to be taken.
Among them, he suggested, is the need for developing “an effective cadres system” so that a specialist regardless of his ethnicity will find it easy to move from one region of the country to another. If that happens, Solomentsev concludes, then “we will come to the recognition that we are one command, ‘Rossiayane.’”

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