Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Middle Class ‘Fleeing’ Russia, Moscow Experts Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 24 – Members of the middle class, including both entrepreneurs and intellectuals on whom the future of democratic development in the Russian Federation depends, are now fleeting that country in ever-increasing numbers, a trend that both testifies to Russia’s current problems and casts a shadow over its future.

In the current issue of the Moscow weekly “New Times,” Natalya Alyarinskaya and Dmitry Dokuchayev report that according to Russian officials, 1.25 million Russians, “chiefly businessmen and representatives of the middle class,” have left the country over the last three years (http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/39135).

Their departure, the two journalists say, is “almost as large as the first which took place after the October coup in 1917 when about two million people left” Russia. And the devote the remainder of their article to exploring the answers as to “why these people are leaving Russia and whether it is possible to stop this exodus?”

The findings of a recent poll by the Levada Center showing that 50 percent of Russians “dream of leaving the country,” including “two thirds [of those] under 35,” and that “63 percent of those questioned would like their children to study and work abroad” rather than in their homeland.

But those findings, which express interest and desire rather than action, have now been made even more a matter of concern by other data. Vladimir Gruzdyev, a Duma deputy of the ruling United Russia Party said that in 2010, “the number of individual entrepreneurs dropped from 4.61 to 4.11 million,” with most of the half million not only leaving business but Russia.

Igor Nikolayev, the head of strategic prognostications for FBK suggests that this statistic “should be increased by a factor of two if not three.” The reason? “Many people keep their citizenship and apartment in Russia, and although their entire family has been living in the West for a long time, they do not fall within the emigration statistics.”

And Vladislav Inozemtsev, the director of the Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society, says the situation may be even worse than those figures show. According to his research, “45 percent of [university] graduates do not exclude the possibility of leaving and almost half of them firmly intend to seek” work abroad.

According to Moscow experts, the two journalists say, there are now about four million Russians living in the European Union and the United States, distributing themselves according to ease of entry, cost of living and the existence of a Russian community with which they can find support at least at first.

No one knows for certain just how many more of Russia’s middle class are really waiting to join them, “sitting on their suitcases,” to use the Russian expression. But the number has certainly gone up in the last few years because, in the words of one expert, opportunities have declined while “administrative pressure has increased.”

According to Moscow political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin, “the main cause” pushing members of the Russian middle class to think about emigration is “the lack of a future,” the sense that for Russians now, unlike a decade ago, there is no light at the end of the tunnel but only more darkness.

Moreover, the members of this class increasingly feel the envy of those below them in the social pyramid and pressure from the political elite above. And they fear that the current situation may get even worse after the 2011 and 2012 elections which could set in train a new set of challenges they would rather avoid by moving out of Russia.

Most analysts fear the impact of these departures, especially since in many ways it is the best and the brightest who are leaving. Approximately 15 percent of all Russians have higher education, but among those leaving, “more than 40 percent do,” thus undermining the ability of the Russian economy to modernize or even keep up.

A few experts, like Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a specialist on elites at the Russian Academy of Sciences, suggest that no one should be upset by these trends because they show that Russia is becoming part of the global society and that Russians are “step by step becoming people of the world.”

But others take a gloomier view. Oreshkin says that “the sense of total corruption does not leave [these people].” Consequently, to improve matters and retain more of the Russian middle class, the country must “in the first instance destroy the power vertical, cleanse itself from corruption and conduct honest elections.”

However, he continues, even if Russia manages to do this, “a minimum of about five years will be required for people [now] abroad to believe that the situation for business in Russia has changed for the better” and decide that they should be working at home rather than living abroad.

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