Almost a fifth of households in Moscow and St. Petersburg, even those with average incomes, regularly resort to the services of female domestic workers. Most often they need help around the house, as well as looking after the elderly and children. In most cases, Russians from the region where the employers reside are hired to do this work. A study by researchers at HSE and RANEPA shows that hired female household labor, which is considered a non-essential form of employment, is a vital part of urban economies.
The first attempt in Russia to define the scale of wage labor in households in Russia’s megalopolises, the research study was based on a survey of residents of those cities who over the past three years have employed other people to do work usually performed by family members. Three thousand eight hundred people took part in the survey; their phone numbers were selected using systematic stratified random sampling. The results of the survey are unusual: although Russians generally believe that housekeepers, domestic help, and hired staff in a household involves a high family income and migrant labor and is a rare thing, it is, in reality, a fairly common practice among middle-income households in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and it is residents of the two capitals who are mainly hired to do such work.
First of all, hiring third parties to perform work in the household is a widespread practice in Russia’s two largest cities.
According to the survey results, female workers were employed by seventeen percent of households. Formally, men are employed by households much more. In fact, respondents were asking about paid employment in the household, including for such types of work as renovations and repairs, where men predominated. (Twenty-eight percent of the households surveyed had hired male hands.) Among “household chores,” “female” specializations were also discovered that would ordinarily not be thought of as “domestic help” — tutoring, primarily. In any case, seventeen percent of Moscow and Petersburg families employed female labor in households, a figure that dropped to around seven to eight percent when tutoring and repairs were factored out. Even with this proviso, however, the phenomenon goes beyond “elite consumption for the wealthy few.”
This also shows that, according to the survey data, most of the households (61%) who employed female workers estimated their incomes as average. When answering the standard question about their income (used, among others, by Rosstat in its questionnaires), they indicated that they had enough money for food, clothing, and household appliances. Twenty-three percent of respondents rated their incomes as high (in particular, as sufficient to buy a car or more) while sixteen percent rated them as low, since they were only enough to buy food. Thus, hired domestic workers are the preserve of the middle class rather than the income elite.
The prevalence of foreign nationals or, at least, migrant workers from other regions of Russia, among domestic workers has also been greatly exaggerated. According to the survey, almost two thirds (64%) of households that purchase women’s services [sic] in the household give jobs to women permanently residing in Moscow or St. Petersburg, where they themselves live.
Only in fourteen percent of households in the two cities was the employed woman a Russian national from another region, and in sixteen percent, a foreign national. (No breakdown by nationality is given.)
However, this fact is well known within the households and is clearly discussed by them. Only six percent of respondents who had dealings with female domestic workers were not aware whether she was a Muscovite [sic], a nonresident, or a foreign national.
Of course, households most often hired residents of their own region as tutors. Among domestic migrants this type of employment was two and a half times less common, while it was practically nonexistent among foreign women. At the same time, foreign women were twice as likely to be hired to do housework as Russian women, both local and migrant. However, domestic workers in the strict sense of the term — that is, those doing “housework” (cleaning, laundry, cooking, caring, and looking after children)— are still Muscovites and Petersburgers in most cases; residents of Krasnoyarsk and Samarkand [that is, domestic and foreign migrant workers, respectively] are in the minority. The authors of the study suggest that children are a “sensitive” area for households, and local women have in this instance an advantage over migrants: households are less likely to “trust” the latter. (The authors of the study avoid reaching an alternative conclusion: that this choice is a consequence of the phobias experienced by a significant part of the middle class towards migrants — phobias that are commonly denied in the middle-class milieu, as least in Moscow.)
Residents of other regions and countries are preferred only as caregivers, and the share of this type of employment among foreign women is three times higher than among women from the same region as their employers.
Florinskaya, Mkrtchyan and Kartseva describe a rather vital social phenomenon: migrant caregivers ask for their work, which is in demand among all strata of society, significantly less pay than do Russian nationals, and for most relatively poor households there is no alternative to hiring them, as they simply cannot afford a nurse from Moscow. But to carry out repair work, local women and migrants were hired with approximately the same frequency: the wallpaper pasted by a Ukrainian woman cannot be distinguished from the wallpaper pasted by a Petersburg woman, even by a specialist.
Finally, wage labor in households is extremely informal. Most often households hired female employees using recommendations from their acquaintances or relatives (63%), and more than two thirds of the households draw up written contracts when hiring female employees. The xenophobia of Muscovites has been exaggerated: female foreign workers lived in the household in a third of cases. (By contrast, 2.4% of households provided housing to residents of their own region, and 18.8% to migrants from within Russian Federation.)
The cautious attitude of Russians to hiring female employees to work in their households is, rather, a late Soviet legacy. After the tradition of employing “servants,” which was relatively common in large Soviet cities among the middle class, disappeared in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the term sounded somewhat insulting from the 1960s until today, and was replaced by euphemisms like “a woman who comes over.” The restoration of the practice is expected, and yet, as the study shows, this phenomenon (if only by virtue of its magnitude) is a vital albeit understated part of the modern urban economy of Russia’s megalopolises.
Up to two-thirds of Russians do not have any savings. Two-thirds of Russians can only afford food and clothes while buying durable consumer goods for them is extremely difficult. Russia is a very poor country, and now, on top of that, we have sanctions that will destroy the lives of ordinary people even further.
I have always said that many practices that are later transferred to Russian citizens are first tested out on “migrants.” Mechanisms for securing human rights and ordinary social rights and living conditions first stop functioning for migrants. They were the first to get what amounted to criminal punishments for administrative violations. They were the first to be stripped of their rights as workers. They were the first to be subjected to a universal system of total electronic surveillance. It is hard not to notice, for example, the link between the concept of “illegals” and the concept of “foreign agents.” It is symbolic that people illegally detained in Moscow for coming out to protest an anti-constitutional regime are now being transported to Sakharovo, a place where foreign nationals are imprisoned, often illegally. It’s very simple: there can be no human rights and rule of law if even one group is (initially with the public’s general consent) excluded from the protection of these laws and rights. Sooner or later, the exceptions will apply to everyone else.
THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT
While have never been a neat freak, I have never let things get like this. I had collected the posters for the Museum of Political History, and now I am sorting them out. Thank you for your words of support and anger: they help a lot. The children are still with relatives: I want to clean the place up before they come back. In the meantime, I have restored our SIM cards and bought new phones for myself and my daughter.
You ask how you can help? Stop by if you’re going to be near Vladimirskaya subway station today or tomorrow: we’ll drink coffee and rummage through my things. I’ve also been asked whether I need money to buy computers. [The police confiscated all the electronic devices in Apahonchich’s flat.] Of course, they’re obliged to return them, but in practice they often take their time doing it. They might turn them over in six months or give them back broken.
And I want to say a huge thank you to the advocates who were on duty in the help groups. Yesterday I watched how these wonderful, brave people work, and I was filled with admiration for them.
I am very worried about all the victims [of the mass arrests on Sunday, January 31].
I’m writing my [Sberbank] card number down here. If I get more money than I need for new computers, I will transfer the surplus to Mediazona and OVD Info.
4276 5500 7321 7849
Although I look rumpled (I didn’t sleep for almost two days), I’m in good spirits.
More than two years ago, I wrote a column about how the law enforcement system in our country had turned into a system of repression, and the state’s monopoly on violence had been turned against ordinary citizens who had grievances with the regime. As an example, I cited the arrest of Artyom Milushkin, the organizer of an authorized rally against corruption. On his way to the rally, he was thrown face-first into the mud by two men, who didn’t identify themselves. It later transpired that they were police officers.
It seems like such a minor thing today, doesn’t it?
And it is not surprising, given that the official response to my opinion piece was a criminal case against me, not an attempt to explain or discuss anything.
Of course, I was not the first to catch this trend, but it seems that I was the first to get such a clear and abrupt response. It was my text, the ideas I expressed, and my individual judgment that were declared the corpus delicti. My criminal case seems to have marked a watershed: we can no longer have our own opinions. People are tried for their opinions. Don’t ask questions.
What is happening on the streets today shows how cohesively the state repressive machine has crystallized. I don’t know what kind of orders those dashing fellows in helmets receive before going to disperse the guys and gals, but it is clear from the confident swings of their billy clubs that they see the enemy before them. The regime they serve has declared war on those who accuse it of theft and murder, although it seems that they already constitute a majority.
This is the death certificate for public politics in Russia, which was the point of my column “Crackdowns for the State.” For publishing it, I was found guilty of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code) and fined 500,000 rubles. I have an appeals hearing tomorrow at 10 a.m., but I don’t think we’ll be able to overturn the verdict, especially at a time like now.
I wrote that column in the belief that dialogue was possible, that it was not only necessary, but a real possibility, that it was still possible to prevent and stop what was happening, to force the authorities to think hard. Unfortunately, I no longer have that feeling.
(The photo, above, shows me halfway to the paddy wagon, but I never made it there because “Sorry, we didn’t figure out right away [that you were a journalist].”)
I bring the summit up only because, the social forum aside, the city was pullulating with so many cops, riot cops (OMON), and Interior Ministry troops it was impossible not to notice them and realize how absurd and wasteful the security overkill was, especially since the summit per se was held in the newly refurbished Constantine Palace in the southern Petersburg suburb of Strelna, a site at least fifteen kilometers away from the central city and most of its inhabitants, and thus easily secured by a few hundred guards, policemen, and special forces troops.
Back in those halcyon days, I had a job that kept me moving round the city from morning to night, and so I would happen upon clusters of utterly idle cops, riot cops, and special forces troop in the oddest places on a regular basis while the summit was on. I remember how I once walked into an otherwise obscure, out-of-the-way courtyard late in the evening and found it chockablock with Russia police officers of some sort, possibly imported for the occasion from the other side of the country. They seemed almost ashamed to be hiding in that courtyard, protecting nobody at all from utterly nonexistent threats, and chainsmoking to kill the time.
Our beleaguered city’s next opportunity to shine in the international limelight will be during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Petersburg and several other Russian cities from June 14 to July 15.
I was reminded by a tiny incident I witnessed earlier today of the Russian police state horrorshow literally everyone in the city with their heads screwed on straight expects during the month the World Cup is in town.
By the way, all locals with an ounce of sense in their brains are planning to be somewhere else, if only at their dachas in the countryside, during that month.
When I exited my building earlier today I immediately spotted two Russian National Guard officers hassling two young men of “non-Slavic appearance.” The officers were conducting their shakedown squarely in front of the gateway that accesses the yard of the building next to ours, the only courtyyard left on our street connecting it with the street running parallel to it.
Once upon a time not so long ago, central Petersburg was chockablock with interconnecting, walkthrough courtyards, and natives in the know could cover long distances in the inner city navigating this extensive network of courtyards without having to emerge onto the actual streets.
But when the new era of “capitalism” and “democracy” dawned, and Petersburgers privatized their flats and turned their courtyards into impromptu car parks, many of them gated, locked, and otherwise blocked off their courtyards, a move that in many cases was probably illegally, although no has ever gotten in trouble, so far as I know, for establishing their own little gated communities this way.
The guardsmen were reading the swarthy troublemakers the usual bored riot act about their having the wrong paperwork when I squeezed my way around them. One of them said they would have to take the swarthy men down to the precinct and write them up, which probably meant they would hold them there long enough to make their serious intentions plain before “fining” (bribing) them and letting them go.
So, my message to you out there in the wide world is take a thought for us back here in the Motherland and keep your TV turned off during the World Cup. The “beautiful game” need not be played and enjoyed at such a high human cost to the World Cup’s Russian host cities, but since ultraviolence and the gleeful trampling of human rights are the only ways the current Russian regime knows how to handle mega events like the World Cup and the Winter Olympics, not to mention the country’s day-to-day governance, show a minimum of solidarity with us here in the line of fire and don’t watch any of the matches on TV. It won’t cost you a thing, but the world’s TV executives and advertisers will notice.
I won’t even bother appealing to the jetsetters who are planning to travel to Russia for the World Cup. You are beyond the pale in any case, since you choose to live your lives in such a thoughtless, wreckless way. My only hope for you is that, at some point during your expensive, wasteful trip, Russia’s real reality will burst through the carefully packaged and securitized experience the Russian authorities have planned for you, and you realize you paid Satan a lot of money to watch a few bloody football matches in person. // TRR
Movements in Central Asia have become large-scale and permanent, involving all social groups, rich and poor, women and men, young and old. They move around their own countries and among countries. Some go for several weeks or months and come back, while others live far from their place of birth for years, only occasionally visiting their homelands. Still others leave forever, breaking all ties. Some travel in search of a new homeland, so to speak. Others go to make money, study or receive medical treatment. Still others go for fun and excitement.
All this movement has come as a surprise to experts and politicians. I still remember the debates in the Soviet Union in the 1980s as to why the people of Central Asia were reluctant to travel outside their region. Even then officials and academics in Moscow, observing the beginnings of the demographic decline in Russia itself, were planning to relocate people from borderlands with an excess labor force to the central regions of the then still-unified country. These plans failed, because few people wanted to leave their homes. Only organized and, in fact, involuntary labor recruitment and military labor brigades partly solved the increased need for labor power. The weak affinity that Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz felt for voluntary mobility was proclaimed, on their part, an inherent and incorrigible attachment to family, community, and the hot climate. However, all these explanations were put to shame only a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when millions of people from the titular Central Asian nations felt an irresistible urge to hit the road, leaving and, sometimes, literally abandoning their homes.
Let us try and make sense of these circumstances, to understand why movement in the region has suddenly become a vital life strategy among a considerable number of people. The answer only seems to be lying on the surface. Yes, of course, the collapse of the Soviet system has led to the dismantling of all previous social and economic policies, which kept the population in place through social programs and investment in sometimes loss-making manufacturing enterprises. An abrupt, almost catastrophic decline in living standards, often accompanied by political turmoil and increased feelings of uncertain life prospects, could not fail to provoke an outflow of those wanting to find new prosperity and new stability outside their former worlds. Unemployment and negligibly small wages and pensions have pushed people into new labor markets in countries where even small incomes, by local standards, are much higher than the incomes Central Asians can expect to earn at home.
The future also looks ambivalent, depending on the forecaster’s optimism and pessimism. Some argue that economic, social, and political degradation in Central Asia will continue, becoming chronic, and the movements, therefore, will not stop but might even become even more intense, prolonged, and irreversible. Others, however, argue that sooner or later the situation will improve, investments and jobs will emerge at home, incomes and quality of life will increase and, consequently, outward migration will gradually dwindle.
This approach to movement as a consequence of degradation simplifies, in my view, the picture of events, distorting our perspective by ignoring and failing to analyze many important causes, factors, processes, and attitudes. If we look more broadly at the context in which human mobility in Central Asia has been growing, the first thing we see is an increase in the scope, range, and frequency of movement throughout the entire post-Soviet space and the world as a whole. Second, we see the unconditional link between mobility and the current stage of capitalism, which is sometimes called globalization, sometimes postindustrialism, and sometimes postmodernism. Viewed from this perspective, the picture of Central Asia appears in a somewhat different light than as a mere reflection of the disastrous state of affairs in the region’s newly independent countries. Spatial flows are not only a compulsory means of survival but also an impetus for distributing and assembling people, capital, information, and skills in new social configurations. The latter have a logic and meanings that do not depend directly on the characteristics of a particular country but are subject to wider trends and patterns.
What additional meanings can be attributed to the movements of people in Central Asia aside from as a reaction to post-Soviet degradation?
I think the situation can be described in terms of the momentum of the connections and mutual dependencies between Central Asia and Russia (and other lands) that developed and strengthened over at least a century and a half of coexistence within a single state. Usually, this kind of relationship is characterized as imperial or, if observers want to emphasize a distinctly unequal exchange, colonial. It is believed that empires inevitably fall, to be replaced by liberated nations. In this simple teleological scheme, which now dominates post-Soviet ideologies, much is not entirely clear, but one of the most controversial questions that many postcolonial critics ask is whether empire has actually disappeared or has adopted new shapes in which nations—i.e., constructs actually generated by empire—perform the old functions of borderlands, still pumping resources into the former metropoles in return for patronage and oversight. If we accept this argument, and there are many grounds for doing so, the massive movement of people from Central Asia to Moscow, Petersburg, and other Russian regions appears to be a post-imperial situation in which the circulation of labor power, money, practices, ideas, and information continues, acquiring new tempos and vectors. This movement establishes a new division of labor between the former “heartlands” and “borderlands,” and their hierarchy and mutual need for each other, even if the rhetoric has been dominated by harsh rejection of the newcomers.
Another implication of the movement of people in Central Asia is also quite obvious, although it is little remarked and little analyzed. The large-scale mobility—a significant (if not the lion’s) share of which consists of rural residents going to work abroad—is tantamount to a rather classic proletarization of a still largely agrarian Central Asian society. Soviet modernization attempted in its own way to organize this process by gradually transforming the locals into an agricultural working class while preserving the private agricultural sector and the corresponding rural practices, attitudes, and outlook in the region as a kind of compensation for semi-forced labor. The collapse of the Soviet Union also entailed the collapse of this transformative model. Consequently, the standard version of capitalist development, involving the ruin of the peasants, their impoverishment and exodus to the cities, where they are transformed into ruthlessly exploited proletarians, was inevitable. In other words, what is perceived as degradation is, in fact, a shift in the socio-economic order, not a return to old ways of life, as it sometimes has seemed, but accession to a completely new stage or form of community.
Proletarization has not been subject to discussion because, in particular, its course and effects have been concealed in a strictly ethnic view of the movement. In the countries of origin, the departed are considered traitors, victims or breadwinners. In the host countries, they are considered threatening outsiders or, again, victims. The emphasis, often cultural and racial, on their departure or arrival is more important than the social essence of movement. However, as soon as we remove our ethnic glasses we сan easily identify the class character of mobility. Its specificity consists only in the fact that the system in which class interaction takes place is not limited to particular countries and even regions but is non-national in scale. This system includes, first of all, the post-Soviet space as the nearest and most comprehensible space, a space that has, as I have already said, a history of a common existence and unequal relations of domination and subjugation between heartlands and borderlands. But mobility has already gone beyond the scope of the post-Soviet, spreading into new spaces of global capitalism and incorporating itself into a truly global order.
The other significance of the movement in Central Asia I would like to discuss is the mastery and appropriation of global space, infrastructures, and communication and transportation technologies. Let me explain this with a very simple example. Once upon a time, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Russian imperial officials built a railroad that linked Central Asia with Russia’s central regions. The railway was built in no small measure to transport troops in the event of local uprisings and conflicts with other world powers, as well as for resettling Russian peasants, who were to colonize the new imperial lands. The railroad was also built to export the region’s cotton to the Ivanovo textile mills and import grain back to Turkestan, where the arable land was to be busy growing cotton. However, whatever objectives Petersburg officials pursued by allocating funds for the railroad’s construction, the end result was new transport infrastructure that made it possible to move large quantities of people and goods quickly, a means that had been available to different groups of people in different historical periods, and could be used for purposes that the said officials could not even imagine. Consequently, a hundred years later, the railway has become one of the main means of transporting millions of people of Central Asia to Russia and all over the world. This shift of functions and tasks might be dubbed mastery of new technologies and appropriation of completely new mechanisms for interacting with space, mechanisms which themselves define the impetuses and trajectories of movement. If we add highways and air travel to the railroads, we find ourselves with a huge network of possibilities that people transform into an element of their everyday practices and plans. The ease with which one can reach the other end of the world in a short time and gain access to new goods itself compels people to travel.
Here I would add the mastery of technologies for obtaining information about the world and communicating at great distances. They help create and maintain images and networks of acquaintances, which are also included in processes of movement and ensure its stability, direction, and reversibility. In a broader sense, I would also include here not only phones, internet, cars, and planes but also knowledge of languages, mastery of global systems of food and clothing, of finding and gaining employment, and so on. The penetration and expansion of such technologies and infrastructures in Central Asia and training oneself in the habits of using them shapes the demand for mobility as a distinct need and, sometimes, as a pleasure.
Finally, I want to use the notion of the migration of peoples for interpreting current movements. Despite the risks of drawing analogies between quite different historical periods, I think it vital to point out the temporal depth, continuity, and cyclical nature of movements, on the one hand, and, on the other, the gradual tectonic shifts in the spread of cultures, languages, and even genetic characteristics, shifts that may not always be visible from the perspective of several decades. I think we must keep sight of this prospect, too, because it is here that new mixtures and hybridizations happen, new cultural types and preferences are constructed, and new communities and identities are shaped. Marriages between locals and newcomers, children of newcomers who are born and grow up in the new land and speak the local language, shifts (back and forth) in musical and culinary tastes that are suggested by the newcomers and turn into new fashions, etc., are the individual and ephemeral symptoms of such transformations. They coalesce to form global trends that become visible after some time and only at a remove from the chaos of the present. The non-obvious nature of this tectonic shift and the uncertainty of its impact do not mean, however, that we do not sense, sometimes as vague and irrational fears and anxieties, the inevitability of this process by which completely new cultural forms emerge and acquire their own force and logic.
I deliberately did not use the terms migration and migrants in the first part of my text, although in their original sense they are synonyms of movement and people in movement. However, the primarily recent negative usage of the word migrant in Russia, the destination of most Central Asians, has caused me to regard it as a discrete category, which indicates the particular circumstances in which people in movement find themselves. We can easily notice that the word is used selectively in the public debate and generally does not cover all types of movement, for which additional features and criteria are introduced. Why and how do certain people in movement end up in the exceptional circumstances of migrants?
The paradox of the present age is that the more massive and rapid the movement of people has become, the more societies and countries have established legal, political, social, and cultural obstacles and rules, including in the realm of ideology and ideas, for regulating and directing mobility. Having become an important feature of (post)modernity, movement has not changed the social order, which has remained hierarchical and antagonistic. But movement imparts to these hierarchies and antagonisms another, migratory dimension, which has become an important element in the allocation of status, wealth, and opportunity. More precisely, there are many such dimensions, and I will try to spell them out, based on the classification of the causes of increased mobility that I have proposed above. In particular, I mentioned post-imperialism, capitalization and proletarization, the appropriation of global space, and the migration of peoples.
The most obvious is the post-imperial or post-colonial conjuncture. The former distinctions between heartlands and borderlands, which in the past had a tangible and geographically measurable value, have been preserved, having forfeited, however, their sense of spatiality. The parts of the formerly united empire, fused over many decades and centuries, continue to need each other, even after the collapse of the unified state, in terms of resources, finances, labor power, military assistance, technologies, and ideas to maintain their existence and legitimacy. As before, mutual dependence has its own imbalances, which after the Soviet Union’s demise have not only not decreased but also in many ways have even increased. In the past, common imperial Russian and Soviet citizenship certainly served as tools of colonization and Russification, but aside from subordination, they contributed other modernizing and emancipatory consequences and effects. As the residents of the modernized and emancipated regions have flocked to the heartlands, depriving them of a common citizenship and, generally, of a stable legal status has been the new strategy for dominating the borderlands and its inhabitants. Earlier educational and Kulturträger aspirations have finally yielded to cold calculation: utopianism has become an unnecessary expense.
The status and label of the illegal (nelegal) has replaced the former terms aboriginal (tuzemets) and ethnic (natsmen) as the new tool of colonization. Illegality, which in its various shapes accompanies the majority of immigrants from Central Asia throughout their journey to Russia and other countries, is simultaneously a means of overexploitation and replacing distance (which in the past separated the residents of the heartlands from the populace of the borderlands, generating informal relations of “senior” and “junior”) with a new means of distancing. While reproaching the arriving hordes for illegality, Russia does everything possible to maintain this gray zone, which is a prerequisite of postcolonial welfare and subjugation and brings only material and symbolic benefits. Of course, the possibility of becoming a citizen and occupying a top position in the new circumstances remains for the illegal immigrant, just as once upon a time the aboriginal and ethnic could become a tsarist general or a member of the Central Committee, but this career requires stupendous effort, the overcoming of numerous obstacles, and repeated demonstrations of loyalty.
The proletarization of rural dwellers is accomplished not just as a movement from countryside to city but also as a movement from one country to another. This generates not only the possibility of doubly exploiting migrants as workers and, at the same time, as disenfranchised foreigners, but also impedes the formation of a pronounced class identity and class resistance among the new proletarians. Moreover, self-recognition as a working class occurs neither in the country of origin nor the host country.
In Russia, where migrants work and generate surplus value, they are considered guest workers and slaves who are not an electoral force, allegedly hinder the development of the local economy, skew the labor market by working for low wages, and increase crime rates. That is, they generate lots of so-called problems and threats. Even local leftist parties are not willing to recognize them as their own constituency, whose rights and class mobilization should be their concern. In Central Asia itself, where the migrants return with the money they have earned, they do not perceive themselves and are not perceived by others as a proletariat. Rather, they function as a kind of middle class who have successfully completed a business deal somewhere abroad. At home, the guest workers carefully maintain and reproduce all the attributes of prestige characteristic of the rural rich, community members, and supporters of a “traditional” lifestyle, albeit in contrived form. This method of joining the capitalist world prevents immigrants from Central Asia from recognizing their interests as proletarians and fighting for them, which only aggravates their oppressed position in their new circumstances.
Here I want to clarify an important point. Movement itself is not only proletarian in its import. The people involved in it also include businessmen, who attempt to preserve and capitalize their savings abroad; urban educated youth, hoping to enter the cohort of white collar workers; and cultural producers and academics, who are looking for freedom of inspiration and recognition in other countries, and so on. But these groups of Central Asians are often overlooked amidst the public phobias, are not identified as guest workers, and even occupy quite high-status positions in the new society. However, many of them are also under constant threat of ending up living their lives according to a proletarian logic. Subjugation, which cannot be reduced merely to proletarization but has a wider context, assigns people to different categories, leaving them very little choice in determining their own legal, professional, and social trajectories, eventually pushing them into the niche of disenfranchised workers, from which it is difficult to extract themselves.
Another factor associated with access to the infrastructures and technologies of mobility also generates its own limitations and hierarchies. The latter include abilities, skills, and psychological capacities, as well as, I intend to emphasize, the availability of the necessary financial means and connections for implementing this access. An important condition is the availability and number of intermediaries between the individual and the means of mobility.
The hierarchy begins to take shape the moment the decision is made who is personally capable of setting out on the long, distant journey. This decision predetermines who will be the breadwinner, and who, the dependent; who, by taking on heightened risks, will receive more of the symbolic and moral bonuses, and how roles and statuses will be allocated in the future within the family and the community. Depending on the availability of funds and skills, the emigrant chooses between strategies of searching for happiness individually or, more often, of joining a network. Within the network, each person is assigned a certain place, and strict limitations are imposed on all manifestations of independence. The network mediates between the individual and technologies. It gives him or her money for their first steps. It protects and insures them. It explains where they should go and what they should do. The societal network, which guides the individual down the beaten path, provides guarantees and confirms the usual order of relations, and reproduces its own forms of domination and subjugation among elders and youngsters, men and women, pioneers and followers, wise guys and foot soldiers. The technologies and infrastructures of globalization are for many people, paradoxically, a means of reproducing and even reinforcing so-called traditional collective practices and beliefs.
I want to note also that networks, by defining what each of its members should do and how they should do it, exacerbate the stigmatization of these people as illegal immigrants and guest workers. When he or she joins a network, the individual immediately ends up in a social niche already freighted with a given set of obligations and rights, symbols and identities. The Central Asian whom an older relative or acquaintance puts on a plane, then transports to a place of work and so on, is doomed to be a migrant, as no other roads remain open to him or her.
And, finally, the migration of peoples. I have spoken about the fact that this process leads to the invention and cultivation of new hybrid cultural forms and types. And yet the fabrication and materialization of these forms and types happens via alignment with a hierarchy, through assignment to specific superior or inferior positions in social classifications, through application of a whole set of rules and techniques for recognition and exclusion. In particular, in these processes, references to culture, religion, and race, alone or in various combinations, are turned into a necessary attribute for identifying migrants as a discrete category of people in movement.
Migrants are persons necessarily endowed with the signs of aliens. Their physical appearance, faith and religious practices, and cultural habits must be alien. Central Asians with Caucasoid and Mongoloid features are termed “blacks” (chornye). The Central Asian cultures, which experienced a large-scale modernization with the Russian Empire and Soviet Union for nearly a century and a half, are described as almost archaic and “traditionalist.” Central Asian Islam, which has just been recreated after an atheistic era and bears the stamp of eclecticism and internal inconsistency, already figures as a potential, homogenous “threat” both to Christians and atheists. The discursive racialization, and cultural and religious stigmatization to which a significant number of people traveling between countries are exposed is a condition for entering the new situation of constant movement. New generalizing identities and derogatory nicknames legitimize, albeit negatively, the redistribution of space currently underway. At the same time, endowment of legal, professional or class status is made dependent on cultural and biological characteristics. Despite the apparent relativization of culture in movement, the essentialization of these characteristics has only been amplified and has moved from the level of individual countries and regions to the global level.
I want to conclude my short essay on movement and migrants in Central Asia not with a series of conclusions but with something like an inquiry. The new era has opened up many new opportunities for people, but at the same time it has generated new types of dependence and subjugation. How will these opportunities be used? Have we recognized all the risks? I think that when answering these questions we must choose a particular point of view that opens onto a wider temporal and spatial context, that does not focus on details, whatever feelings of pride or resentment they might cause, and that would not be attached to a particular ethnic loyalty and affiliation. Depending on how this works out or whether it works out at all, we can hope for the emergence of a new dialogue about the new era, a dialogue that for the time being we sorely lack.
* My research was conducted with support from a grant by the Russian Humanities Academic Fund (“Problems of Intercultural Interaction between Migrants from Central Asia and Russian Society,” No. 11-01-00045а).