Made of large logs of pine, spruce or larch, a tall and spacious northern izba (log-house) was heated by a huge Russian stove. If the stove was the heart of the Russian house, its soul was the Red Corner (red [krasny] meaning beautiful in old Russian) where the family’s sacred objects sat.
This area included holy icons draped over with the embroidered bozhnik (godly-towel), a Bible—if there was a literate person in the household—and occasionally a figurine of a saint brought from a pilgrimage by a pious relative. Wooden representations of St. Nilus of Stolben were common. An oil lamp suspended from the ceiling burned in front of the icons.
Source: TMORA (The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis)
During the era of Soviet power, the ‘Red Corner’ was the name given to the place at a factory, plant, school, and in general at any establishment, that was equipped to carry out ‘agitation and propaganda’ of the new ideology, new communist ideas. The first post-revolutionary ‘Red Corners’ were places where ‘political enlightenment’ of the masses was conducted, lectures were arranged about the projects and plans of the new power, the bright future which awaited all workers during Communism was discussed. Slogans and posters were hung on the walls of these ‘corners,’ and banners were arranged in the ‘Red Corner’ near portraits of leaders, pamphlets with speeches by Lenin, Trotsky were placed on tables …
Gradually these ‘Red Corners’ turned into unique sorts of chapels of the new religion, and they became subordinate to the ideological department of the Party Committee of each factory, collective farm, etc. They became a place for mandatory meetings of the ‘Party collective,’ a meeting place for delegates, a place for elections.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, life in these club-temples gradually began to die out, the ‘cult’ dwindled, and the stands and posters that were more and more depressing and mechanical gradually decayed, and everything taken together – the ritual, the design, and the paints – turned into a depressing ceremony that was no longer of use to anyone.
Many human rights activists expected that with the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian officials would refocus their repressive efforts away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses; but those expectations have proved untrue. And Putin’s campaign against the Witnesses has continued unabated.
As of now, 404 of the 538 structures classified as terrorists or extremists by the Russian government are Jehovah’s Witnesses; the number of searches in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes have increased and now number some 1800 in 71 federal subjects; and the number of Witnesses sentenced to camps rose from 32 to 45 between 2021 and 2022.
But Sergey Davidis, head of Memorial’s “Support Political Prisoners” project, argues that there are three main reasons why the Putin regime continues to persecute the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
First of all, he says, “the Russian authorities are intolerant of any independent organization, especially a large one which has its own ideology” and in particular those whose centers are outside the borders of the Russian Federation, a reflection of the leadership’s paranoia about any independent group.
Second, he continues, many in Russia see the Jehovah’s Witnesses as being at odds with Russian traditions and so accept their persecution as a legitimate form of the defense of the latter. And third, going after the Witnesses allows the security services to make themselves look good statistically. After all, it is easy to go after those who don’t hide and don’t resist.
Thus the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is likely to continue or even grow, despite the fact that the Witnesses themselves provide no justification for such actions.
The service proper concluded w/ an early Franciscan benediction which I had never heard and like a lot:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.”
Amen! To which I will only add that while I think my foolishness quotient actually surpasses the level of “enough,” applying it regularly toward Francis’ ends remains a challenge.
Source: Mark H. Teeter (Facebook), 22 January 2023. Thanks to Mark for his kind permission to let me reproduce his original post (minus three images) here. ||| TRR
Maria Butina, a “State Duma deputy” and a “fairy with a velvet core,” is featured on the cover of the September 2022 issue of Semya (“Family”) magazine, wearing an outfit designed by the Russian women’s clothing brand Feminelli [sic] and produced in Kirov. Thanks to Sergei Medvedev for the heads-up.
Maria Butina, a Duma deputy who early gained notoriety as a pro-gun Russian operative in the United States, says that Russia schools should teach young people how to “profile” enemies of the state and then turn them in before they can do any further damage to their country.
In reporting this, Anna Belova of Moskovsky komsomolets says that it is far from clear how children will be taught to do something that even professionals struggle with but that one thing is clear: it will only elevate the level of suspiciousness among Russians toward anyone who is different from the majority in any way, ethnically, religiously or behaviorally.
And that of course is precisely what Butina seems committed to doing.
There are fewer than 2,000 Tubalars, a Turkic nation in the Altai, but they have effectively been collectively declared a foreign agent with the banning of their national cultural public organization, the latest abuse of a little-notice people far from the center of Russia.
As Ilya Azar of Novaya gazeta reports, “the Russian authorities, the Church, private business and even scientific and technical progress have consistently deprived the Tubalars of the[ir] accustomed milieu, their health and their national-cultural autonomy.” Labelling them foreign agents is the logical next step (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2022/03/22/inoagent-komarik).
In a 12,000-word article about one of the least known peoples of the Russian Federation, Azar says that Moscow banned the organization which unites almost all Tubalars as a foreign agent because it accepted money from the World Wildlife Fund and from other foreign groups to protect the cedar trees and animals that are the basis of Tubalar life.
But the Russian journalist reports that many Tubalars assume the call for this action came from others in the Altai Republic because in their view no one in Moscow knows enough about or cares what happens to them. Consequently, someone local is to blame, although that person still unknown is relying on Russian laws to gain access to resources the Tubalars control.
One likely consequence of this action by the Russian justice ministry is that the continued presence of the Tubalars on the list of protected numerically small nationalities is at risk. Without the aid they have received as a result of being included on that list, the Tubalars face a bleak future.
Their language is already dying out, their national traditions are under attack, and outsiders, predominantly ethnic Russians are coming in. Thus, for them, being labelled foreign agents is a sign that the passing of a people who have lived in the Altai from time immemorial is rapidly approaching.
Neither Putin’s speech preceding the invasion (where he stated that the very idea of Ukrainian statehood was a fiction), nor the invasion itself are something new or unseen – they are merely the next steps in a long history of the Russian colonial perception of Ukraine and Ukrainian culture as a threat that has to be destroyed.
Regardless of this, there are still numerous voices, especially among the “westerners”, calling for the separation of Russian culture from what they call “Putin’s aggression”. One of the most illustrious examples of such shortsightedness is the open letter by PEN-Deutschland, which explicitly states that “the enemy is Putin, not Pushkin or Tolstoy”, and in regard to the calls for boycotting Russian culture notes that “іf we allow ourselves to be carried away by such reflexes, by generalizations and hostility against Russians, madness has triumphed, reason and humanity have lost”. Thus, not only does this statement infantilize the whole of Russian society and redirect the guilt of warmongering onto a single person, but also, on a larger scale, it seems to completely ignore the fact that precisely Pushkin and precisely Tolstoy – among many others – were vocal promoters of the Russian imperial myth and colonial wars.
The historical lack of understanding of Russian culture as imperial and colonial by nature, and of its bearers as people who belong to a privileged group, along with the firmly engraved perception of Russian culture being more important in comparison with the cultures of neighbouring countries has resulted in the current Western belief that the suffering of Ukrainians, killed by Russian artillery and bombing, are largely equal to the inconveniences of Russian civilians. Through this lens, both Ukrainians and Russians are equally considered to be the victims of Putin’s criminal regime. And thus we see a rise in Western emergency residencies and scholarships for artists and scholars from Ukraine AND Russia. We also see plenty of panel discussions on the ongoing war where Western organizers invite participants both from Ukraine and Russia.
Moreover, the responses to sanctions imposed on Russia and the calls for boycotting its culture more and more frequently come with accusations of discrimination, “russophobia”, and hatred. Thus, a reaction directly caused by military aggression becomes reframed as unprovoked hatred of an ethnic group.
In a new music video by the Russian band Leningrad, today’s position of Russians is compared to the position of Jews in Berlin in 1940. To illustrate this comparison, people in the video wear traditional Russian kosovorotkas with makeshift Stars of David attached to them. Such an interpretation is a blatant insult to the memory of the victims of the Shoah. Moreover, the rhetoric of the band discursively coincides with the manipulative methods of Russian propaganda.
Source: Lia Dostlieva and Andrii Dostliev, “Not all criticism is Russophobic: on decolonial approach to Russian culture,” Blok, 29 March 2022. Thanks to Alevtina Kakhidze for the heads-up.
The Facebook post appealing for help in finding missing Bashkir activist Ilham Yanberdin
Environmental activist disappears, his belongings found in forest belt OVD Info
October 17, 2021
His associates have been looking for Bashkir grassroots activist Ilham Yanberdin (Ilham Vakhtovik) for a week. They published an appeal on social media, stating that Yanberdin’s relatives had not been able to contact him since October 11.
Idel.Realiireported that, on October 17, passersby found Yanberdin’s phone and personal belongings in the forest belt of the Ufa neighborhood of Inors, near the place where the activist lived. The missing person’s case has been transferred to the criminal investigation department.
Ilham Yanberdin is known in Bashkortostan for his active role in opposition protests. Among these were rallies in defense of the Kushtau shihan and actions by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. He was prosecuted for the protests that took place in January 2021.
In Ufa, the Interior Ministry sought to collect more than two million rubles from Yanberdin, Lilia Chanysheva and Olga Komleva for the “work” of its police officers during the January 2021 protest rallies. A similar decision was made by a court in Omsk. Daniil Chebykin and Nikita Konstantinov were judged to have been the organizers of the January 23 and 31 protests there and ordered to pay the Interior Ministry more than one and a half million rubles.
In June 2021, Yanberdin was detained at a people’s assembly held after the environmental activist Ildar Yumagulov was attacked and beaten by persons unknown on April 18 in Baymak. Yanberdin was later released from court. The case file was sent back to the police for verification due to violations in writing up the arrest sheet.
Translated by the Russian Reader
9 Moscow Restaurants Awarded Coveted Michelin Stars
Andrea Palasciano (AFP) Moscow Times
October 15, 2021
French gastronomic bible the Michelin Guide awarded nine Moscow restaurants with its coveted stars on Thursday, unveiling its first lineup of recommended eateries in Russia’s up-and-coming food scene.
Long derided as a gastronomic wasteland, Russia’s restaurant scene has emerged in recent years from a post-Soviet reputation for blandness, with establishments in Moscow regularly making lists of some of the world’s best.
Representatives of the Michelin guide — considered the international standard of restaurant rankings — released the first Moscow edition of their iconic red book at a ceremony at Moscow.
Sixty-nine restaurants were recommended in all.
Two restaurants — Twins Garden run by twin brothers Ivan and Sergei Berezutskiy, and chef Artem Estafev’s Artest — were given two stars.
Seven restaurants were given one star, including White Rabbit, whose chef Vladimir Mukhin featured in an episode of the Netflix documentary series “Chef’s Table.”
None were given three stars — the Holy Grail of the restaurant world.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said at the ceremony that the release of the guide was an important event at a tough time for the restaurant industry.
“It’s big moral support in this time of pandemic, when restaurants are having a particularly difficult time,” he said.
Sobyanin said it also showed Russia had rediscovered a food tradition that had suffered under the Soviet Union.
“Unfortunately during the Soviet period these traditions were lost,” he said.
“I am proud that Moscow’s restaurants have become a calling card for our fantastic city.”
Michelin’s international director Gwendal Poullennec told a press conference that the guide had used an international team of inspectors for its list and there was “no compromise in our methodology.”
Speaking to AFP earlier, he said Russia’s food scene had been “reinventing” itself since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
“There is an evolution of the Russian culinary scene. It is more and more dynamic,” Poullennec said.
He said he was surprised by “the quality and abundance of produce” in Moscow restaurants, highlighting in particular the seafood, such as crab and caviar, that are “exclusive” elsewhere but in Russia are available at a “reasonable price.”
Russia became the 35th country to have a Michelin guide and Moscow is the first city of the former Soviet Union to be awarded stars.
The selection of restaurants will appear in print and also be available via an app in 25 languages, including Russian.
Crab, smetana and borscht
Michelin in December said that chefs in Moscow had set themselves apart by highlighting Russian ingredients, including king crab from the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok and smetana, the sour cream used in preparing beef stroganoff.
Moscow restaurants have increasingly turned to local ingredients after Western sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 resulted in a scarcity of many European foods.
A number of restaurants that relied on meat, cheese and fish imported from the West were forced to close, while those that strived to source their ingredients from Russian regions became more competitive.
In explaining why it chose Moscow, the guide last year pointed to the “unique flavors” of the “nation’s emblematic first courses such as borscht.”
Another leading French restaurant guide, Gault et Millau, launched its first Russian edition in 2017. In 2019, Gault & Millau was sold to Russian investors.
Twins Garden and White Rabbit have previously featured on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Michelin also recently expanded to Beijing, Slovenia and California.
Twenty-six regions have imposed QR requirements for entrance to public places, and 605 Russian schools have gone completely over to distance instruction. Many more have done so in part. More than 90 percent of Russia’s covid beds are full and 6,000 patients are on ventilators.
And the pandemic is hitting members of the Russian elite, not only in the regions but in Moscow, where 11 Duma deputies are now hospitalized with coronavirus infections, even though 70 percent of the members of the lower house of the legislature have received their shots.
But despite all this and the fact that it is being widely reported, a Rosbalt commentator says, “everything in Russia is calm: people are digging their graves without particular noise … and one has the impression that somehow this isn’t affecting anyone.”
Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,
The Russian government may be optimistic about getting WHO and EU approval for its vaccines but the Russian tourist industry is less so and doesn’t expect movement before the end of the year.
Staunton, July 12 – Despite the absence of coverage in government-controlled media, the protests in Khabarovsk continue, and they are being supported by demonstrators in other cities across the country, a sign that the issues the residents of that city raise are not restricted to that region but are finding an echo elsewhere.
After yesterday’s unprecedentedly large meeting, Khabarovsk residents went back into the street today twice, once in the early afternoon and then again in the evening, with even more radical slogans because they have not received any response to their demands (sibreal.org/a/30722202.html).
But by talking about a possible restoration of the Far Eastern Republic, they beyond doubt have attracted the attention or and possibly repressive actions by the Russian authorities in the capital who will see this not only as a violation of the law on the territorial integrity of the country but a threat to its existence.
That is especially true because it involves a predominantly ethnic Russian area and consequently Moscow can’t rely on Russian nationalism alone to provide support for any crackdown. Instead, if a crackdown does come, Russians will be divided; and that is something that people in the Kremlin are worried about as well.
(On the complicated and brief life of the Far Eastern Republic, which existed as a buffer state between the RSFSR and Japanese-backed groups further east, see Henry Kittredge, The Far Eastern Republic of Siberia (London, 1923), Canfield Smith, Vladivostok under Red and White Rule (Seattle, 1975), and Alan Wood, Russia’s Frozen Frontier (London, 2011) and Ivan Sablin, The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Far Eastern Republic (London, 2018).)
Protesters on the streets of Khabarovsk on July 11, 2020. Courtesy of BBC News
Anti-Maidan Actions Shouldn’t Make Putin Feel Secure, Vishnevsky Says
February 22, 2015 Window on Eurasia
Staunton, February 22 – The Kremlin-organized Anti-Maidan demonstration in Moscow should not make Vladimir Putin feel secure because it was in reality an updated version of the Day of the Black Hundreds, Boris Vishnevsky says, groups organized by the tsarist regime to show support for the autocracy but that later did nothing to defend it.
Just as a century ago, demonstrators paid for by the regime or pushed to take part by their employers or officials went into the street to “denounce the revolution, praise autocracy, demand the preservation of the existing order and destroy ‘the enemies of the tsar and Fatherland,’” the Yabloko St. Petersburg city deputy says.
In its current incarnation, “the heirs” of the Black Hundreds denounce the Maidan, praise Putin and demand the destruction of ‘the Fifth Column,’” led by notorious Stalinists, supporters of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and demonstrating by their slogans – including “’Putin is Better than Hitler’” – their level of sophistication.
Also like their tsarist-era predecessors, the Anti-Maidan organizers are spectacularly unfortunate in identifying themselves in this way, as becomes obvious, Vishnevsky says, if one compares the Maidan and the Anti-Maidan and if one considers how the Black Hundreds groups behaved when push came to shove — and how the Anti-Maidan people are likely to.
In Kyiv, people came into the Maidan “to drive out a corrupt regime.” In Moscow, they “came to the ‘Anti-Maidan’ in order to express their loyalty and support to the powers that be.” They did not demand the regime meet its obligations to the people but only and instead that “the power not change.”
That may sound good to Putin and his backers, Vishnevsky continues, but he ought not to be too encouraged by this. That is because “when his power begins to shake, not one of those who came to the ‘Anti-Maidan will come out in his defense” – just as a century ago, “not one of the Black Hundreds types came out to defend the tsarist power.”
But if Putin does not care to look that far back in time, he might consider a more recent example, the St. Petersburg deputy says. None of those who had shouted “’Glory to the CPSU!’” or denounced “’the crimes of American imperialism’” came out to defend the communist regime when it began to fall apart.
Indeed, he suggests, like their predecessors, those in the Anti-Maidan who “equate Putin with Russia” and swear that they will ‘not give him up’” will betray him among the first. If Putin doesn’t believe that” – and he probably doesn’t – “then let him ask Yanukovich,” an even more recent victim of the delusion of those in power about how much support they have.
But there are more reasons for Putin to be worried. The extremist slogans on offer in the Anti-Maidan action, including anti-Semitic tropes that also link it with the Black Hundreds of the end of the Russian Imperial period, the lack of support from those whose names were invoked, and the small size of Anti-Maidan actions outside of Moscow should be of even greater concern.
As Forum-MSK.org points out today, the workers of the Urals Wagon Factory (Uralvagonzavod) who Putin sees as symbolic of his support among Russia’s silent majority and who were referred to be speakers at yesterday’s event in Moscow are anything but enthusiastic about him and his policies.
Lacking new orders, that plant is cutting back production plans and laying off workers, a situation that is replicated at many industrial sites around the Russian Federation and that hardly is an advertisement for the successes of the Putin regime or a reason for workers to give it more than lip service support.
Outside of the Moscow ring road, there were a number of Anti-Maidan actions. But because the PR needs of the regime were largely satisfied by the 35,000-person crowd in Moscow that could be shown on television and because the regional governments now lack the resources to do more, they were very small, in some cases no more than a handful and in others only a few dozen or a few hundred.
The Kremlin may not care a lot about the size – few in the Moscow media and even fewer Western reporters will cover anything outside of the capitals – but it probably should be worried that those taking part were in many cases the very Russian nationalist extremists it has been prosecuting and that their slogans were even more extreme than those in Moscow.
Moreover, the Kremlin’s PR specialists may be nervous about what happened when regional media picked up on that: In many cases, they were not afraid to say that “the meeting in support of Putin … failed.” That is exactly what a Karelian news agency did.
In Petrozavodsk, the republic capital, the agency said, a meeting had been scheduled as part of “an all-Russian action ‘in support of national leader Vladimir Putin’” with slogans like “’It is [time] to drive out ‘the fifth column.’” But in the event, Vesti.Karelia.ru noted, “only 15 people” came out in behalf of those ideas.
It may be that the men in the Kremlin won’t take notice of this; but there is no question that the people of Karelia will.
You always want to avoid drinking with somebody during the holiday season. Maybe it’s that politically incorrect uncle of yours. Or maybe it’s a nagging in-law.
The well-known host of a health show on Russian state-run First Channel has another suggestion: shun those whom she calls “people of the Mongoloid race.” But it’s for their own protection, of course.
The segment, titled “whom not to drink with on New Year’s” begins with Yelena Malysheva, host of the program “Live Healthfully,” inviting an audience member up on stage.
A man named Shukrat, who identifies himself as an Uzbekistan native, is met with hearty laughter when he explains that he “wouldn’t want to drink with the police or the Federal Migration Service.”
Then Malysheva gets into the meat of her presentation, noting that Russians are “a white race, a Slavic one ” and “now we will talk about what race not to drink with on New Year’s.”
And just so there are no misunderstandings, she adds, “There is no discrimination here, just an understanding of the physiology that makes every race different.”
Shukrat then cuts in, noting that he “grew up in the Soviet Union, so I’m not a nationalist” and “can drink with black people and all people, to be honest.”
Malysheva reiterates that “when we talk about who not to drink with this New Year’s, we do not mean to cast scorn on anyone. We’re talking about the threat to their own health.”
She then turns to Dmitry Shubin, a “doctor” on her team and asks him to explain who not to drink with.
“In the interests of safety, one shouldn’t drink — no, not shouldn’t but mustn’t — drink with people who come from the Mongoloid race,” Shubin says, using a term to describe Asians that can be seen as derogatory. This group, he explains, includes Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and others in the Russian Far North.
Perhaps worried there may be confusion, Malysheva, using her fingers to press her own eyes together, explains that these “Mongoloids” can be identified by their narrow eyes and round facial features.
Just in case it still isn’t clear, she exhibits a slideshow of Asian-looking faces to avoid when in the presence of alcohol.
Shubin then explains the reasoning: Asians have a “genetic defect” that prevents them from properly metabolizing alcohol.
To demonstrate, he gives Shukrat and Malysheva liver-shaped containers, which are each apparently filled with black liquid (they don’t actually show what’s in Maysheva’s container before the experiment). As they both pour alcohol into their respective livers, Shukrat’s remains black. Malysheva’s becomes clear.
“Mongoloid: people with narrow eyes and crescent-shaped faces — [for them] alcohol is toxic,” Malysheva says, pointing to the fake liver a perplexed-looking Shukrat is holding. “And so the first people you should never drink with on New Year’s are representatives of the Mongoloid race. It is bad for them”
Research has shown that some people of East Asian descent — about one-third according to one expert — have a gene that causes difficulty in breaking down alcohol that could lead to long-term health consequences.
But doctors don’t generally recommend that non-Asians take the matter into their own hands by excluding people of Asian ethnicity from social drinking.
In Russia itself, according to a recent study in The Lancet medical journal, a quarter of Russian men die before the age of 55 — a rate far higher than the rest of Europe. And one of the chief causes is excessive alcohol consumption.
“WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT TO, YOU HAVE TO GO”
December 12, 2014 adcmemorial.org
From Tajikistan to Russia: Vulnerability and abuse of migrant workers and their families
Paris, St Petersburg, 10 December– The situation of Tajik migrants in Russia is deteriorating, said FIDH and ADC Memorial in a report released today. Increasingly restrictive migration laws are pushing migrants into irregular situations and increasing their vulnerability, while exploitation goes unchecked.
The dire economic situation in Tajikistan, where around 40% of the population of working age is unemployed, continues to push hundreds of thousands of men and women to leave for Russia every year. According to official statistics, in 2014 there were over a million Tajik citizens in Russia. The remittances sent back represent 47% of Tajikistan’s GDP, the highest percentage of any country worldwide. For most families, they are the main source of income. This trend looks set to continue.
Despite recent measures announced by the Tajik authorities, migrants remain highly vulnerable to abuse. As a result of increased restrictions on entry and stay in Russia, deportations have multiplied and tens of thousands of migrants have been subjected to re-entry bans. Migrant workers interviewed by FIDH and ADC Memorial reported extortion by Russian police and border guards, arbitrary arrests and police violence. Fuelled by xenophobic political discourse and media reports, vigilante attacks on migrants are on the rise. Those responsible for attacks benefit from almost complete impunity. The report also documents non-payment of wages, poor living conditions, and lack of access to medical treatment.
“The multiplication of legal restrictions, raids on migrants like Operation Migrant 2014, launched this November, and rising xenophobia are resulting in serious violations of migrants’ human rights. We are deeply concerned about recent acts of violence against migrants, on the part of the police and civilians, which have gone unpunished”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “In December, it became clear that Operation Migrant 2014 would be ongoing. Mass arrests and detention of migrants in Moscow and St. Petersburg continue.“
The report addresses the human rights impact of migration on women in particular. Hundreds of thousands of women are left behind in Tajikistan to bring up children, working in the fields and markets, and depending on their in-laws for support. Those whose husbands stop sending money or disappear completely can find themselves destitute. Over the past several years, there has also been a sharp increase in numbers of Tajik women migrating to seek work. It is estimated that today around 15% of migrants are women. Women migrants, especially those who leave the country alone, are seen as challenging traditional roles and often suffer stigmatisation from their families and communities in Tajikistan, while in Russia they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence.
In 2012, Tajikistan was examined by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The Committee raised particular concerns about corruption among border guards and some consular staff and the lack of effective complaint mechanisms for victims of abuse.
“Consular protection for Tajik migrants in difficulty in Russia remains inadequate and the Tajik Migration Service has not established an effective complaints procedure. Cases of exploitation by employers and intermediaries, including forced labour, are not properly investigated by the authorities of either country,” said Stefania Koulaeva, head of ADC Memorial.
Since 2011, FIDH and ADC Memorial have undertaken a series of joint investigations to document the situation of Tajik migrant workers in Russia and the violence, xenophobia and serious violations of economic and social rights they face there.
Interview with Stephania Koulaeva, head of the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Centre, on the situation of migrants in Russia
At the end of October the Russian government launched a huge operation called Migrant 2014 to crack down on migrants in an irregular situation in Russia. FIDH and ADC Memorial reported 7,000 arrests during the operation. What happened to those migrants and their families? Where are they now?
When we first reported on the 7,000 arrests, Migrant 2014 had only just begun. According to official figures published by the Moscow police and Moscow department of the Federal Migration Service (FMS, by the end of the operation on 4 November, over 50,000 migrants had been arrested by the police. Almost 2,000 expulsions were conducted and hundreds of migrants were detained. Simultaneously, the FMS in Moscow carried out a wave of inspections that resulted in the expulsion of 1,500 people. Another 3,000 people were barred from re-entry. The total revenue from penalties imposed on these migrants was almost 50,000,000 rubles (approximately 1 million Euros.)
Repression of migrants in Moscow alone during the week-long operation resulted in more than 3,500 expulsions and tens of thousands of cases of administrative punishment.
As to the current whereabouts of the arrested migrants, we can assume that many of them had to leave the country, often with a ban on coming back for a number of years. Although others could continue their life and work in Russia, they have had to pay a high price for permission to do so.
What does this operation say about the Russian government’s approach to migration? How does the Russian migration policy impact other countries in the region?
The Russian government policy on migration is controversial. On the one hand, it has close ties to the main business structures that employ migrant workers, in such fields as construction, communal services, and sales. This system allows Russia to benefit from a cheap labour force without spending on social needs. On the other hand, the very people who profit from the hard work and low wages of migrants are the ones who organised the operations against them, and use xenophobic rhetoric in the government-controlled media in order to pander to nationalist sentiments of the population. Migrants have become scapegoats for the immense problems that Russia now faces on the political and economic level, despite the fact that the country cannot function without migrant work.
The Russian government plays a complicated strategic game in the region on migration issues. For example, Russia allows Tajik migrant workers to work in Russia in exchange for military and geopolitical support from Tajikistan. Tajikistan meanwhile benefits from the remittances that working migrants send back to their families.
What are the main problem faced by migrants in Russia?
Migrants in Russia face a multitude of problems, including widespread discrimination, the stigma of illegality, the risk of detention and deportation, and xenophobia, in particular towards migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Those who are not formally employed face a prohibition on staying in Russia longer than three months, which, in practice, forces almost all children of migrants into illegal status.
Migrant workers receive lower wages for the very same work done by Russian nationals and suffer from the absence of social security in case of illness, injury or death.
Conditions of detention are another major problem. There is an absence of judicial control over the duration of detention of migrants accused of violating migration laws, which can last up to two years on purely administrative grounds.
These problems are compounded by the lack of support demonstrated by the migrants’ countries of origin. In some cases, such as in Uzbekistan, migrants even face repression from their government for working abroad.
Editor’s Note. I have lightly edited this article to make it more readable.
Migrant workers are leaving Petersburg: soon there won’t be anyone to work in construction and communal services
December 17, 2014 Gorod 812
On January 1, new rules for migrant workers, allowing them to work almost anywhere without restrictions, will be introduced in Russia. The authorities hope this will increase the flow of cheap labor from the CIS. In fact, the opposite is happening.
The Russian Federal Migration Service, which initiated the new rules, has said they fundamentally change the approach to labor migration. As of January 1, 2015, quotas will be abolished on the numbers of migrant workers from the CIS and other visa-free countries who can be employed in Russia.
The need to obtain a work permit will also be abolished. Instead of this document, migrants will need to buy a license. Its price will be different in each region, as set by the local authorities. In Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, it will cost 3,000 rubles; in Moscow, 4,000 rubles. As of January 1, each legally employed migrant worker, except for those who still have valid, previously issued documents, must have this license, no matter where they work.
The abolition of quotas means that any number of migrant workers can be employed at any enterprise. When there were quotas, the number of migrant workers in each sector of municipal services and industry were strictly regulated. For example, in 2014, only 164,000 migrants could legally work in Petersburg within the quotas. [Although the actual number of migrants working in the city is undoubtedly much higher.]
As of 2015, this ceiling will not be limited in any way. It would seem that the city should be flooded with migrants, but it isn’t, and the reason is the economy.
“The quotas are abolished, but there won’t be more migrants. They are already leaving the city. If the exchange rate of the ruble does not grow, they will stop coming here altogether, because it is not worth it. Salaries paid in rubles are not increasing in value. For example, if a person working at a construction site used to get 25,000 rubles a month, and that was roughly equivalent to 750–800 dollars, now it is worth 400–450 dollars. That does not even cover the person’s expenses. It is easier to make money at home,” says Suratbek Abdurahimov, chair of Uzbegim, the Uzbek National Cultural Autonomy of Saint Petersburg.
According to him, it makes no difference to migrants whether they have to get a license or a work permit. It is expensive and troublesome all the same. There is, however, an obvious drawback: after the new rules are adopted, the official price of a license in Petersburg will increase from two to three thousand rubles. But the real price of the document cannot be predicted at all. Given the cost of medical certificates, insurance, and everything else, migrants now pay between twelve and fourteen thousand rubles for a license, while getting a work permit costs around twenty thousand rubles. Abdurahimov believes that under the new rules a license will also cost at least twenty thousand. It is cheaper to stay at home.
Mahmut Mamatmuminov, board chair of the Assistance Fund for Migrant Workers from Central Asia, agrees with him.
“Of course, soon it will make more sense economically to stay at home. First, because of the exchange rate. Second, because migrants have to take exams in Russian, history, and law. It is hard: even an educated person finds these tests confusing. I have heard that exam certificates are already selling on the black market. Also, the number of migrants is dropping because the Federal Migration Service in Petersburg has banned many people from entering the country for different violations. According to Federal Migrant Service statistics, more than a million migrants have been banned from entering Russia over the past year,” says Mamatmuminov.
The major sectors in Petersburg where guest workers are employed are construction, retail, street cleaning and housing maintenance, services, and transportation. According to experts, if migrant workers pull up stakes and fly home en masse, there will soon be no one to do this work in Petersburg.
Staunton, December 20 – The collapse of the ruble and the test of Russian language knowledge they will soon be required to take are prompting gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation to leave in massive numbers, with the leader of the Federation of Migrants now predicting that more than a quarter of them will depart by early next year.
While some Russians may be glad to see them go, their departure will make it more difficult for the Russian economy to escape the looming recession. But even more seriously, their return to their homelands in such numbers will create problems there, given that none of those economies can easily absorb them.
The returning migrants are thus likely to become a source of additional instability in places that in many cases already are far from stable, and to the extent they are not absorbed into the economies, some of them may become recruits for radical Islamist groups that want to overthrow the existing order.
Mukhammed Amin, the head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia, told Newsru.com yesterday that “more than 25 percent” of the more than 10 million immigrant workers in Russia plan to return home or move to other countries in the coming months (newsru.com/russia/19dec2014/ishod.html).
He suggested that the main reasons for that are two: the collapse of the ruble exchange rate means they have less money to send home – most of their transfer payments have been in dollars – and concerns about the impact and cost of the test of Russian language knowledge they will be forced to take as of January 1.
Karomat Sharipov, the head of the Tajik Labor Migrants organization, confirmed that this is the case and said that many of his co-nations intend to leave Russia. He added that because jobs at home are scarce, at least some of them might join the ranks of extremist groups as mercenaries in order to support their families.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service had already reported that with the decline in the value of the ruble, the size of transfer payments by gastarbeiters in Russia to their homelands had sharply fallen (newsru.com/finance/12dec2014/migrants.html). That too will harm the economies of countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan from which most migrants have come.
Some Russians are pleased by the departure of the gastarbeiters, either because they view such people as culturally alien or because they think that such foreigners are taking jobs that Russians should get. But Russian officials are more concerned by the possibility that those leaving will join radical Islamist groups or become part of “so-called ‘Jihad tourism.’”
That term refers to Muslims from one country who travel to another to take part in and make money from radical Islamist groups fighting elsewhere. According to the Russian government, there are at least 1500 such people from CIS countries now fighting for the Islamic State; the departure of the gastarbeiters will likely boost that number further.
Russian officials fear that these people will not only destabilize neighboring countries but also in some cases return to push their causes within the borders of the Russian Federation, yet another frightening consequence of Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine.