The Real State of Russia Today

fullsizeoutput_215fRussia is a great place for pipelines, dirt, weeds, and skyscrapers, but it is hell on its people. Photo by the Russian Reader

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Some of my friends say the regime will collapse soon, while others argue it is only picking up a head of steam. It occurred to me yesterday that we mistakenly use the word “regime” when talking about the processes taking place in our midst. A regime can last a very long time, and crackdowns, no matter how ridiculous or chaotic, are not symptoms of its demise.

Since ancient times, the state has had only two fundamental functions: defending borders and administering justice (making laws). Everything else—medical care, education, pensions, and bike lanes—is a recent superstructure. Political regimes can be different, from totalitarian to democratic, and they can forego treating people when they are ill, teaching them, and paying them pensions while still maintaining stability. But it must perform the basic functions; otherwise, it stops being a state.

In Russia, on the contrary, one of these foundations has been completely destroyed over the past decades. I am not talking about crackdowns. There has never been any justice either for so-called dissidents or people who randomly fall victim to the state apparatus. People understood this in the Soviet Union, and they understand it now: you fight the law, and the law whacks you upside the head. The majority of Russians do not dispute the state’s right to crack down on the opposition or meddle in the affairs of other countries.

I am talking, instead, about ordinary life and everyday justice, about what we find in the Code of Hammurabi, the Law of the Twelve Tables, and Yaroslav’s Law—about the promises the state makes to citizens, about the fact that you cannot just be beaten, robbed, and wrongfully accused for no reason at all.

And what about Russia? What should we think when, for example, as a friend told me, a youth gang orders food deliveries and then beats up and robs the delivery people, and they have been running this scam for nearly a year, but the police simply refuse to do anything about it? When a person cannot find protection from his bully of neighbor, who shoots at his windows? When you go to court because traffic cops confiscated your driving license for no reason and then solicited a bribe to give it back to you, and the trial drags on for a year and a half? When you even win the case but the time you spent on it was worth much more in monetary terms than the bribe itself?

I made a point of giving more or less innocuous examples. Any of us knows several such stories. What is the point of doing public opinion polls and asking people whether they trust Putin? Ask people whether they trust the Russian courts and Russian law enforcement agencies. Their answer will show you the depths of the disaster. The Russian state has forfeited its basic function, and so we are slowly returning to the state of nature. Scattered tribes roam the landscape, and whether you are safe or not depends on the biceps of your fellow tribesmen. Strong communities can defend their members, while loners and weaklings die off.

The current outrage at the prison sentence handed down to an actor is not about crackdowns, but about the degradation of the state’s basic functions. This protest will only grow because the state has been vanishing before our eyes. All that remains are armed men who have monopolized power. What will be next? No one knows.

___________________________________

Andrey Tchabovsky
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Our Motherland

We returned from a conference in Kyzyl (Tuva).

Two Germans, a respected professor, and his wife and colleague, had supplied the event with its international credentials. For over twenty years, they have invested both their money and their labor in research in Tuva. They had become fans of the place. They had made friends. They were friends to numerous local zoologists and zoologists from other parts of Russia. The professor is an honorary member of the Russian Theriological Society, an affiliate of the Russian Academy of Sciences. For the conference, they minted very nice commemorative medals, paying for them with their own money, to present to their respected Russian colleagues.

Local officials of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education did not let them into the conference at the university and deleted their papers from the conference program. They were not even allowed into the building, all because of Kotyukov’s decree about interactions with foreign scientists. It is clear the decree can and should be roundly ignored regardless of whether it is legitimate or not. It is equally clear that many people will not ignore it because of the stupid need to stay on the safe side and, so, the decree will do what it was meant to do.

It is an utterly shameful disgrace.

Thanks to Natalia Vvedenskaya for her permission to translate and publish her remarks. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for bringing Andrey Tchabovsky’s remarks to my attention. Translated by the Russian Reader

Advertisements

People Apps

raidPetersburg police muster at five in the morning on May 29 in the parking lot of the Soviet-era Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in the southern part of the city before heading off to raid the homes and workplaces of Central Asian migrant workers. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Petersburg Police Raid Migrant Workers After Diaspora Refuses to Help Find People Involved in Brawl
Mediazona
May 29, 2019

The press service of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Leningrad Directorate informed Interfax that Petersburg police began raiding places migrant workers lived. The raids kicked off when two diasporas [sic] refused to help security forces find people implicated in a large brawl involving knives.

Roman Plugin, head of the Interior Ministry’s regional directorate, gave the order for the raids. He ordered that people involved in a large brawl that took place on Salov Street on May 20 be found. Four people were stabbed during the brawl.

According to police, natives of the North Caucasus and people from a country of the near abroad, who are hiding in Petersburg [sic], were involved in the brawl.

Fontanka.ru writes that three hundred police officers are involved in the raids. 78.ru adds that the police officers, in particular, raided the wholesale vegetable market on Sofia Street and a wholesale warehouse on Salov Street. They were supposed to find people involved in the brawl, which occurred after a “group of Uzbekistanis refused to share turf with Russian nationals from the North Caucasus” [sic].

According to the news website’s source in the police, the security forces had attempted to negotiate the issue with prominent figures who had a say in circumstances at the major wholesale vegetable markets. They, however, had pretended not to know who was involved in the brawl.

Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergei Vilkov: Everything You Thought You Knew About the Russian Working Class Was Wrong

kalashnikov workersWorkers of the Kalashnikov plant in Izhevsk, Russia, on September, 20, 2016. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images). Courtesy of Fortune

The Heroes of the Day: What We Know about the Russian Working Class
How the Proletariat Stopped Fearing TV and Came to Dislike It
Sergei Vilkov
News.ru
April 30, 2019

It has been a tradition on the eve of May Day to recall the working class, which in Russia has seemingly been usurped by televised images of the “patriots” and regular blokes who work at the Uralvagonzavod plant in Nizhny Tagil.

Actually, Russia’s workers are a genuine black hole to sociologists. No one had seriously researched their circumstances, sentiments, and views for thirty years.

The first tentative attempts to research today’s Russian industrial laborers have produced a portrait that many had not expected. It transpires that today’s proletarians, at least, the most politically and civically dynamic among them, almost never watch television. They have a sober take on politics. They are immune to state propaganda. They have a relatively relaxed attitude toward migrant workers.

They regard themselves as outside observers in the debates between the regime and the opposition, not finding their own interests reflected in them. They are more likely to feel trampled upon by plant management than by a new law passed in the State Duma.

It is the factory where they fight their battles, which are usually invisible to official statisticians. Most important, according to researchers, they have more in common with early twentieth century social democrats than with current parties who try and speak on behalf of workers. However, the new research leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. News.ru took a look at it.

They Got What They Fought For
According to official data, 26 million people in Russia or over 36% of the able-boded population are employed in industry, transport, agriculture, fishing, and several similar sectors. These figures do not include, for example, the large numbers of people employed in commerce and services. Overall, however, sociologists estimate that workers make up 40% of Russia’s population. They identify them as the largest group in society.

These people dwell on the dark side of Russia’s moon, as it were. It would be hard to say when someone last tried to examine them through an academic lens. However, understanding the nature of Russian society and its largest segments is, perhaps, the most ambitious humanities research project in the country today.

In government reports, Russia’s workers are imagined as a passive, homogeneous milieu that positively exudes tranquility. In 2017, Rosstat, the state statistics service, recorded only one strike, while in the preceding years their official number oscillated between two and five strikes annually.

By comparison, in 2005, according to official data, there were 2,600 strikes in Russia. And yet the following year, Rosstat claimed the number of strikes had decreased by a factor of 325. Since then, according to official statistics, it has remained consistently scanty, despite the economic crises of 2008 and 2014.

However, the Center for Social and Labor Rights, which has monitored the situation on its own, claims there were an average of 240 labor protests between 2008 and 2014. In 2016, when the political opposition was quiet, there were twice as many labor protests, while in the first six months of 2018, the last period for which it has data, the center recorded 122 strikes and acts of civil disobedience. Nearly half of these incidents led to workers downing tools.

Since 2014, a year dominated by an apparent “patriotic” consensus in politics, the number of strikes has increased abruptly due to an upsurge of resistance in provincial cities, including district seats. The largest number of walkouts and protests occurred in industry, especially the machine building and metalworking sectors, which have accounted for 28% of the overall number of strikes. The transport sector has accounted for the same percentage of strikes and protests, despite the fact they have mainly been carried out by employees of private transport companies based in the cities. The construction industry has accounted for 19% of strikes and protests during the period.

The main cause of protests and strikes remains unpaid back wages, which accounted for 60% of incidents. Demands to raise pay were factors in 19–20% of incidents.

The Center for Social and Labor Rights noticed a curious thing. In 2018, the number of spontaneous, unorganized protests by workers rose abruptly by 22%. Trade unions were involved in a mere 17% of all strikes and protests. The experts claim this was partly due to the fact that the Russian hinterlands, where there have been no real trade unions for the last one hundred years, have taken the lead in labor activism, along with sectors dominated by precarious employment.

Shop Floor Intellectuals
Someone has been organizing these strikes and protests, however. It is evident there is a core of energetic progressive activists among Russia’s workers.

On April 22, Alexander Zhelenin gave a lecture at a round table held in the offices of Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Zhelenin is a well-known expert on workplace conflicts, and part of his talk dealt with a research study on the Russian proletariat. In July and September 2018, he and his fellow researchers did a small-scale qualitative sociological research study in Kaluga and Omsk that focused on the self-identification and sociopolitical views of workers.

A total of twenty-three people were interviewed. The small sample was offset by a thorough probing, through in-depth interviews, of the respondents’ attitudes and views, which are never revealed by run-of-the-mill public opinion polls. The workers interviewed by the sociologists were somehow connected to independent trade unions, which had, apparently, supported the research study. However, in the main, the interviewees were not politically engaged: only one of them was a member of a political organization.

We should also not forget it is usually the most energetic people who agree to be interviewed for ordinary official public opinion polls, which affects their outcomes.

In Kaluga, the respondents worked in the food industry and the new auto assembly plants, while in Omsk, they were employed at old Soviet military-industrial complex plants. They ranged in age from twenty to fifty, and included women and men. They were quite well-paid technicians who were proud of their contributions to society. On the other hand, they had a constant sense of their status as subordinates. They tended to strongly associate themselves with their workplaces. Family “labor dynasties” were a possible factor in their outlooks.

Most of the workers interviewed at the auto plants had been abroad one or more times, and this partly had to do with Volkswagen’s work exchange programs. One of the things they had learned on these trips was independent trade unions were ordinary, valuable organizations.

On the contrary, a foreign-travel passport was a rarity among the workers of the old defense plants, and yet both groups of workers tended to spend their holidays on the Black Sea coast. Some respondents in Omsk said they had never seen the sea or had seen it in early childhood.

Mortgages were the main financial obstacles to holidays away from home. Financially, the skilled workers felt they were members of the so-called middle class. In terms of standards of living in their regions, however, they noticed the gap between the more affluent segment of the populace and themselves. Thus, they had a keen sense of the difference in life chances for their children and the children of rich families, talking about it with great indignation.

Pavel Kudyukin, ex-minister of labor and employment and a lecturer in public administration at the Higher School of Economics, commented on the growing social segregation in Russia.

“It comes to the fore when talk turns to children’s futures. It is an aspect that will become more acute, because we are moving from segregation to social apartheid. I think it will facilitate [grassroots] civic activism,” he said.

The authors of the report did not hide their amazement at the fact that the respondents were quite well-educated, intelligent people. Nearly a third of them had a higher education or an uncompleted university degree. Many of them pointed out it was ordinary to find university-educated workers on the shop floor.

Tellingly, a man from Kaluga, identified as Anatoly, who did not finish his university degree, and whose outward appearance (a bespectacled intellectual), cultivated manner of speaking, and hobbies (music and organizing non-profit music festivals) gave the researchers the impression he was a local intellectual, although he said he had been employed as a skilled laborer for over eleven years. Like some other respondents, Anatoly noted he had become a laborer because life had worked out that way and he had to earn money. Industry was the only place where it was possible to earn a more or less decent wage, the study noted.

They Have Their Own Values
And yet 74% of of the respondents unambiguously identified themselves as workers, stressing their difference from other groups in society and their direct involvement in production. The remaining 26% preferred to call themselves “employees” and supported the notion of so-called social partnerships with management. However, despite their decent standard of life, it followed from the interviews that the workers believed they occupied one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. This had to do with their palpably subordinate positions at work and the lack of prestige in their occupations. This circumstance was painfully apparent in the tension between blue-collar and white-collar workers at one plant, a tension exacerbated by the arrogance of the latter towards the former.

The workers were very annoyed by the fact that, as Sergei, a grinder who was involved in the Omsk focus group, said, “In terms of wages and education, the blue-collar workers often outperform the office workers, but the latter still treat them as inferiors.”

In Omsk, for example, the wages of workers fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 rubles a month, but workers at some defense plants could earn up to 70,000 or 80,000 rubles a month. However, according to the same interviewee, the well-paid jobs were “inherited.”

Besides, he said, to earn such a wage, one virtually had to live at the factory, working twelve hours a day and enjoying only one day off a week, something not all workers would do. Meanwhile, office workers at the same plant could earn only 20,000 rubles a month, but they treated the workers “as if they were above [them],” said Sergei.

“A really interesting thing is the split in self-identification as workers and members of the middle class,” said Kudyukin. “It clearly manifests the pressure exerted in society by hegemonic views. It is like what Marx wrote: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.’ Since the notion of the middle class is constantly in the air, people give no thought to the fact that it’s a sociological fiction. People realize they are workers. They work on an assembly line or operate a machine. Yet in terms of income they identify themselves as middle class in the sense that they are neither rich nor poor. Maybe this has to do with the notion that the middle class is formally defined by income.”

“Russia is a quite highly stratified country, and it is constantly becoming more stratified,” explained Gregory Yudin, a professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “It’s not a matter of income gaps, but of what these people say: the sense of symbolic superiority in cases where there is no income gap. When this sense takes root at a particular factory, what happens is quite predictable. In this sense, Marx was more or less right.”

Speaking about their place in production, the workers voiced the opinion their plants could run without managers, but without them the shop floors would grind to a halt. However, they sensed the arrogant attitude towards manual labor that had emerged in other parts of society. They realized that, from this perspective, their status was not considered prestigious at all. The factory laborers responded by opposing the values of their milieu to “other” values, saying that nowadays the chic thing to do was to steal and mooch, to make lots of money for doing nothing.

“I think this is an ordinary means of compensation, a psychological defense mechanism. We are considered impoverished in some way, whereas in fact we are the salt of the earth, and everything would grind to a halt without us. Their sentiments are quite justified. Despite the importance of managerial work, if you got rid of the management staff, the shop floor would function all the same. But if the workers suddenly disappeared, the plant would shut down,” said Kudyukin.

The research study showed the respondents perceived Russian politics as an established system that ignored their interests. This applied not only to the government but also to the opposition. Nearly half of the respondents consciously refrained from voting. By comparison, during the last presidential election, in March 2018, the Central Electoral Commission reported that 32.5% of registered voters did not vote.

Some of the respondents voted for the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), A Just Russia, and LDPR [Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party], although they noted these parties were entangled in establishment and supported workers’ interests more in words than in actual deeds. They were not a serious opposition.

What they had to say on the matter was telling.

“I have little trust in politicos and parties. I have more faith in the people here, the people with whom I work, the people I know. Here, at the local level, there are decent people among the members of different [political] movements. But the leadership is usually a bloody shambles,” said Sergei, 35, a grinder at the Aggregate Plant in Omsk.

“There are currently no parties that would defend workers’ interests. We need to create such a party,” said Sergei, who works at the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga.

Volodya, who also works at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was likewise certain such parties did not exist.

“All of them are against us [workers]. They represent business and big money, even the CPRF and A Just Russia. Those parties just use the ‘movements’ to score political points. They have great jobs. United Russia try and pass bad laws. They have the majority in the Duma, so [the three other parties represented there] can pretend to oppose them, since the bad laws will be passed all the same,” he said.

He quoted Mark Twain.

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

The federal government was a source of considerable irritation to the workers, especially in connection with the pension reform.

Roman, a 45-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was the only respondent in either city who said he had always voted for Putin and United Russia, but since the pension reform had passed, he was severely disenchanted and was more inclined to vote for the CPRF.

Vladislav, a 28-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, had a confession to make despite the fact he had never voted.

“I was never opposed to Putin. But I did not believe to the last that he would say yes to this cannibalistic reform,” he said.

“Their statements jibe with what we see in other studies,” said Yudin. “People are depoliticized, yes. They distrust the system profoundly. This distrust grew even deeper last year. It’s a typical Russian scenario, and I am not entirely certain it has something specifically to do with workers. It typifies many segments of the populace. People who espouse this worldview serve as the base for different populist projects.”

Researchers describe their views as a contradictory mix of spontaneous anarchism and paternalistic expectations from the state. They would like to see the state solving society’s problems and intervening in the economy to raise wages, create jobs, and distribute incomes more fairly.

Igor, a worker from Omsk, had a typical view of the matter.

“The government should definitely solve these issues if workers have hired them to serve the people. When are they going to handle all of this if they work six and seven days a week? They just don’t have the time to deal with their own improvement [sic],” he said.

However, their political beliefs were more leftist and democratic than conservative and reactionary, even when it came to ethnic, religious and gender issues.

“The workers with whom we spoke, irrespective of whether they believed in God, wanted to lived in a secular state, while hoping the Russian Orthodox Church would be behave more modestly when it came to secular issues and would be less politicized. The views of workers on gender roles, the place of women in families, society, and the state were generally quite democratic. In terms of their worldviews, the workers had more in common with classic leftists than with a good number of current leftist parties and movements in Russia,” write the study’s authors.

Cool Heads
The researchers claim the workers they surveyed were clearly not victims of government propaganda. Their attitude towards Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria was generally very restrained, if not sharply negative. Many of them argued that Russia’s foreign policy, as defined by the country’s leadership, had nothing to with their interests and was even capable of harming them. They also had a skeptical attitude to the promotion of great-power patriotism, seeing it as a means of distracting working people from real problems. But while they openly voiced their attitudes to foreign policy, the workers were cautious about discussing it, emphasizing a lack of information on the subject.

Many of them said society was not told everything.

To the surprise of the sociologists, most of the interviewees (78%) identified the internet as their main source of information, despite the fact they were asked about this part of their lives in a way that mentioned television and newspapers first, while the internet was among the information sources listed last.

By comparison, in March 2018, Levada Center published a poll claiming 85% of Russians got most of their information by watching television; moreover, 72% of respondents preferred watching state-controlled Channel One. On the contrary, only five of the workers (22% of the focus group) watched news and political programs on television. They regarded what they saw on television quite skeptically, trying to detect the influence of certain third-party interests.

They had a rather low opinion of the state of the nation.

“Lately, I’ve been ashamed of my people,” said Roman, a worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga.

Another worker, Vladimir, countered Roman.

“To stop feeling ashamed of your nation, just don’t identify yourself with it. Russia, the people, and the nation are illusions that have been pounded into our heads. There is just the earth and the people who live on it. The people who lived before us dreamed up border: here is Russia, there is Ukraine, here is America. In fact, we are all people. If you look at things from this standpoint, everything falls into place. For example, I don’t acknowledge the existence of national Olympic squads. My world is the people I know. When they say, “Our guys are playing football,” I think of “our guys” as my neighbors, workmates, family members, and the clerks at the shop. I could not care less what is going on in Syria and Donbas,” said Vladimir.

The researchers got rather unexpected and ambivalent results when they asked the workers about their attitudes towards migrant workers. In July 2018, Levada Center reported that 67% of Russians regarded them negatively. It is such sentiments that currently fuel nationalism and xenophobia. Among the workers in the survey, however, the intensity of these sentiments was considerably lower.

The different focus groups were split in their opinions of migrant laborers.

“Why hide it? I have a positive attitude toward them, because they are former brothers [within the Soviet Union]. We have the same troubles as they do. They get paid under the table, and so do we. And sometimes they are not paid at all,” said Mikhail, a 55-year-old freight handler.

“I tend to believe we need to create jobs for our own people first, and only then can we create jobs for migrants. As a worker, I consider them competitors, but as a human being I have no problems with them. On the other hand, how do we employ Russians if no Russians want to work as janitors?” said Svyatoslav, a truck driver at the Volkswagen plant.

Ultimately, 45% of the respondents took anti-migrant worker stances. In Omsk, the breakdown between migrantophobes and internationalists was six to four. In Kaluga, on the other hand, where the focus groups and in-depth interviews were dominated by workers from modern, foreign-owned production facilities, there were seven internationalists, as opposed to three migrantophobes.

The study’s authors argue the discrepancies are due to the different types of industry in the two cities, contrasting the workers from the old Soviet defense plants with the employees of foreign companies. However, we would be remiss not to note the relatively low level of nationalism in all the groups surveyed.

“In our view, this is because the workers have closer and more frequent contacts with migrant workers, and thus have more personal experience with them, something that always shatters stereotypes. It is yet another testimony to the fact that the dominant media coverage in Russia has less impact on the views of workers,” argue the study’s authors.

As for attitudes towards religion, twelve of the twenty-three respondents identified themselves as believers, while eleven identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Two of the respondents regarded themselves as deeply religious Russian Orthodox believers. However, all the respondents said they wanted to live in a secular country in which the Russian Orthodox Church should have a smaller role in secular issues and politics.

The views of the workers on gender relations and the place of women at home and in society were quite democratic. According to the researchers, nearly all the men agreed women had the right to pursue any career or calling. They would not stop their own wives from getting involving in public life and politics or pursuing a career.

However, they regarded female politicians in the State Duma quite skeptically, since they did not see them as politicians who hailed from the grassroots. The respondents named German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as positive examples of women involved in politics.

At the same time, both of the experts we interviewed, Pavel Kudyukin and Gregory Yudin, agreed the research study had serious methodological flaws. Besides, it gave its readers no sense of the particular life experiences that had prompted the workers to embrace particular outlooks.

Thanks to Alexander Zamyatin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Outlandish

lakhtaEven with my camera’s lens maxed out, it was not to hard for me to guess who was cleaning the glass (or whatever they were doing) high up in the air on the sides of Gazprom’s almost-finished Lakhta Center skyscraper in Petersburg. They were certainly not ethnic Russians or “people of Slavic appearance,” as they say back in the Motherland. They were almost certainly underpaid, disenfranchised and nearly universally despised migrant workers from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Lakhta, Petersburg, November 11, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

It’s a brilliant plan. The Kremlin now wants to raid neighboring countries and steal their “Russian-speaking” populace (i.e., the non-ethnic Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, etc., who live in Central Asia) to address Russia’s “population decline.”

That is, it is done with importing swarthy Muslims by the trainload and planeload so it can make them to do all the country’s menial labor while underpaying and shaking them down at the same time. Now it just wants to destabilize and impoverish their countries even further by robbing them of five to ten million people.

In recent years, self-declared progressive Russian scholars have nearly made a cottage industry of applying postcolonial theory to post-Soviet Russia. These scholars have focused almost entirely on how the Satanic West has “colonized” their country in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

How the Russian metropole colonized and occupied other countries during the tsarist and Soviet period is of no interest to them whatsoever, nor are post-Soviet Russia’s attempts at recolonization and neo-imperialism through migrant labor, military aggression, and the creation of post-Soviet counterparts to the EU and NATO.

No, it’s all about how the big bad West has woefully mistreated the world’s largest, richest country. {TRR}

_____________________________

Kremlin Seeks Russian-Speaking Migrants to Offset Population Decline
Moscow Times
March 14, 2019

The Kremlin plans to attract up to 10 million Russian-speaking migrants in the next six years to reverse the country’s population decline, the business daily Kommersant reported on Thursday.

Russia’s population declined to 146.8 million in 2018, official data released on Thursday estimates, its first decrease in 10 years. Migration has been unable to offset natural population losses for the first time since 2008.

President Vladimir Putin has prioritized migration policy by signing a plan of action for 2019–2025 and adding migration to the remit of his constitutional rights office.

The plan involves granting citizenship to anywhere from 5 to 10 million migrants, Kommersant reported, citing unnamed sources involved in carrying out Putin’s migration policy plan.

The Kremlin lists Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and other post-Soviet states with Russian-speaking populations as so-called “donor countries” where new Russian citizens could be recruited, the paper writes.

Russia needs up to 300,000 additional people per year in order to reach net-zero population growth, Kommersant’s sources are quoted as saying.

Several bills designed to ease citizenship and immigration rules are also in the pipeline, some of which could be considered this May, Kommersant reported.

Anti-Central Asian Migrant Worker Dragnet in Tula

uzbek cuisineRussian riot police (OMON) prepare to enter a business identified as “Uzbek Cuisine” in the Central Market area in Tula during yesterday’s “total spot checks.” Photo courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula

Unprecedented Document Checks in Tula: Migrant Workers Lined Up in Columns Many Meters Long
MK v Tule (Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula)
October 20, 2018

Беспрецедентные проверки в Туле: мигрантов выстроили в многометровые колонны

The total checks of migrant workers in Tula have moved beyond the Central Market. According to Moskovsky Komsomolet in Tula‘s correspondent, law enforcers from the Tula Regional Office of the Interior Ministry, the riot police (OMON), the Rapid Deployment Special Force (SOBR), and the Russian National Guard have inspected the streets adjacent to the market.

In particular, visitors from the Asian republics [sic] were also checked on Pirogov and Kaminsky Streets. Law enforcers looked to see whether people had documents [sic], residence registration stamps, and work permits.

Approximately two hundred migrants workers were formed into a long column that grew longer by the minute. Checks for violations of immigration laws proceeded apace.

The total spot checks for illegals [sic] in Tula started at 10 a.m. on October 20, when law enforcers descended on the Khlebnaya Square area en masse. The entire market was cordoned off.

All photos courtesy of Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tula. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Valentina Chupik for the heads-up.

Migrant workers, most but not all of them hailing from the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, have been perfect scapegoats for the Putinist police state, which from day one (nearly twenty years ago) has increased its hold on public opinion through an endless series of semi-official campaigns against nefarious aliens and “national traitors.”

So-called law enforcement officers have long ago turned shaking down migrant workers—something literally every resident of every major city in Russia has seen with their own eyes thousands of times in recent years, but which they have “disappeared” along with most of society’s supposedly intractable problems—into a land office business, that is, a source of easy, quick cash.

In any case, as likely as not, most of the men shown in the photographs, above, probably had all the papers they needed to live and work legally in Russia, including residence registration papers and work permits. Unless they have temporary or permanent residence permits, they would have to renew these papers every three months in a process that is every bit as wasteful, time consuming, and humiliating as yesterday’s dragnet in Tula.

To add to their woes, the top brass of Russia’s dizzying of ever-proliferating, interwing, and competing law enforcement agencies and secret services regularly trot out cooked-up stats showing, allegedly, that migrant workers commit either an outsized proportion of all crimes in Russia or the majority of crimes. Human rights advocates can easily punch holes in these barefaced attempts to generate moral panics while simultaneously proving the police state’s continued indispensability, but these counterarguments rarely if ever get the audience enjoyed by Moskovsky Komsolomets, a mass-circulation national tabloid, based in Moscow, that for many years now has published local supplements in Russia’s numerous, far-flung regions.

Owned until 1991 by the Soviet Communist Youth League (Komsomol), Moskovsky Komsolets abandoned whatever socialist and international principles it had long ago, opting for sensationalism and high circulations. According to the BBC, the newspaper had an average issue readership of 1,215,000 in 2008, making it Russia’s second most read newspaper, after Argumenty i Fakty. Given its heavy internet and social media presence, those readership figures have certainly only gone up in the intervening years.

MK, as it usually styles itself nowadays, perhaps to make us forget about its humble socialist origins, was also identified in 2004 by the Sova Center and the Moscow Helsinki Group as the leading purveyor of hate speech amongst Russia’s national print media outlets. Certainly, yesterday’s “photo essay” in MK in Tula was an attempt to whip up a moral panic while boosting readership.

The newspaper, however, is not primarily responsible for the fact that Russian officialdom and to a certain extent, Russian society at large demonizes, terrorizes, and racially profiles the cheap, supposedly expendable immigrant workforce that keeps the perennially flailing Russian economy afloat.

If you want to learn more about the bigger picture when it comes to migrant workers in Russia, a story egregiously underreported by the international press and reported mostly in the sensationalist, racist manner, displayed above, by the Russian press, I would recommend the following articles, published on this website in the past year, plus Professor Sergey Abashin’s now-classic essay “Migrants and Movements in Central Asia,” published here three years ago. {TRR}

 

The New Serfs

kozyrev-muscovitesPhoto by Yuri Kozyrev for the project Muscovites. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The New Serfs
On July 9, Millions of Migrant Workers and Foreign Students Will Be Stripped of the Right to Freedom of Movement in Russia in a Single Bound. What Has Happened?
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Tatyana Vasilchuk
Novaya Gazeta
July 6, 2018

On June 28, Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 163-FZ, which clarifies the guidelines for immigration registration in Russia. According to the amended law, such notions as a foreign national’s place of residence and the party hosting the foreign national have been defined more precisely. The majority of media outlets have described the new law as making the lives of migrant workers less burdensome, since the new law says foreign workers can be registered as dwelling in construction site trailers. This has provoked grumbling among “tolerant” Russians, who have complained migrant workers will arrive in even greater numbers and occupy all the country’s trailers.

In fact, the situation is quite different. The new rules are a blow to all law-abiding migrant workers and nearly all foreign students. Any legal entity that attempts to hire foreign nationals to work or study in Russia could find itself in violation of the law.

Even people who have all the papers and permissions for staying in Russia could be deemed lawbreakers.

The July Eighth Law
When a foreign national arrives in Russia, she is obliged to present herself to the immigration authorities and register her place of residence. However, she cannot register herself: the people or entities who invited her are obliged to do this. If she has come on a private visit, this would be the owner of the flat she has rented or the hotel where she is staying. If she has come to Russia to study, the university where she will be studying is obliged to register her. If she has come to Russia to work, the company in which she is employed must register her. (The last instance is more flexible, because her company is obliged to register her with the immigration authorities, but they may or may not register her place of residence as they wish, apparently.) Private landlords are a separate topic, but legal entities would take the easy way out. The law used to permit them to register the university or the company’s main address as a student’s or employee’s domicile. However, the foreign national could actually live somewhere else. It was understood, however, that if the police or other competent authorities were looking for her, they could do so at the address where she was officially registered.

The old system had its advantages and its shortcomings.

“There are companies that have five or six thousand foreign nationals on staff. It is convenient for them to register people at their business address to oversee whether their employees are paying for work permits and extending their residence permits on time,” says migration expert Svetlana Salamova.

The other side of the coin has to do with the poor living conditions of some foreign workers. This is most often the case among migrant workers from Central Asia.

“Employers would sometimes accommodate fifteen people at a time in trailers, in which the living conditions were rough. Besides, finding people via their legally registered domicile was often quite complicated,” explains human rights defender Andrei Babushkin.

To solve these problems, the definitions of key notions in the immigration laws have been amended. Actually, however the circumstances of migrant workers and their Russian employers have been considerably worsened, not improved. The amendments signed into law on June 28 stipulate that the place where the foreign national stays cannot be a normal domicile, but it can be other premises where the foreign national or stateless person actually resides, i.e., regularly uses for sleep and relaxation. If she is registered by a Russian organization, the foreigner must live for all intents and purposes in premises belonging to the organization. However, the premises must be equipped as a dwelling space.

In other words, if a foreign worker wants her company to register her with the authorities, she is obliged to reside full time in the company’s living accommodations.

The catch is that most legal entities simply do not having living accommodations. Construction companies will have the easiest time of it. They will now actually be able to register workers as legally residing in trailers and makeshift barracks at construction sites. All other companies have nowhere to accommodate their employees from other countries. A sofa and a microwave are not sufficient conditions for turning a room into a legal residence.

“Legally speaking, a domicile is a place that has been registered as such,” says Salamova. “An office with a sofa in it is not a domicile, but if your company lets you keep your suitcases there and install a stove and refrigerator, theoretically you could be registered as dwelling there. In this case, however, the employee from the personnel department who registers you with the Russian Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] will have to supply the immigration authorities with paperwork showing the room has been registered as a domicile.”

Will Russian companies be willing to turn their offices into bedrooms? The answer is obviously no.

Large auditing and consulting agencies, a field in which many foreign nationals are employed in Russia (not only expatriates but also graduates of Russian universities who are nationals of the former Soviet republics) have started to warn their employees about the need to look for a place where they can be registered as residing. Victoria Plotinskaya, marketing and public relations director at AT Consulting, told us that foreign employees at her company must register at their actual addresses before July 9. Previously, AT Consulting registered them at its business address, but now it is willing to provide them with legal assistance. Plotinskaya assumes their employees will have no difficulties, since registering oneself as residing in a rented flat is not a problem,  she claims.

We, however, have learned that several employees of major companies have been thinking about quitting their jobs or transferring to their home countries because their landlords have no intention of registering them.

“Companies will lose the ability to keep track of the immigration registration of their foreign national employees, while  foreign nationals who live in rented flats will have to negotiate with their landlords about registering them,” says Roman Gusev, director of Ernst & Young’s taxation and legal services department. The company does not plan to lay off any employees.

“In practice,” Gusev continues, “we see that many landlords refuse to deal with this procedure, because they don’t want the added administrative burden. In such cases, foreign nationals will have to urgently look for new accommodations. On the other hand, landlords who agree to meet the new requirements will have to keep close watch over their foreign tenants’ arrivals in the Russian Federation, since they have to be registered with immigration authorities after each such arrival.

“There are also risks for conscientious landlords. If their foreign national tenants arrive in the Russian Federation and fail to inform them, the landlords will be breaking the law without knowing it. On the other hand, foreign nationals could also find themselves in a pickle if their landlords suddenly refuse to register them with the immigration authorities or are simply unable to do what the law requires of them because they happen to be out of town,” concludes Gusev.

Unfortunately, the new rules are also retroactive, apparently, meaning everyone who is registered as residing at a business beyond July 8 will be in violation of the law come this Monday—unless, of course, they are unable to swiftly persuade their landlords to register them. In this case, however, no one can vouch that landlord will supply this service for free. Rental agreements presume that landlords pay taxes on the rent they charge. Verbal agreements to rent someone a flat and register them while not paying taxes could lead to a rise in the price of flats let to foreign nationals in Russia.

Formally, nothing has been said about the retroactive force of the amendments to the law, as signed by Putin. However, human rights activists have already been getting reports of attempts to deport migrant workers for dwelling in places where they are not registered to reside. In fact, the Interior Ministry already has the power to deport a non-Russian national if an inspector discovers him somewhere other than his registered domicile, say, at another flat in the evening.

This was what happened to Uzbek nationals in Omsk Region, says human rights activist Valentina Chupik. The Uzbeks went to a immigration center with registration papers obtained from a middleman, and they were sent off to be deported, allegedly because they did not live at their registered domicile.

In other words, under the new law, migrant workers no longer have the right to spend the night somewhere other than their legally registered, actual residence.

Under Article 54 of the Russian Constitution, laws cannot be applied retroactively. This was underscored by the specialists at Alliance Legal Migration, a firm based in Petersburg. In theory, then, all registrations issued before July 8 should be valid for their full terms. This can be proven only in court, however. Yet Russian courts rarely side with migrant workers.

Dormitory Hostages
Foreign nationals employed by Russian companies are only half of the problem. If push comes to shove, they can pay landlords extra money to register them. All foreign students in Russia are now at risk as well. Previously, universities would register their main buildings as the legal domiciles of their foreign students, but now they will be obliged to register all of them in university dormitories. However, the number of rooms in the dorms does not match the number of foreign students, and out-of-town Russian students have to live in dorms as well. Besides, there are students who do not want to live in dorms and can rent flats, students who have children, for example. Previously, they could count on their universities registering them, but now they will have to take care of their own registration.

The new law also applies to students who left for summer holidays not knowing they would return to Russia in the autumn on new terms. In addition, students who are registered in dorms are virtually their hostages.

Any violation of university regulations or, for example, attendance at an opposition rally gives university deans the chance to opportunity to revoke the registration of “troublesome” foreign students, which automatically means they are in violation of immigration laws and can be deported. Considering the fact that many international students have never experienced serfdom, they behave like free women and men. Their freedom will now be harshly restricted by the hours when the dorm’s main entrance closes.

Universities themselves seemingly have not yet figured out yet what they are going to do. The new rules have been a big surprise to most of them. The main issue they face is how they will now enroll international students if registering all of them legally has become impossible.

The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) refused to comment on the amended rules. We were told by a spokesperson at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) that they were in the process of working out a way of dealing with the new rules. However, we have in our possession correspondence between students and the HSE’s immigration department, who categorically informed the students they could be registered only at their actual places of residence.

At Moscow State University (MGU), we were told, “The issues of timely migration registration and visa extensions for foreign students residing in rented flats is currently being examined by university management in order to find the optimal solution.”

“The university has not contemplated any limitations to enrolling foreign students due to the adoption of Federal Law No. 163-FZ, dated June 27, 2018,” a MGU spokesperson added.

Other universities failed to respond to our inquiries before this issue of the newspaper was sent to the presses.

“If a university does not have a dormitory or does not have enough room in its dormitories, students can ask for a written request from the university to landlords, asking them to register the students at their actual domiciles. And then the landlords can register them if they want to do so,” explains Salamova.

Closely Watched Flats
You should not imagine that all of the above is a headache for foreigners, but has nothing to do with you.

According to the new rules, Russian nationals who let flats to foreign nationals are automatically regarded as “hosts,” meaning they are obliged to register them as residing in their dwellings and are responsible for them.

“There will also be increased check-ups and fines in the case of noncompliance with the laws for people who let flats to foreigners,” predicts Salamova.

In all fairness, such fines also existed earlier, but they were almost never issued. We have been informed that as soon as the World Cup ends, the police will make an extra effort to inspect all residential buildings and search for unregistered foreigners living in them.

Moreover, Russians are currently responsible for foreign nationals, even if they have left the country but their immigration registration is still valid. A law bill, sponsored by Irina Yarovaya and on the verge of its second reading, has been tabled in the State Duma. If passed, it would make it possible to remove foreigners from the immigration registry instantly and on one’s own via the web. This means landlords would also be able to remove tenants from the registry whenever they wanted, claiming, for example, that they had lost touch with the migrant workers in question. Foreign tenants would thus be subject to the whims of landlords, who could raise their rent at the drop of a hat, threatening to remove them from the immigration registry if they failed to pay. Besides, if a migrant worker does not live in the flat where she is officially registered, she can find herself without papers at any minute because, according to yet another amendment, she can be stricken from the rolls as residing in a particular flat without her knowledge. This means that beat cops can stop her on the street and automatically fine and deport her.

In mid June, the State Duma approved yet another law bill in its second reading. If passed, it would make organizations that invite foreigners to Russia wholly responsible for their actions. For example, if a foreign national works somewhere else than the organization that invited him or “is up to no good,” as MP Viktor Karamyshev has put it, the authorities will pay a call to the foreigner’s primary host organization. In addition, companies would have to make sure that when an employment contract ends, the migrant worker leaves the country instantly. Otherwise, the companies would be fined.

At the same time, the State Duma approved a new list of fines for noncompliance with all these rules on the part of organizations and ordinary Russians.

Under the new regulations in the Administrative Offenses Code, individuals will pay fines of up to 4,000 rubles for violations involving migrant workers, while officials will pays up to 50,000 rubles, and legal entities will pay up to 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,700 euros].

Beneficiaries  
By and large, the batch of laws that have been adopted or are still under consideration (the Interior Ministry, for example, has launched an expert group to draft a Migration Code) should at least be sent back to the relevant committee for revision, since, as Babushkin says, “The harm they do outweighs the good.” But the way the new rules have been drafted and adopted behind the scenes—they did not warrant a single public hearing nor, as far we have ascertained, did their authors consult with independent migration lawyers—suggests their oppressiveness is advantageous as they currently stand.

Who stands to gain, however? MP Irina Yarovaya, for example, argues that certain changes, such as the ability to remove migrant workers from the registration rolls on one’s own, are in the interests of ordinary Russians. She states her case in a clarification to the law bill that the MP’s aides sent to us in reply to a request for comments. On the contrary, human rights activists argue the Interior Ministry, which now has complete oversight over immigration, has received yet another tool for extorting bribes. Any migrant worker can be stopped on the street by the police and threatened with deportation: he will find it easier to pay them off. Any landlord can be intimidated with fines.

The threat of deportation is a convenient tool for dealing with troublesome individuals.

Our newspaper published the story of Gulchekhra Aliyeva and her family. She and her son were locked up for five days without food and water at the Ramenki District Police Station in Moscow. They were let out of their cells twice a day to go to the toilet. According to the Aliyevs and human rights advocates, the police tried to extort them, promising to deport them if they did not pay up. The ostensible cause was the tightening of security on the eve of the World Cup. After human right defenders intervened, the Aliyevs were released, and a criminal investigation into allegations of torture was launched.

“However, when the Aliyevs were summoned for questioning, it transpired  the police planned to deport them for being registered at their place of work rather than where they actually lived,” says Chupik.

Moreover, this happened before the new law had taken effect.

“We basically saved them by escaping the police station,” recalls Chupik.

The special services also stand to benefit from the new law. As we have learned from a source with ties to the academic world, special services officers have connections to the immigration departments in several Russian universities.

This is tantamount to reviving the Soviet system of “working” with international students at universities. Given that they inevitably violate the rules, they can be inclined to “friendship” and “cooperation” when necessary.

Besides, foreigners per se will now be unable to take the slightest step in Russia without official registration. Nationals of our allies Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan will also be punished, but that is collateral damage.

Finally, fly-by-night fake migration registrars stand to gain from the law, since their entire business will disappear into the shadow economy. Even now, migrant workers who travel to the Multi-Purpose Migration Center (MMTs) in Sakharovo, in the far southern outskirts of Moscow, cannot have their domiciles registered while other papers are being processed, including their work permits. Human rights activists say the MMTs has lost this right due to the new law.

“Everyone mobs Kazan Station, getting registered by people who give them counterfeit papers,” claims Chupik.

As far as we know, the neighborhood around the Kazan Railway Station, in central Moscow, has the largest number of people offering such dubious services. Moreover, these deals are made more or less in plain view of law enforcement officers, who do nothing about them: maybe they know something important we do not know or know more thane we. The price of counterfeit registration papers is between seven and eight thousand rubles [approx. 95 to 110 euros], a hefty sum of money for migrant workers.

The Interior Ministry stubbornly persists in saying nothing about how the new law will be enforced: it has not published any official clarifications. We have sent the ministry a request to comment, but when this newspaper went to the print, the ministry had not yet responded.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers

DSCN3525To give only one of a thousand examples, without Central Asian migrant workers, there would be almost no one left to do the heavy and, sometimes, dangerous work of clearing freshly fallen snow from rooftops and pavements during the winter. February 5, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Fists and Epaulettes: Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Yulia Reprintseva, with Madina Kuanova
Novaya Gazeta
February 5, 2018

Novaya Gazeta continues to investigate the lives of migrant laborers in Russia. In our last issue, we discussed the magnitude of the corruption faced by immigrants when they apply for resident permits and work permits (“Luck and Labor,” February 2, 2018). However, even when migrant workers finally obtain these papers, their lives in Russia are not made any easier.

Police, Open Up!
In the run-up to New Year’s 2018, detectives from the Perovo and Kuntsevo police precincts in Moscow detained 520 migrant workers. All of them were taken to a police station, where they were forced to stand outside in the cold from six in the evening to two in the morning. According to Valentina Chupik, head of the human rights organization Tong Jahoni (Morning of the World), only those who gave the police 10,000 rubles [approx. 140 euros] each were released. The police said they were collecting money “for celebrating the holiday.”

The police regularly hold such “celebrations” for migrant workers. In a ranking of offenses against immigrants, the police take first place with a large margin (86% of all complaints). Most often, the police extort money during groundless document checks.

“In Russia, the attitude is he is an Asian, so he’ll give us money,” claims Chupik.

In police stations, up to twelve migrant workers are held in seven-meter-square cells for forty-eight hours and not allowed to go to the toilet. Police sometimes assault them. In October 2017, according to human rights activists, the officers at Perovo and Novogireevo precincts in Moscow beat up 39 people.  It was a tough month, apparently.

“Volunteer work days” are another police practice. According to human rights activists, migrant workers were forced to repair a police station in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi on April 21, 2017.

The migrant workers complain, but to little effect. In 2016, Valentina Chupik filed 6,232 complaints with various police internal affairs departments in Moscow and Moscow Region, but only four of them were passed up the command chain for further review. Meanwhile, the system for expelling migrants on the basis of police complaints operates without fail. In 2016 (there is no data for 2017), Moscow courts expelled over 14,000 migrant workers from Russia for living somewhere other than their registered domicile. They expelled almost 12,000 migrant workers for being in public without their papers on them.

“The main problem is the right the police have accorded themselves to check the papers of migrant workers for any reason,” says Chupik.

“Yes, they do have this obligation, but only when a migrant worker is involved in a criminal case,” she says.

According the Interior Ministry’s latest orders, even a neighborhood police inspector can check someone’s immigration status. He can write the person up for a nonexistent violation, which is immediately entered into a special data base. Two violations are sufficient cause for deportation from hospitable Russia, explains Chupik.

Curiously, at the same time, migrant workers are far from the most dangerous social group in Russia, formally speaking. Moreover, the number of crimes committed by migrant workers has been steadily declining, which has been noted even by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. As reported by Kommersant, according to the Prosecutor General, foreign nationals and stateless persons committed 41,047 crimes in Russia in 2017, which was 6.6% fewer than in 2016. In November of last year, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev mentioned an even earlier nine-percent drop in crimes committed by migrant workers when presenting the new immigration policy. But what the top brass has said is not digested fully and immediately by rank-and-file police officers.

Commentary
Valentina Chupik, head of Tong Jahoni
State agencies and the police do not hate migrant workers because they are so despicable. The authorities pretend to hate them so it is less shameful when they rob them for their own profit. When you talk to on-duty cops, they claim eighty percent of crimes are committed by migrant workers. When you ask them to go to the Interior Ministry’s own website and take a gander at the stats, they switch to saying most crimes are committed by North Caucasians. Then they say, “Well, it’s just our policy.” When you tell them they should not implement a criminal policy because they are law enforcement officers, they get it. But they complain they have arrest quotas to fill. 

content_09
Muhiddin, a janitor. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. See Muhiddin’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Xenophobia Has Momentum
On January 12, the body of 41-year-old Tahirjan Hamrayev was found in Noginsk, Moscow Region. Hamrayev had been stabbed over twenty times. Hamrayev left Kyrgyzstan as a migrant worker in May 2017 and got a job on the construction site of a multi-storey residential building. As reported by Kyrgyzstani media, the dead man’s mother, Hairins Hamrayeva, said her son was supposed to have come home for the New Year’s holidays, but decided to stay in Noginsk since his employers, impressed by his work, had offered him extra jobs. On the fateful day, Hamrayev went into a shop and fell into the hands of at least ten neo-Nazis, local law enforcement official claim, citing an eyewitness’s testimony.

In the various ultra-right groups on social media where the incident is discussed, commentators occasionally write languidly that Hamrayev got what was coming to him. Generally, after the security services were pressured by the Kremlin into mopping up the sector, nationalism and neo-Nazism have died out as phenomena [sic], and nowadays assaults on migrant workers have gradually become something out of the ordinary,although in Petersburg on January 31, for example, a Tajikistani national was attacked with a knife in the subway.

No one, however, has abolished xenophobia, which, although it has displayed a downward trend [sic], is still firmly entrenched in the minds of Russians.

In early 2017, Tong Jahoni published the findings of a study on nearly 50,000 housing rental ads in Russian media. Only one out of every twelve ads was free of xenophobic  insinuations. Most of the people who placed the ads wanted to rent their flats or rooms to “Russian citizens” (50%), “Slavs” (28%), and “ethnic Russians” (7%). The picture presented by help wanted ads was even more distressing. Only one in twenty ads among the 20,000 vacancies examined did not contain xenophobic allusions. Fifty-six percent of employers were seeking “Slavs” to fill the jobs, while 35% were eager to see “Russian citizens” in the positions.

Human rights activists say the situation is typical, and no one wants to change it for the most part. In turn, the media fuel the fire. In 2016, there were approximately 120,000 news reports involving migrant workers. News search websites focused mostly on crime reports, which constituted nearly 98,000 of the news reports filed.

However, the attitude to migrant workers on the part of the rank-and-file population is often quite neutral when they encounter each other face to face. Moreover, human rights activists can cite instances in which the police have helped migrant workers. But in terms of society at large, although xenophobia decreased by 10% last year, according to the official estimates produced by the Russian Federal Public Chamber, it still remains a serious problem. According to pollsters VTsIOM [sic], two thirds of the people they surveyed believed migrant workers took jobs away from Russian citizens.

Commentary
Alexander Verkhovsky, director, Sova Center for Information and Analysis 
There is xenophobia as a mass phenomenon: people’s attitudes and emotions. In this case, we can track changes through public opinon polls [sic]. I am quite glad that there is a growing number of people who, when asked about the feelings they have towards migrant workers (e.g., fear, apprehension, hatred, love), respond that they feel nothing, that they could not care less. The perfect relationship is precisely this, when people do not see a group as something that provokes emotions. They are just other people.

There is xenophobia as discrimination, when seeking employment, for example. Unfortunately, practical discrimination has been underresearched. What matters most is that people do not even perceive some forms of it as discrimination. For example, people are not ashamed to write in an ad that they will rent a flat only to a Slavic family. It is useless to fight this. It is a matter of the social atmosphere [sic].

Finally, the most aggressive form of xenophobia is physical violence. In recent years, the figures have been steadily declining. Just the other day, Sova Center published a new report based on the figures for last year. I would note there is not necessarily a meaningful connection with the decline of popular xenophobia, because assaults are not committed by the masses, but by ideologically motivated young people, who might have completely different opinions from the masses. This is more likely the consequence of a depression amongst radically minded young people. They are scared. They don’t really want to commit assaults [sic]. In the previous decade, they did not know the fear of God at all, as the saying goes, but then Center “E” [Russia’s “anti-extremism” police, established from disbanded anti-organized crime squads during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency] went after them. Many street fighters went to prison, and this changed the situation.

content_Krasavchik_01
Shirinsho “Handsome” Vohidov, from Tajikistan. Photo by Anna Artemieva. See Shirinsho’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Medical Disenfranchisement
When migrant workers take ill in Russia, it is no simple matter for them to recover.

“To enroll at a district outpatient clinic, you need to have a temporary residence permit or residence permit, permanent registration,” says Daniil Kashnitsky, a junior researcher at the Higher School of Economics. “However, a poor command of information and the Russian language, as well as a lack of legal knowledge, means that when migrant workers are yelled at by employees at the intake desk, they leave and do not come back. There are many such instances.”

There is the option of going to a private clinic, but sometimes only a state clinic can help, for example, when tuberculosis is diagnosed. It can help, but it is not obliged.

“Tuberculosis has a dangerous phase when it is communicable through airborne droplets. Patients must be hospitalized during this phase. They should stay in hospital until the tuberculosis bacterium goes away, and they are no longer a danger to others. This usually takes two or three months,” explains Kashnitsky.

If migrant workers are hospitalized due to an accident, the treatment is free, of course, but the attitude towards them will be correspondingly shabby. Last year, when a busload of migrant workers was hit by a train near Vladimir, killing seventeen people, the local hospitals treated several severely injured people.

“I asked that an injured child be sent to Moscow. Two days later, he died in our regional hospital. I remember the child. He was a year and a half old, from an Uzbek family. I said, ‘Why did you send him to our hospital? Call a helicopter and take him to Moscow: he’ll get better help there.’ I was told the decision had been made by the health department,” recounts Alla Boyarova, director of an employment agency for migrant workers. On the morning of the tragedy, her husband had rushed to help the affected immigrants.

Zoyir Karimov, Boyarova’s husband, is deputy chair of the Tajik diaspora in Vladimir. He recalls that the adult victims had huge problems.

“Two of them did not make full recoveries in hospital. They were not operated on and were sent back in this shape to Uzbekistan. They were told they could buy special plates, but they had no money. One broke his shoulder, the other, his leg,” says Karimov.

content_4
Infographic No. 1: Sources of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, per information gathered by the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. Police — 1,814 incidents (86.3%); immigration centers — 196 incidents (9.3%); migration service — 53 incidents (2.5%); other state agencies — 29 incidents (1.4%); other organizations — 11 incidents (0.5%). Infographic No. 2: Forms of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, according to the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. “Verification” of registration status — 5,304 incidents (78.3%); arbitrary interpretation of the law — 896 incidents (13.1%); threats by police to file trumped-up administrative charges — 340 incidents (5.0%); high-pressure selling of unnecessary “services” — 196 incidents (3.0%); forcing migrant workers to use a particular middleman when filing papers — 41 incidents (0.6%). Infographics courtesy of Veronika Tsotsko and Novaya Gazeta

Blockchain to the Rescue
It is tempting to dub what is happening in the Russian migrant labor sector a mess. In fact, however, it is more likely a restructuring of the system after the Federal Migration Service (FMS) was incorporated into the Interior Ministry in 2016. The relationship with migrant workers has changed because what the Interior Ministry does most of all is punish people. Many of the organizations that dealt with drawing up papers for migrant workers have been turned into limited liability companies, meaning it has become nearly impossible to monitor their policies, and human rights activists have huge gripes with the new state-run immigration centers. New law bills that have been tabled will only aggravate the circumstances, reducing migrant workers to semi-slave status in Russia.

The question is simple: what to do? At a January 29 meeting of human rights activists to discuss the issue of immigration (a meeting not attended by diaspora leaders) various proposals were voiced. Vladimir Khomyakov, co-chair of the grassroots movement People’s Assembly (Narodnyi Sobor), made the most radical and regressive proposal at the round table.

“We need the strictest possible oversight of each person’s stay in Russia, not just this buying a work permit and hanging out wherever you want,” said Khomyakov. “We need a system of mutual obligations. We need a single government agency that would deal with immigration and use a single database.”

People who intend to travel to Russia should obtain all the papers they need at Russian consulates in their own countries, and each migrant worker should be assigned an ID number under which all information about him or her would stored, argued Khomyakov.

Totalitarian oversight in return for peace and quiet.

But Khomyakov’s idea was not met with unanimous approval by round table participants, just like the proposal, made Vyacheslav Postavnin, former deputy head of the FMS and president of the 21st Century Immigration Foundation [sic], to move immigration registration online or, at least, make it obligatory for immigrants to check in with the migration service by telephone. Some human rights activists were outraged by the fact this would make it easier for terrorists to hide [sic].

“Terrorists never violate immigration laws. Terrorist acts are complicated operations. What, they are going to put themselves at risk of being stopped by police for failing to reregister on time?” Postavnin countered crossly.

He was told that hackers could erase or damage the entiere online database, to which the former deputy head of the FMS showed off his knowledge of the word “blockchain.”

“Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t erase it,” he said.

Tatyana Dmitrieva, deputy head of the Department for Coordinating Local Immigration Offices and Accountable Forms in the Immigration Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow Office, did not like any of these proposals. She only remarked that the ministry wholly supported a new law bill that would punish legal entities for providing fictitious registration, and that a consensua had to be reached with regard to thorny issues.

The discussion’s moderator, Fyodor Dragoi, chair of the Committee for Safety, Public Diplomacy and Public Oversight at the Council for Ethnic Affairs in the Moscow City Govermnent, suggested drawing up a list of proposals after the discusssion, since “this tumor [could] burst any minute,” and the problem had to be solved.

Another, autonomous proposal has been made by the Center for Strategic Research (CSR), which has published its report on immigration. Recognizing a decline in migration flows from the CIS countries in recent years—2017 saw an increase the numbers of migrant workers from many countries, but the numbers have not returned to pre-crisis levels—the report’s authors propose their own measures for maintaining a migration flow of 250,000 people to 300,000 people annually, which they claim is a necessary number for modern Russia. In particular, they propose introducing something like a green card for highly qualified immigrants in order to stimulate the influx, as well as work cards that would make it easier to obtain a residence permit.

Something has to be done, since Russia will have lost thirteen million able-bodied people by 2030, but internal resources for population growth have been exhausted.

content_4
Viorel, a Moldovan, on a lunchbreak with his workmates. Photo by Viktoria Odissonova. See Viorel’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

The problem is that there are not unlimited numbers of highly qualified immigrants, and the ones there are drift in other directions. To take one example, the number of migrant workers from Moldova has decreased over the last two years by more than one and a half times, from 250,000 to 157,000. They have begun looking towards the European Union.  The number of migrant workers from the Eurasian Union has been growing, but their numbers are also limited, especially because Kazakhstani workers, for example, are needed in Kazakhstan itself, a country that, due to geographical proximity, grabs Kyrgyzstani workers away from Russia. The number of immigrants from Tajikistan have been growing steadily. On the other hand, while the number of Uzbekistanis coming to Moscow has grown over the past year, to a million and a half registered nationals, it would seem the numbers will eventually decline, since more convenient job markets have opened up to them.

“Turkey and the Emirates are currently very interesting and attractive to migrant workers from Asia,” says attorney Yulduz Ataniyazova. “The economy there is civilized, and there is a niche in the economy for unskilled workers. At the same time, the workers are provided with normal working conditions. For example, I know that in the Emirates migrant workers who clean houses and work in restaurants note that the cleaning liquids there are less harsh [sic]. This has now become important to them.”

However, the wages there are less than in Moscow, generally, but it depends on how you look at it.

“Uzbeks start doing the maths, and it turns out that here they will pay out more in bribes, whereas in Turkey a policeman would never approach them for no reason at all,” explains Chupik.

Workers from the CIS will keep coming to Russia for some time, of course. But if Russia toughens the rules for migrant workers, even the most desperate adventurers from the CIS countries will prefer, in time, to go somewhere else, to a place where they can work without risking their lives, health, and human dignity, not to mention their wallets.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Perhaps I should have a three [sic]s and you’re out rule on this website, but despite the number of dubious or simply odd claims made by the article’s authors and the experts they quote, I thought there was enough important information and nontrivial viewpoints in the article to make it worth my while to translate and your while to read.

However, on one point—the claim that nationalists and neo-Nazis have come to naught in Russia, and hence the number of assaults on migrant workers has precipitously decreased—I was so bothered I turned to my friend W., a person who has been involved with immigrant rights in Russia both professionally and personally for many years. Here is their response.

“They are engaging in wishful thinking. Nationalism and neo-Nazism have not gone away. It has become very difficult to keep track of attacks. Officially, such reports are not welcome and are rarely discussed in the media. This is the current trend. None of this exists anymore in Russia, allegedly, while in Ukraine, for example, there has been a serious increase in anti-Semitism. According to the official interpretation, there is almost no anti-Semitism in Russia, although there were several egregious incidents in January. Basically, nobody cares about this business, and Jewish organizations mainly smooth over the potentially negative consequences of vociferous discussions.” 

I should also point out the folly of relying on public opinion polling data in an authoritarian country like Russia, where respondents can be expected to give what they think is the “right” answer out of a fear bred into the society in Soviet times.

Nevertheless, in the absence of free elections and other real political freedoms, the Putin years have been a boom time for the country’s main pollsters, VTsIOM (mentioned in this article), FOM, and the supposedly independent Levada Center. They have polled away with merry abandon, and Russian and international journalists, many of them too lazy or lacking the time to do real reporting, have become increasingly dependent on the utterly falsified portrait of “average Russians” the country’s troika of loyalist pollsters has been painting over the last eighteen years. I have dubbed the phenomenon “pollocracy” and discussed it many times on this website. TRR