“I’ve lived in Krasnodar since the war,” the Afghan next to me on the plane ride from Moscow to New York told me. Now he’s moving to Houston where his cousin hopes he can hook himself up with some sort of trade/sales position.
“I’ve heard that Houston is actually pretty cosmopolitan for a city in Texas,” I told him, referencing reports I’ve heard and read from Indians. My new Afghan pal was excited to hear about Indians in Houston, as “Indians and Afghans always get along. We both hate Pakistan!”
I was hesitant about entering into a friendship on these grounds, but in our mutual vernacular of Russian language and customs, he was already signaling the flight attendant for drinks. I graciously turned down the vodka (twelve hours in a jet is draining enough already), only to watch him then drink for both of us.
As we continued our banter on and off for the next seven hours, I kept thinking about one of my many impractically huge book ideas—a comparison of refugees from the Cold War’s proxy wars in the United States and in the former Soviet Union as a lens to understanding the legacy of the Cold War. (Yes, friends, there’s another free dissertation/book idea!) I also started to wonder if it was possible that Russia might start to lose its appeal as a destination for im/migrants who grow tired of dealing with hostile authorities, regularly paying colossal fines/bribes, and facing violence and animosity on a daily basis.
I was reminded of these thoughts, when I read yesterday that in fact some Uzbek migrant workers are choosing to work in neighboring Tajikistan instead of making the trip to Russia. In the city of Kanibadam, migrant worker Dzhamoliddin explained his choice:
It probably doesn’t help that Russian racists are ringing in 2008 with more attacks and murders. An Uzbek man, Ikhszhon Aliev, was knifed to death in Petersburg on 2 January, and on 7 January, another Uzbek, Khasan Barkaev was also found stabbed to death in Petersburg. On 4 January a Dagestani was found dead with head trauma and knife wounds in Moscow; his wallet, mobile phone and passport were confiscated on the scene, ruling out theft as a motive. A student from Zambia was beaten on the Moscow Metro on the evening of the seventh, but survived the attack with head wounds and facial injuries.
Если ехать в Россию, то минимум на год надо, а может, и больше, ведь нужно оправдать затраты на дорогу, а билеты туда и обратно очень дорогие, да еще и заработать надо. Кроме того, в России жизнь мардикора несладкая, но самое плохое то, что там вас за человека не принимают.
А здесь все хорошо, мы друг друга понимаем. Кормят нас как положено, за ночлег не надо платить. Надо домой съездить? Никаких проблем. Отработал договор, получил заработок и - айда домой. Дома отдохнул, через десять-пятнадцать дней опять сюда. Зачем мне в какую-то Россию ехать, когда здесь, в Таджикистане, хорошо?
- А я в прошлом году в Ленинград ездил на заработки, - вступил в разговор стоявший рядом парень, тоже узбекистанец. - Идешь на работу или домой, постоянно душа в пятках: не появятся ли сейчас милиционеры, не загребут ли тебя...
If you go to Russia, you have to stay a year or maybe more to pay off the expenses. A round-trip ticket is pricy, so you’ve got to make money. Moreover, in Russia the life of a day-laborer isn’t so sweet—the worst of it is that they don’t accept you as human.
But here, it’s all good, we understand each other. The feed us properly and we don’t have to pay for a place to sleep. You need to go home? No problem. Work out an agreement, get your wage and to home you go! There you can rest up, and after 10-15 days, you’re back here. Why would I need to go to off to Russia when things are fine here in Tajikistan.
Last year, I went to Leningrad for work and got into a conversation with a guy standing next to me, also an Uzbek, “On your way to work, or back home, you’re always feeling down. You wonder, ‘Is the militia going to show up? Am I going to get rounded up?’”
While I try to shy away from the Russia-watchers’ prediction game, it’s hard to imagine that 2008 won't give 2007 a run for its money as the bloodiest year for ethnically-motivated violence in Russia. Whether this will mitigate the push-pull factors that feed migration to the Russia overall, I’ll leave for others to speculate on. (There’s a comments section, so feel free. Based on one interview and some journalistic impressions, I'm not willing to venture too far out on a limb.)