24 October 2008

More on Migrant Workers in Russia and the Economic Crisis

At Russia Profile, Roland Oliphant writes about the coming celebration of National Unity Day and DPNI's application for its annual Russian March (which I covered last year here and here), touching specifically on the recent economic meltdown and the possible implications for migrant workers:

But so far, the looming credit crisis has had little impact on ordinary Russians, few of whom own shares or take out mortgages, and it has yet to translate into serious redundancies or pay cuts in the wider economy. Economic hardship of the kind that extremism thrives in is a threat, but it has not yet arrived.

However, the economic slowdown could have more immediate consequence for the many immigrants – legal and illegal – who have stepped in to fill the gap in Russia’s shrinking work force. One industry that has been feeling the pain is the booming construction sector, which has a special significance for race relations.

“Until very recently there was discussion about the need to invite as many as twenty million foreign workers to compensate for the loss of labor,” said [Carnegie Center's Nikolai] Petrov. “But construction, which is the biggest industry in terms of migrants and illegal migrants, is facing very essential problems. Thousands of people who have their jobs there now find themselves without any means of support, and in a pretty hostile situation. And since many of them do not have any homes – they are housed on construction sites – many could find themselves homeless.”

There is considerable concern that this could result in an increase in the crime rate and a consequent racist backlash. Blaming immigrants for crime is a key part of nationalist rhetoric, and as the DPNI’s involvement suggests, many who march on November 4 will be motivated by opposition to immigration.
Karomat Sharipov of the group Tajik Migrant Laborers hits a similar note, according to Gazeta, fearing that the current economic crisis may increase the racist mood on Russian streets and wondering if migrants wouldn't be well served to organize their own political party as their concerns are being ignored by all political forces in Russia.

The prospects of an "ethnoparty" in Russia are slim, I think, but it is a provocative idea. The enduring problem of ethnic violence is beginning to spark something along the lines of a race-conscious movement, though it's hard to say where it might go and what it will mean for the status of Russian democracy (a problem I pondered at greater length here). It's still a case of wait-and-see.

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Also on the note of the lives of migrants in Russia, polit.ru hosts a report from Demoscope on Chinese workers in Russia. Nothing too surprising--they think their earnings are fair, they spend their leisure time watching TV if they have any free time at all, those who stay in Russia for a long time tend to have a medium to good opinion of it... Here's the results on inter-ethnic relations:
Рисунок 15. Случалось ли, что россияне… (в % от всех подвергшихся посягательствам на безопасность личности)

The question pertains to infringements of personal safety and asks respondents, "Has it ever happened that a Russian has..." The three columns, from left to right, are respondents in Russia, Moscow, and the Russian Far East, respectively. The answers from top (light grey) to bottom (lavender) are:
  • Hard to say (17%, 32%, ?)
  • Disturbed the safety and dignity of your friends and family (14%, ?, 26%)
  • Offended your children (unclear?)
  • Committed arson against you (negligible?)
  • Robbed you (21%, 17%, 25%)
  • Beat you (12%, 16%, 9%)
  • Threatened to beat you (24%, 22%, 22%)
  • Insulted, cursed you (44%, 35%, 53%)
What to make of these results? Go to Moscow if you prefer to be beaten instead of being robbed in Russia's Far East.

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p.s. Yes, I know. The graph above is the worst way ever to present data. Not my fault.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

You put a no-losing position. In case "racist backlash" happens, you've predicted it. If it doesn't, well, perhaps it was you who'd stopped it. You are carrying no responsibility, any way.

One more comment. "There is considerable concern that this could result in an increase in the crime rate and a consequent racist backlash."

And of course, your concern is about the last part of the statement. There's no your concern about the wave of crime done by migrant workers that is predicted to fill Russia's streets in that statement. Only about the "racist" response.

Well, I do not judge your position, it's not my job. But it looks pretty much like your sympathies are on the side of migrant workers, rather than Russia's citizens.

It's not fair in my view (my position is, that all people must have basic rights like the right for life, etc.), but again, it's not my job to monitor your views. Wish you to bring your approach to your native American land.

Evgeny.

Buster said...

Evgeny,

Thank you for your comment. A few responses.

1. I think we think of writing in quite different ways. The act of writing, for me, is not akin to sparring or fighting. I am not looking to "lose" or "win" through these posts, but rather to inform and to offer my readers some material for reflection. In a best case scenario, this process of reflection and ensuing action might lead to a better world. In no sense will I ever see the coming to fruition of a racist backlash that I feared a "win." I'm simply not that heartless.

2. Similarly, I don't see the issues surrounding migration as a migrant versus citizen conflict. This xenophobic framing of immigration has done nothing good, as far as I can tell. As migrants are offered fewer protections by the nation-state and greater dangers from the State and vigilante elements of society, you are right, that I often sympathize with them. Perhaps it's a personal bias, though I hope it's a general sense of social justice that motivates me. I have not seen any reputable predictions that migrant marches will lead to violence. I lend no credence to the bluster of Mr. Potkin/Belov.

3. I am not sure how to take your last line ("Wish you to bring your approach to your native American land."). I do support immigrant rights in the United States and protest the deplorable deportations and violence migrants face here. If there is an embedded complaint that I am leveling a "double standard" against Russia, I think you will find your argument simply doesn't have legs. While I often comment on Russian matters, you'll also find that I have had occasion to criticize the US government and society as well. On the other hand, if you think that only Russians should concern themselves with matters within Russian borders, we will have to agree to disagree. I simply won't accept such an impoverished view of human solidarities.

Anonymous said...

Imagine two situations. A Russian guy is murdered by migrants. A migrant worker is murdered by Russian guys. What is more fair, in your view?

And yes, it's citizens of Russia who decide what will it be through people in power they elect.
Of course you can say anything you want, but if you want your words to have weight, settle in this country, become a citizen, serve in the Army... Looks fair to me. ("You" here is not personal, but general.)

Evgeny.

Anonymous said...

Note: you do not have to serve in Russian Army if you 1) have already served in Army of other state, 2) are over 27, 3) have two or more children, 4) are a Ph. D., 5) have health issues.

The term of service (as a soldier) is 1 year.

Said this for you not to think it's unfair play. As is it, ethnic tensions do not arise in the Army (at least I didn't notice that). Army commanders know well what the country fought for during the World War II.

Evgeny.

Buster said...

Imagine two situations. A Russian guy is murdered by migrants. A migrant worker is murdered by Russian guys. What is more fair, in your view?

With a ten foot pole, I shan't touch this.

And even though I qualify for a couple of exemptions, I would be afraid of joining the Russian army, all questions of ethnic intolerance aside.

There's a one-word answer for why:
http://www.gazeta.ru/social/dedovschina/

But there I go reading the newspapers again.

Evgeny, really, I think we are coming close to an agree-to-disagree point here. I take your comments in the friendly spirit I take them to be offered in, but I also fear that we may be talking past each other a bit.

Anonymous said...

There was no dedovshchina in the military unit I served in this summer. Can't say for all, but looks like this long-standing problem vanishes with the transition to 1 year-long term of service.

Indeed, I advice you not to limit yourself to newspapers. Astronomers can study planets without being there, but one can't study people without knowing them.

Evgeny.

Buster said...

Astronomers can study planets without being there, but one can't study people without knowing them.

So much for my history degree...

Anonymous said...

And, I do not say reading newspapers is meaningless. But newspapers offer some theories, while people are the reality. Without a "feedback" of the people you really know, you can't guarantee theories you read are correct. And that threatens you of falling into myth creation, etc.

Just, do not be afraid of Russian people. They are nice and often kind, although can be harsh if forced to be that.

No more comments -- have much local work.

Evgeny.