Staunton, June 17 – Russian officials and commentators have long insisted that Moscow doesn’t face the same problems with immigrant workers than European countries do because most of them speak Russian and few of them are members of a second generation, the children of gastarbeiters, which typically is less willing to adapt than are their parents.
But both of these long-claimed Russian advantages are falling away: With the end of the Soviet Union now already almost 25 years ago, many of the gastarbeiters who come to work in Russian cities do not know Russian well or even at all, something that scholars both in Russia and in the Central Asian countries have acknowledged for some time.
And now a group of Russian experts has concluded that Russia today faces what Western scholars call “the second generation problem” as well – the tendency of children of gastarbeiters who remain in the country to which their parents came to become more assertive against the demands and constraints of its authorities and society.
The problem of dealing with and attempting to integrate the children of gastarbeiters is encountered in the first instance in Russian schools where in some early classes, the number of such children has reached 60 percent, according to participants at a Rosbalt conference in St. Petersburg on this subject (rosbalt.ru/piter/2016/06/16/1523448.html).
Andrey Stolyarov, a writer and cultural specialist, told the group that it must consider that “the first generation of labor migrants as a rule does not cause conflicts in another country. Those who come attempt to survive and to find their place in the existing model of society.” But the second generation is very different, and its members can be a problem.
The majority of the children of immigrants “live in ethnic communities, practically don’t know the local culture and are poorly brought up. They do not have prospects that interest them especially since they find it hard to get good jobs.” As a result, they retreat into their own communities and enclaves which become “’explosive.’”
That danger has been in evidence in European countries for more than a decade, he continues. Now, it is a danger which Russia faces as well.
Valery Golyanich, a psychologist at the St. Petersburg State Institute of Culture, agreed, although he suggested that it might take longer to manifest itself because of the shortage of qualified workers in the Russian economy and because of the fact that many gastarbeiters and their families have returned home as a result of the economic crisis.
To prevent such explosions, the schools must work to create “a poly-ethnic space which will be comfortable for both Russians and for migrants,” a task that is made more difficult by popular attitudes among some teachers and also by the unwillingness of many school administrators to acknowledge that any problems exist.
According to Golyanich, the second generation problem was greater in St. Petersburg five to seven years ago than it is at the present time because so many gastarbeiter families have left. But he said the issue cannot be ignored because in some schools in the northern capital 60 percent of pupils in the early grades are still gastarbeiter children.
He noted that there has also been another change in the schools there over the last decade. Earlier, most of the gastarbeiter children were Azerbaijanis and Armenians; now, they are primarily Uzbeks and Tajiks, who come from rural areas and seldom know Russian well. What schooling they had often degraded rather than improved their knowledge.
Russian parents often seek to move their children to other schools when the number of gastarbeiter children rises too high, Golyanich continued, but that practice has declined because shifting children from one school to another is expensive and parents no longer have the money needed to do so.
Olga Khodakovskaya, an educational specialist at St. Petersburg’s State Institute of Culture, says that gastarbeiter children who do not speak Russian at all represent the biggest problem especially if they come to Russia as teenagers rather than as pre-schoolers. The former learn Russian far less easily.
She said that among the biggest problems in Russia was the failure of schools to involve the parents of gastarbeiter children in the educational process and the failure of teachers to understand and deal with differences in the values of those coming from abroad on such issues as gender roles. Teachers must get over their “ethnic stereotypes,” she argued.
If Russian schools do not meet this challenge, she and the others agreed, then the country will have a second generation immigrant problem and explosions like those in France earlier in this century are all too likely.