Staunton, January 23 – Approximately 1,000 Russian villages are dying out each year, experts say. That is bad enough for those who believe that with their end so too ends an important part of Russian cultural life. But still worse from their point of view, the villages which do survive are increasingly populated by Central Asian workers and their families.
And their arrival, Aleksey Toporov says, is changing the cultural landscape in dramatic ways. Mosques are going up even as Orthodox churches are closing. Schools are dominated by Central Asian children. And worst of all, the Central Asians are often backed by local Russian officials (stockinfocus.ru/2018/01/23/nuzhny-li-nam-aziatskie-kishlaki-vmesto-russkix-dereven).
Rais Suleymanov, a specialist on Islam at the Institute of National Strategy who is viewed by many Muslims as an opponent, says that what is occurring in many rural regions of the Russian Federation is “a kind of process of colonization” in which “the local population is beginning to be replaced by those culturally different people coming from the outside.”
On the one hand, he says, “the government is interested in ensuring that the rural population continues to exist.” But on the other, it is not supporting the kind of infrastructure which will keep villagers from deciding they have no choice but to flee to the cities. That forms “a vacuum” and people from the outside are filling it.
“In Central Russia, the Volga region and the Urals,” these outsiders are “migrants from Central Asia. In the Far East, the [replacement] population is coming from China.” As a result, in two decades of so, “we may encounter a situation when the villages which historically were Russian become Tajik and Uzbek.”
Suleymanov says he wants “to stress that the migrants as a rule try to come on a legal basis. They purchase homes from the villagers who are moving to the cities. They settle with their families, marry and have children, and invite their relatives to join them.” But over time, as the ethnic balance in the villages change so too do the attitudes of the new arrivals.
They may come with the intention of integrating, but later, the difference in culture may lead to conflicts between those who have come and those who still remain.” And in those conflicts, not only do officials typically take the side of the new arrivals but those who lose these fights, generally the indigenous Russians, then choose to leave even more rapidly.
Officials insist on describing these conflicts as being simply day to day clashes, Suleymanov says; but in fact, “in practice” they “always have some kind of ethnic or religious component.” And they will continue to arise, driving ever more Russians out and leaving the countryside ever less Russian, all the more because of the high birthrate of the Central Asians.
Over the last year, Yevgeny Cherninn, a demographer at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, say that official figures suggest the number of Central Asians living in previously Russian villages went up from 120,000 to 145,000 but that the real figures and the increase are much larger than those.
Those numbers are only a small fraction of the approximately 14 million gastarbeiters who entered Russia last year, but the numbers are enormous when one is talking about declining villages which have in many cases fewer than 100 residents each.
It is time, Toporov says, for Russians to start thinking “about their own and prevent the emergence of ethnic and religious “enclaves” which may become breeding grounds for “extremists of all kinds as Aleksey Grishin of the Religion and Society Center has pointed out many times.
Russians may be pleased that they have lived “shoulder to shoulder” with Muslims for many years, Toporov concludes, but they are not going to like it if over villagers there arise not restored churches with gold-plated crosses but instead “crescent moons and “instead of the sound of bells, the calls of the muezzins.”