Monday, January 7, 2019

Central Asian Immigrants Increasingly Avoid Moscow and Form Communities in Other Russian Cities, ‘Novaya Gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 7 – For most of the post-Soviet period, Central Asian gastarbeiters in Russia have sought to come to Moscow where jobs are plentiful and the pay high; but the rising tide of xenophobia in the Russian capital is now causing more Central Asians to try to find jobs in other Russian cities where they also find it easier to maintain their ethnic communities.

            Because of high rents and the survival of the propiska system, Moscow has been able to block the formation of the kind of ethnic neighborhoods and ghettos that exist in other cities around the world. But that combined with the xenophobia of many Muscovites means that other Russian cities look more attractive.

            Not only are rents lower and xenophobia less widely manifested, but the Central Asian gastarbeiters now find it easier to form their own ethnic neighborhoods in or adjoining these cities and to form “completely autonomous communities of migrants” there, Viktoriya Kravtsova and Sergey Medvedev say.

            The two focused on the situation of Uzbeks and Tajiks in Irkutsk but in their article, they suggest the trend they found there is true elsewhere: a tendency of the immigrants to form tight-knit communities living almost completely separately from the surrounding population (

 During a visit to the city and in conversations with Russian and German investigators there, Kravtsova and Medvedev found that “it is possible to live in Irkutsk without a knowledge of Russian. Besides construction work or the market, one can be a waiter in an ethnic café or a beautician” in a salon directed at immigrants.

“Migrants living in Irkutsk have their own infrastructure, entertainment and services,” the two write.  The gastarbeiters thus seldom interact with Russians and do not learn the language.  The journalists had to do most of their interviewing through interpreters because the Uzbeks they wanted to talk to didn’t speak Russian. 

One 19-year-old Uzbek woman said she had lived in Moscow with her brother but moved to Irkutsk because of the freer life there. Another, aged 24, said that in Moscow, “there are only Russians there.”  She said she didn’t make any friends and hated the constant official harassment but in Irkutsk she feels freer and has several not only among Uzbeks but Tajiks as well.

The Novaya gazeta journalists note that “sociologists from the Center for Migration Research of the Higher School of Economics see in this a stable trend: in Russian society are being formed parallel communities, with Russians and migrants existing separately from one another and interacting only by necessity.”

This is happening, the researchers say, because the gastarbeiters overwhelmingly believe that they will return home soon and thus see no reason to acculturate let alone assimilate.  They are also driven to this by bureaucratic harassment and by rising xenophobia, itself the product of media portrayals of immigrants as importers of crime and drugs.

Because they can form self-contained communities more easily in places far from Moscow, these other cities are increasingly the goal of Central Asian migrants; and that is likely to increase over time, Kravtsova and Medvedev suggest. 

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