Saturday, October 13, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Central Asian Workers in Moscow Happy But Don’t Want Their Children to Be Like Russians, Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 13 – Nearly nine out of ten Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz gastarbeiters in Moscow say they are happy with their lives, according to new survey of migrants there, and almost half say they would like to become Russian citizens. But at the same time, two-thirds say they do not want their children to become like Russians.

            The “Sreda” Research Service conducted a poll of 400 Central Asian gastarbeiters who have registered with the Federation Migration Service in Moscow, a method of selection that means those Central Asians who are in the Russian capital entirely illegally are not represented (

            Of those surveyed, 38 percent were from Uzbekistan, 24 percent from Tajikistan and 23 percent from Kyrgyzstan.  Ninety percent of them are men and aged between 18 and 34. Three-quarters earn less than 30,000 rubles (950 US dollars) a month but send money home because most of their families have remained there.

            According to the “Sreda” findings, the biggest problem the migrant workers face is loneliness with 76 percent pointing to that problem, and large majorities have a positive opinion about Muscovites although 63 percent say that they are struck by how irreligious the ethnic Russian residents of Moscow are.

            Indeed, the “Sreda” study said, that lack of a commitment to religion means that “in the eyes of the representatives of traditional societies [Russians] are hardly a society at all.”   That may explain the paradoxical situation in which 45 percent say they would like to become Russian citizens, but 82 percent say they do not want their children to become Orthodox, with 64 percent adding that they “do not want their children to become like Russians.
            Tajiks are the most religious, the study found, and among them are the largest number of Sunnis (71 percent) and the fewest (14 percent) who cannot say to which branch of Islam they belong. Among Kyrgyz, these figures are 52 percent and 29 percent; and among Uzbeks, 58 percent and 28 percent.
            More than one in five Tajiks visits a mosque regularly, while only one in 11 Kyrgyz and one in 12 Uzbeks does so, the study reported. But given the number of Central Asians now in Moscow, those percentages mean that they constitute at least 100,000 mosque attendees in an average week.
            Half of the Central Asians in this sample said they could read and write Russian freely, but the people who conducted the survey put the actual figure at 34 percent.  Some 40 percent would like to take Russian language classes, and what is especially striking half of the Central Asians in the Russian capital said they now use the Internet.

            The representatives of the three national cultures vary in other ways as well. The Uzbeks, the study found, are “somewhat more optimistic and at the same time comparatively closed as far as integration is concerned. The Kygyz are somewhat younger, more rarely help their families at home, and somewhat more often complain about problems with the migration services.”
            The Tajiks, on the other hand, are “the most consistent Sunnit Muslims, and on average, they remain in Moscow for a longer time.”
            Roman Lunkin, an Institute of Europe scholar who serves as an expert advisor to the Sreda Research Center, discussed the reaction of Russians to Central Asian gastarbeiters.  One in five Russians on average say they have concerns about them, with that figure rising to 40 percent in St. Petersburg.
            Russians who are religious, he continued, are somewhat more hostile to the Central Asians. And consequently, “Sreda” concluded, that it is possible to speak about “the possible forming of ‘a closed Russian model’” of societal development in the eyes of many Russians at the present time.

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