Thursday, February 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: A ‘Ghetto for Gastarbeiters’ to Be Built in Ekaterinburg

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – The leadership of Sverdlovsk Oblast has announced its intention to build “a separate little city” for immigrant workers because their numbers are rising to build the facilities needed for Ekaterinburg’s pursuit of international sport competitions like Expo-2020 and the soccer world championship.

            Valery Slovetsky, in an article on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal yesterday, reported that local residents have already christened this planned development as “the ghetto” for gastarbeiters. It will be located in the city’s Koltsovo microrayon not far from the international airport and will be thrown up as quickly as possible (

            In this special district, Slovetsky continues, immigrants will be examined for health problems and drug up and tested with regard to their Russian language knowledge. And they will have their own special educational institutions, where their integration with Russian society will be promoted.

            The idea of such a ghetto in Sverdlovsk oblast was first proposed “several years ago,” the “Svobodnaya pressa” journalist says, but it did not go very far between there was a conflict over who would control it between the oblast’s migration center and the owner of the land involved, the interior ministry branch for the oblast.

            Moreover, at that time, many residents “expressed concerns that such a little city could be converted into a place which would live by its own laws and become a center of crime.” Now, however, both residents and officials appear to have changed their minds, given the rapid influx of immigrant workers there.

            According to official data, there were 12 percent more immigrants in Sverdlovsk during 2012 than there had been in 2011, and they committed “11,000 infractions of immigration law.”  Most were from Tajikistan, but others came from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, China, and Azerbaijan.

            Aleksandr Kuzmin, a senior scholar at the Institute of Economics of the Urals branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that the influx of immigrant workers shows no sign of slowing and that “40 years from now, immigrants may form a third of the population” of the Middle Urals region.

            There appears to be a great deal of interest in other parts of the Russian Federation to do just what Sverdlovsk oblast now plans, even though President Vladimir Putin last fall said that he opposed the appearance of  ethnic “enclaves” in major Russian cities and viewed them as an obstacle rather than a means to the integration of non-Russians.

             In July 2012, Sergey Litvinenko, the procurator of St. Petersburg, said he supported creating such a place in his oblast, and in October, Veniamin Rodnyansky, a member of the Social Chamber, said it was now time to “think about the possibility of ‘localizing’ labor migrants” in this way.

            Public pressure to “do something” about migrants does appear to be growing in Russia. Last week, Stepan Lvov, the head of social-political research at VTsIOM, a polling agency with close ties to the authorities, said that in Moscow, the percentage of gastarbeiters in the population “had risen to 20 percent,” a figure twice what other experts have called “a critical level.”

            Valery Khomyakov, director of the Moscow Agency for Applied and Regional Policy, added that this influx was putting “a colossal burden” on city services, including hospitals and schools, which Russians were paying for and which the immigrants, who often do not pay taxes, were not.  In addition, he said, “the level of criminality is growing.”

            He suggested that the appearance of ethnic enclaves was almost universal in developed countries, and he added that both government officials and business leaders in their pursuit of cheap labor would continue to add to the number of immigrants and support building “ghettos” because that would be “profitable” and appear to be a solution to all problems.

            “Alas,” Khomyakov continued, Russia’s borders haven’t been closed, “ghettos will begin to be created one after another,” and tensions between their residents and the local population are only likely to rise.  But “for the authorities, the current situation is profitable and they are not thinking about the consequences.”

            This new willingness among Russians and Russian officials to consider the construction of “ghettos,”  of course, is part of broader efforts to clamp down on immigrants, including the use of Cossacks and civilian patrols to monitor members of those groups and ever broadening appeals for introducing a visa regime for Central Asians and South Caucasians (, and

                And the absence so far of expressions of international outrage against such moves, just like the failure of Western countries to condemn the introduction of the term “persons of Caucasus nationality” in the 1990s, is likely both to convince Russians that taking such steps is acceptable and thereby increase rather than reduce the possibility of new tragedies ahead.

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