Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Eurasian Integration Process by Itself Won’t Stop Russian Flight from Central Asia, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – The flight of ethnic Russians from Central Asia will not stop unless Moscow addresses their specific problems as it seeks to promote the economic and political re-integration of the region, given that the generation coming to power there has an increasingly negative view of Russians and Russia.

            That is the judgment of four Russian political analysts to whom Modest Kolerov’s Rex News Agency turned with the question, “Is it necessary to restrain the process of the department of ethnic Russians from the countries of Central Asia?” ( and

            The news agency said that it had decided to ask this question because of what it saw as “the paradox” of increasing talk about the integration of Central Asia into economic and political unions led by Russia, on the one hand, and the intensification of anti-Russian “ethnic nationalism, especially in Kazakhstan, on the other.

            In that republic, the agency said, the government has struck an increasingly anti-Russian line on a variety of questions of importance to ethnic Russians there, and as  a result, “in 2013, the number of ethnic Russians who want to leave Kazakhstan for Russia has increased by a factor of two.”

            Grigory Trofiimchuk, the first vice president of the Moscow Center for Modeling of Strategic Development, said that “the exodus of ethnic Russians from Central Asia is a geopolitical inevitability since no efforts to strengthen the Russian diaspora in the near abroad were undertaken over the course of 20 long years.”

            If those involved in promoting broader integration programs focused on this problem, the situation might be different. But to date, Moscow has not appointed officials in that area who understand that keeping large ethnic Russian communities in these countries is in Russia’s national interest.

            Unless that changes and unless the Russian government puts pressure on the governments of the Central Asian countries to change their approach to the Russians who live among their citizens, then the ethnic Russians will seize upon any opportunity to return to Russia. If that for some reason is blocked, there are real dangers of an explosion ahead.

            Aleksandr Sobyanin, a political scientist at the Russian Association for Trans-Border Cooperation, agreed that Moscow must change its approach, but he called for a very different one than Trofimchuk appears to advocate.

            Sobyanin said he “always opposed the Conception for the Return of Compatriots” or even its discussion because that has the effect of suggestiong that “the Russian state consideres senseless or impossible the construction of a new Great State – the Eurasian Union. I am categorically against such defeatism and am for a Great State.”  
Yury Yuryev, another political scientist, said that it would be a mistake to make too much of the departure of ethnic Russians from Central Asia.  A century ago, “they were useful, but now there is no direct link between Russians and utility,” and everyone involved is behaving as one would expect. Unless that changes, the Russians will continue to leave Central Asia.
And Lev Vershinin, a historian, said that Moscow needs to understand that there is something deeper going on.  Those who are coming to power in Central Asia are people “who do not remember the Soviet past and know about it only from local history textbooks where the role of Russia and Russians in [their] lives is presented negatively and in a single key: Russia is a prison house of peoples and Russia carried out the genocide of the Kazakh people.”
In the textbooks of the region, he said, Russia is invariably described as “’an oppressor’” and Russians as “’colonizers.’”  In the past, there were many Central Asians who did remember what Russia and the Russians did for them, but today, “a generation is coming which knows about Russia from stories about the mistreatment of immigrants in Russia and the bestial actioins of the skinheads.”
Moreover, Vershinin said, the language policies of the governments in the region, which elevate the language of the titular nationality and denigrate all others, is having its affect, increasing the national self-confidence of the Central Asians but not providing much of a reason for optimism among ethnic Russians living there.

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