Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: To Combat Ethnic Conflicts, Moscow Needs to Consider Restoring Soviet Propiska System, Duma Deputy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 13 – Even as Russians debate the value of the new system of special camps for illegal immigrants from abroad, a senior Duma deputy has called for consideration of the restoration of the Soviet-era propiska system to control internal migration into Russian cities from the North Caucasus and other non-Russian areas within the Russian Federation.

            Even human rights advocates concede that countries have the right to regulate illegal immigration by detaining and expelling those who are illegally on their territories, but any move to restrict movement of citizens within a country not only violates generally accepted legal principles but would violate the Russian Constitution by restoring a Soviet arrangement.

            What makes such discussions especially disturbing is that they are part of a general pattern in which the Kremlin builds on a principle acceptable under international law to push measures which one Moscow commentator has dubbed “Fascism-lite” in ways that confuse the situation and make it harder for some in Russia and the West to criticize and oppose.

                In an interview published in “Izvestiya” yesterday, Mikhail Starshinov, an All-Russian People’s Front deputy and first deputy chairman of the Duma’s nationality affairs committee, called for the restoration of some form of the Soviet propiska system to control migration within the Russian Federation (http://izvestia.ru/news/555161#ixzz2bjkHlNeM).

            Much work has already been done to improve laws concerning migration, Starshinov pointed out.  Holding employers responsible if they employ illegal migrants, making officials responsible for maintaining ethnic peace, and insisting that the government do more to exercise control over migration have all been introduced by recent legislation, he said.

            Dealing with internal migration is “a more complicated issue” than dealing with immigration from abroad.  “We cannot so easily separate residents of one region from residents of another. But one must always remember that the law is the same for all citizens who are on the territory of the country.”

            “In Sviet times, the processes of internal resolution were regulated administratively. For example, with the help of registration and the law on parasites. And if certain of our compatriots will continue to conduct themselves asthey do now, it is possible that it will be worth thinking about the introduction of contemporary analogues of Soviet practice.”

            Starshinov said that he and his colleagues are quite prepared to work with officials and experts to come up with the best alternatives, adding that everyone involved must recognize that many inter-ethnic problems in the Russian Federation now are the fault of the country’s own officials and peoples.

            Among the most serious shortcomings, he continued, are “the ineffectiveness of state organs in this area and the absence of any ideology especially for the young.” There are serious problems with education and no one has figured out how to cope with the speed of electronic information: Any action or thought can spread more quickly than the authorities can respond.

            But despite those comments and his belief that citizens of Russia should respect one another, he added that “tolerance is not a panacea” and it does not mean that “everything is permitted.” People must respect one another but it is equally important to “insist on one’s own principles and ideas.” Thus, “to everything there is a limit.”

            As it often does on such issues, the Regions.ru news agency surveyed parliamentarians as well as religious leaders and experts about their attitudes.  These groups were divided on the value and even possibility of a new variant of the propiska system, but most queried said it was necessary to do something (regions.ru/news/2472042/ and regions.ru/news/2472005/).

            Meanwhile, on the Forum-MSK.ru portal, Yevgeny Ikhlov warns of the dangerous speed with which the idea of setting up camps for illegal foreign migrants has been expanded among some to include the possible incarceration of other groups, an expansion that he says is far more rapid now than even in Soviet times (forum-msk.org/material/power/10007211.html).

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