Thursday, October 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Enclaves Forming in Russia’s Smaller Cities Faster than in Capitals

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – A week ago, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that the Russian authorities must block the formation of ethnic enclaves “especially in major cities.”  But any success they have had in this regard has less to do with their own efforts than with the legacy of Soviet times and the high price of property at the center of those cities.

Indeed, as a Russian journalist reports, thanks to those two factors, ethnic “enclaves” have not formed in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but the decay of Soviet-era arrangements and lower property values in smaller cities has opened the way to their formation in smaller and mid-sized cities (

Anton Krylov notes that Medvedev’s comments about ethnic enclaves and the need to prevent them were one of the few proposals he made that not one is prepared to disagree with.  But at the same time, the journalist said, the Russian prime minister and his government have done little on their own to block the appearance of such enclaves.

Instead, what successes they have had, Krylov says, have their roots in the Soviet past when housing was controlled the state, thus allowing the authorities to put people where they wanted them, and in the explosive price rises for housing in the capitals since 1991, a trend which has blocked most ethnic minorities from buying at least in the center of the largest cities.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, this means that ethnic enclaves have been slow to arise, at least in the center of the cities because newcomers can rarely afford to pay for apartments in those regions or even find them for sale.  But in the smaller cities, the situation is “much more complicated” because prices are lower.

There, members of an incoming ethnic group can buy put apartments in one or another part of town to the point that the original residents will choose to leave.  Their “flight” opens the way to the formation of ethnically homogeneous enclaves of a kind that attract ever more of their co-ethnics to them.

According to Krylov, such ethnic neighborhoods offer few advantages to either those who live in them or those who live next to them.  For those within them, there is the “plus” that people can speak to their neighbors in their own language. But both there are economic difficulties, problems in education, and crime.

Moreover, he says, the appearance of such ethnically-defined neighborhoods will slow if not stop the formation of civil society, especially if the leaders of these communities decide that they have to take the maintenance of law and order into their own hands through the use of armed units.

If and it is the case that Russia must rely on immigrant workers, then it must take steps to prevent the emergence of “various ‘Harlems’” in its major cities, Krylov argues.  But in doing so, the Russian authorities “must not forget that this problem is much more severe in smaller cities” than it is in Moscow – even if the smaller cities do not get the media attention the capital does.

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