Sunday, December 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Scholars Find Five ‘Community Clusters’ around Moscow’s Ethnic Cafes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 1 – Moscow’s ethnic cafes have long been recognized as centers of community life for the gastarbeiters in the Russian capital, but now two sociologists have investigated them in detail and found that there are five distinct types of “community clusters” that such cafes support.

            Yevgeny Varshaver of the Higher School of Economics and Anna Rochev of the Institute of Sociology studied 80 cafes, interviewed 200 of their owners and customers, and observed interactions in these cafes for approximately 120 hours. On Friday, they posted their findings online ( and

            They distinguished five different kinds of ethnic café. The first include “Islamic poly-ethnic communities” in which Muslim identity play the key role. Within this group, there is a major divide between those cafes visited by Muslims from the Caucasus and those used by Muslims from other regions and countries.

            The second, Varshaver and Rochev said, are those frequented by people from a particular place, such as Samara or the Pamirs, and in which territorial identities are more important than ethnic or religious.  The third, which they call “corporate,” are cafes near where migrants travel or work.

            The fourth consists of cafes frequented by representatives of Azerbaijani businesses who come together to share information, hire workers and make deals.  And the fifth is the Kyrgyz society, a group that the researchers said is not “a real community” because it is not based on personal ties but rather residential patterns.

             The two scholars present a detailed map of the cafes they studied. They note that the cafes both reflect and help form a community because their regular visitors are people who know one another and know the owners and who thus use the cafes not simply as a source of food but “as a pace for meetings, contacts, and links.”

            “Among the employees” of the cafes, Varshaver and Rochev say, are people who are “visibly” members of a particular minority – that is, “people whose external features set them apart from those of Slavic ethnic origin.  Among the visitors [to the cafes] also not less than half” are members of the corresponding group.”

            In issuing the report, Varshaver stressed that these communities are informally organized without any strict structure. But he said that in each of them there are people who enjoy “great authority,” adding that “interacting with them in the course of the development of migration policy undoubtedly could be useful.”

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