Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimea-Induced Brain Drain Will Hurt Russia More than Sanctions, Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – The domestic consequences of Moscow’s Crimean policy combined with Russia’s weakening economic prospects will drive ever more young Russians to seek work and possibly permanent residence abroad, an “exodus” that will hurt the country far more than any of the sanctions announced so far, according to Yevgeny Gontmakher.

            In today’s “Moskovsky komsomolets,” the economist and commentator points out that the economies of Europe not to mention of China are recovering while Russia likely faces a recession, especially given the falling price for oil and declining exports of gas (mk.ru/specprojects/free-theme/article/2014/04/07/1010173-ishod-predskazuem.html).

                As a result, new jobs are opening up in Europe at precisely the time they are disappearing in Russia, Gontmakher says, and this pattern has serious consequences for Russia because young and highly educated Russians are the most likely to be willing to take advantage of opportunities elsewhere.

Moreover, such Russians will have particular opportunities in Europe because of the aging of the population and depopulation there, something that will lead to “the appearance of new opportunities for migrants to Europe from less developed countries, including Russia.”

According to a Levada Center poll taken in 2013, 22 percent of Russians have thought about moving abroad either for a long period of time or forever.  With regard to young people, that figure is much higher.  Among actual as opposed to potential emigrants, “approximately 46 percent of those leaving Russia consist of people between the ages of 20 and 35.”

                These are the people who could make the greatest contribution to Russia’s transformation into a contemporary state and society and even put it “among the leaders of the civilized world,” Gontmakher continues.

            “Current events connected with Ukraine of course are changing this picture,” he suggests. The outburst of “patriotism and pride in Russia” undoubtedly will reduce the number of those who want to go abroad.  “But for how long?  As the Russian proverb has it, ‘a fish seeks where it is deeper, and a man where it is better.”

            “If the situation with regard to employment and incomes become worse, if a period of ideological cleansing will come, then far from everyone will be satisfied by words about the greatness of the country,” Gontmakher continues.

            Those Moscow propagandists who insist that Russian civilization “has always put the spiritual over the material,” he says, should consider how those in the Russian Federation who are living in poverty or without prospects actually feel day after day, even if they participate in patriotic explosions. If the propagandists believe their own words, they should give up their “astronomical” salaries and benefits.

            The propagandists may be right that fewer will want to leave even under conditions of economic hardship given the new patriotism, Gontmakher says.  But what if even 10 percent of young people still do? “Is that a lot or a little?”
            These are still going to be the younger people with the greatest prospects for making a contribution to the future of Russia’s scientific and business communities.  “Without them,” Russia will suffer in its “intellectual and economic development.” And the West, “judging by everything, is ready to take them in.”

            Moscow should take note of the fact that the West may be introducing restrictions on visas for some members of the elite but it is simplifying visa procedures for ordinary Russians. The West’s calculation is obvious: “Let them see how daily life is organized there” and they will go home and change it in their own country.

            Gontmakher recalls that “after the end of the Great Fatherland War, Stalin launched a campaign against ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ and ‘idolators of everything foreign’ only because millions of Soviet soldiers had seen how even half-destroyed Europe was living.” Is the Kremlin about to do the same now?

            The economist expresses his conviction that “very soon, if nothing in Russia changes,” far more young Russians will be leaving the country, a conclusion that anyone who looks at messages on social networks will come to.

            And young Russians have another option besides the West: China.  Many Russians are already working there, receiving high pay and having opportunities for advancement that they don’t have at home.  That will hit the Russian Far East especially hard because while China is booming, that Russian region is “stagnating.”

            Economic sanctions of the kind the West has introduced so far in response to Crimea aren’t likely to achieve their goals, but even in the Kremlin, it is understood that if the West attracts to it young and capable Russian specialists, that will have an enormous and negative impact on the country.

            According to Gontmakher, “it will be possible to oppose this only if our country, while preserving its uniqueness, begins to return to the European path of development,” the path of development that Vladimir Putin once supported but now appears to oppose. The costs of that opposition, if the best and the brightest young Russians leave, will be very high indeed.

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