Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Migrantophobia Not Equivalent to Xenophobia or Ethnophobia, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 15 – Migrantophobia in Russian society is not the same thing as either xenophobia or ethnophobia and must not be confused with them, according to a Moscow sociologist. Instead, it reflects the reaction of Russians to people who have come to work in Russia but who are not adapting to social norms because they aren’t interested in integration.


            Interviewed by, Igor Kuznetsov, a senior researcher at the Moscow Institute of Sociology, says that migrantophobia is based on the fact that “the behavior of migrants is different from socially accepted norms” and that as a result, “their presence alongside is viewed as cultural occupation” (


            The migrants do not want to assimilate, and local residents don’t want them to either. Instead, Kuznetsov says, the migrants simply want to earn money and then return home, rather than investing energy and time in integration, and the local residents simply “request that [while in Russia] they behave like everyone else.”


            But some migrants come with an additional burden. They have an image of what is appropriate in Russia taken from television or films, and they assume they can act that way even though those outlets may present a distorted picture of Russian society. One consequence of this, Kuznetsov says, is the spread of drunkenness among Muslim immigrants.


            There are no good statistics on immigration in Russia, the sociologist says, but one can describe “the typical migrant: a man under 35 years of age, with general secondary education who comes from Tajiksitan, Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan, [who] has come from a small city where the milieu has not been urbanized and standards are archaic.”


            In the places from which these migrants come, “external control is strong,” and people while they are there “behave correctly.” If that control disappears as it does when they leave these small towns or villages, then the brakes come off, and they may then behave in ways that they wouldn’t even at home.


            Such migrants, in contrast to those who have been in Russia all their lives, are less likely to respond to mistreatment by protests of any kind, Kuznetsov continues. In fact, he points out, Tajiks and Kyrgyz are “very law-abiding” because to obey laws is part of “their traditional standards.” There are exceptions, of course, but that is the pattern.


            Young people who come from the Caucasus, in contrast, are less likely to view law as defining their behavior. Instead, they “like to solve issues themselves.” That is a very different attitude than is found among other immigrants and among Russians as well, and it carries with it “a cultural shock” for longtime residents of Russian cities.


            It is especially so because of the Soviet experience, Kuznetsov suggests. At that time, the idea of “friendship of the peoples” predominated, and “when residents of Tajik villages encountered Russian people and the Russian way of life, they understood that life here was absolutely different” and then knew to adapt.


            Today, he said, there is less certainty on both sides about how people should behave, and diaspora organizations are not playing the role that many Russians have expected them to. There are only two serious diaspora groups, for Tajiks and for Kyrgyz, but few migrant workers have much interest in them, viewing them simply as still more corrupt bodies.


            According to surveys he has conducted, Kuznetsov says, “only 15 percent” of migrant workers in Moscow have even heard that there are diaspora organizations, “and only six percent have contact with them.” In addition, he adds, there is a migrant union, but the scholar says he “very much doubts that it works like a real trade union.”


            His surveys also find that migrants are “more well-disposed and optimistic on all parameters” than the indigenous population. They have fewer demands on the locals, and they prefer not to notice or be noticed. Russians don’t manifest xenophobia or ethnophobia toward them: 70 percent of Russians say they want the migrants to adapt to local customs; only seven percent say they are concerned about their religion, physiognomy or nationality.


            The issue is not to try to recreate Soviet-style “friendship of the peoples,” Kuznetsov says. What is needed is “not friendship but mutual respect,” and that can come “as soon as we understand that migrants are people just like us.”


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