Wednesday, January 17, 2018

‘Better than the Chinese?' Central Asians Coming to and Reviving Dying Russian Villages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Most gastarbeiters from Central Asia head to major Russian cities; but some who come from agricultural areas in their home countries are moving into Russian villages that would otherwise likely disappear in the near future. Their role in saving these traditional Russian settlements has sparked a sharp debate.

            On the one hand, many of the leaders of these villages are pleased with the new arrivals who work hard, don’t drink, are polite and have proved more prepared to do whatever is necessary to save the villages that are their new homes, a sharp contrast to native Russians whose children are leaving and who themselves often drink to excess rather than work to change things.

            On the other, many Russians in these villages and even more Russians in cities who have read about this trend are outraged not only by the suggestion that Tajiks and Uzbeks may be able to salvage what Russians have not but also by the presence in the most Russian of areas of people they consider to be alien.

            The latest round of this controversy was triggered by an article on the Fergana News portal describing the remarkably happy life of Tajik families from the Gorno-Badakhshan district of their country who have moved to the village of Rozhdestveno in Tver Oblast (

            In that article Mansur Mirovalyev, a Fergana journalist, says that the Tajiks speak their own language, have large families, and settle their own disputes but have impressed officials and residents there with their happy upbeat approach to life, their large number of children, and their commitment to bringing the village back from near death.

            The Tajiks there “aren’t afraid of work in contrast to the native population,” Dmitry Kirdanov, the head of the village administration, says. “They are unaggressive and cultured people, and the main thing is that they don’t drink.”  They have large families and their children now make up half of the pupils in the local school.

            But others are not so pleased. In the words of one native, “better [the Tajiks] than the Chinese” but not much better.”   

            Central Asian migrants are an increasing feature of Russian villages: Only one in 12 Russian residents of these places says that there are now migrants in his village.  But many of the Russians are afraid that as a result, they will end up a minority in their own land and many appear ready to sacrifice the Russian countryside rather than allow Central Asians to save it.

            Today’s Novyye izvestiya surveys the debate about the Central Asians now living and working in Russian villages. It cites both those who see no problem in the arrival of Central Asians and others who say it will lead to the imposition of a new alien “yoke” on Russia (

            But what appears to animate many is less fear about the future of Russian villages than about what this development says about Russians and Central Asians.  If the Central Asians represent “the bright future of the Russian villages,” some ask, then what fate can possibly await Russia, Russians, and their way of life?

            Not surprisingly, in one self-selected poll conducted by one website, only six percent of those who responded said they didn’t have any problem with Central Asians living in Russian villages, but 90 percent declared that in their view such people should be “forcibly sent back” to where they came from (

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