Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Central Asian Workers Who Return Home Both Reinforcing Traditions and Modernizing Their Societies

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – The behavior in Russia of Central Asians who come to work there has attracted widespread attention; their behavior on returning home has not. But because of their experiences, they are changing societies there, reinforcing some patterns because they have the money to do so and undermining others because they have new skills they can apply.

            Hundreds of thousands of Central Asians have gone to work in Russia over the last 30 years. Most return part of the year, and especially now, given the pandemic-induced economic crisis, many are returning for what is likely to be a permanent basis (zen.yandex.ru/media/centralasia/kak-jivut-gastarbaitery-iz-srednei-azii-kogda-vozvrascaiutsia-domoi-60531c8da77936520210c98e).

            Their behavior on returning home divides largely alone urban-rural lines. Those Central Asians from villages are typically the least skilled. When they earn money in Russia, they bring it home to support their families in various traditional ways and often use the cash they have brought back not to work at all until they go back to Russia.

            Those from the cities or returning to the cities of Central Asia, however, behave differently. Typically, they have more education and training to begin with, occupied higher-skilled positions in Russia, and on their return continue in similar jobs, transforming the urban landscape of the region.

            These observations, offered by Zen.Yandex’s Central Asia page, suggest two conclusions. On the one hand, in rural areas, the returning gastarbeiters with their new resources are likely to reinforce traditional patterns of life; but on the other, in urban ones, they are more likely to help transform, even modernize, them.

            The page sums up the situation this way: “In other words, the gastarbeiters do not acquire anything grandiose but simply secure themselves a dignified level of life” either traditional or modern. “They don’t become millionaires, but as Julius Caesar said, ‘it is better to be first in a village in Gaul than last in Rome.” 

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