Fear rife among Russian middle class when it comes to immigration

There are no easy answers for the immigration question in Russia. Source: Reuters / Vostock-Photo.

There are no easy answers for the immigration question in Russia. Source: Reuters / Vostock-Photo.

Relying on rumours and the blogosphere, a fear psychosis has developed among a large section of society.

Thousands of kilometres away from Moscow, I indulged in political talk with a small group of Russian expats. These transplanted Muscovites were quick to criticise the present regime and I was expecting to hear the same complaints that are fashionable in some circles in the capital.

Much to my surpise though, a thirty-something woman said she mainly dislikes those in power because they allow in fomer Soviet citizens without any restrictions. This wasn’t some poorly educated vodka-guzzling thug that one could encounter in a Moscow suburb. She was a post-graduate from a prestigious university in Voronezh and a globe-trotter with friends in many corners of the world.

 “Are you suggesting that non-Russians shouldn’t live in Russia,” I asked reminding her that she was an expat herself. She fired back saying that she was no racist by any strecth of the imagination but she valued her personal safety above everything else. “I don’t feel safe walking in the streets after dark, since these Caucasians and Central Asians rape women fearlessly,” she said. The implication was that all the rapists in the country were from former Soviet republics.

This person continued with her grievances about immigrants . “They all look alike and since they understand that, they feel they can get away with any crimes!” She went on about how it was impossible to identify them in a police station since they looked too similar to each other.This young woman who lives far away from Russia formed her views based on rumours and what she heard from others. She personally had no experience to bear testimony to such claims.

Another transplanted Muscovite complained that these immigrants were rude and had a major attitude problem. “They live in our country but behave like they own the place,” he said. I asked him if he supported skinheads who attacked immigrants, including those who killed a 9 year-old Tajik girl in St Petersburg a few years ago. He said he didn’t but claimed that the pro-establishment media supported by international human rights groups never reports attacks on Russians by immigrants. “It’s neither racism nor newsworthy when a Russian gets attacked or killed,” he said.

So little faith do a large number of middle class Russians have in the local media that blogs and street-talk have become their biggest source of information about the country.  The xenophobes among the bloggers have taken full advantage of middle class fears and there seems to be an organised campaign to brand all blue-collar immigrants as potential criminals.

During my last trip to Moscow, I was told that the city is teeming with non-Russians and that most of them were from the CIS countries. My naked eye could hardly notice the droves of immigrants. One fact that almost goes unnoticed by a Moscow-centric blogging community is that there has been a lot of immigration from former Soviet republics to the distant corners of the country. Whether that has contributed to increased crime remains to be seen.

Do I think that these Russian expats and Muscovites are racist? The answer is a resounding no. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I faced racism in Russia, I wouldn’t need to work another day in my life. In this blog, I have described on many an occasion the hospitality and kindness I have received in Russia over the years.  But then again, there is almost no fear of white collar expats in Russia. There are occasional mumblings over why a foreign specialist is needed for a job that a Russian can do, but you won’t witness rallies against educated expats in Russia. It’s a different story when it comes to the working class immigrants who come daily to Russia in search of a better livelihood.

There are no easy answers for the immigration question in Russia. At the end of the day, these migrants take up the jobs that well-educated Russians don’t. If Moscow evicted all immigrants, the city would break down and literally turn into a stinking mess. But then what do you tell a person who feels unsafe to walk alone after dark in her own city? 

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