Islom came to Moscow from Bukhara, the Uzbek city famous for its carpets, 10 years ago. He and his wife work as superintendents, and take turns to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in a building in the outskirts of the capital. “It is not too bad. We make 50,000 rubles a month (around €820).”
Their position has the added benefit of a small apartment next to the guardhouse. Her daughter works as a hairdresser. “She has met a good local guy, they will marry soon.” The Russian Dream is all here, as modest as you want, but as dignified as Islom, who dreams of retiring back home.
Putin’s regime has always been in favor of importing labor from the countries of the “Near-Abroad.” Those who want to emigrate from the former USSR countries to work in Russia do not need a visa. In order to get a workbook, it is enough to pass a simple Russian language exam.
In a recent immigration insert, the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta has ironically pointed out that “if Trump and Le Pen were in Russia, they would be leaders of the opposition.” Ildar Gilmutdinov, a Representative of the United Russia Party, for example, states that “the choice of visa-free status is strategic to us, and the idea of avoiding melting pots among different ethnicities is unacceptable.”
These words in Italy would give far-right Lega Nord party leader Matteo Salvini goosebumps. In Russia, however, the role of the anti-immigrant party is played by others. The Communist Representative Valery Rashkin has proposed the introduction of visas for “low-skilled Central Asian citizens who steal jobs from Russians.” Also Alexey Navalny, leader of the “liberal” opposition, made a similar proposal to Putin. Just cheap propaganda for a country where 66 percent of the citizens are “bothered by the presence of foreigners.”
Not even the real danger of Islamic terrorism made the government go back. “We monitor over 5,000 Islamic ‘terrorist’ individuals,” said the Russian police, which claimed they were able to stop 10 attacks in 2016, thanks to intelligence work.
The reality is that Russia has a vital need for low-cost, flexible, liable-to-be-blackmailed, labor-intensive workers who can be deported, if needed. Russian workers, like their “Western” counterparts, are not willing to work in construction, cleaning and maintenance services.
In addition, the country has the Sword of Damocles of demographic decline hanging: The life expectancy of Russians is 70 years, 10 years lower than “advanced” countries, while birthrate continues to stagnate, despite the fact that in recent years, the government has implemented support programs for families willing to have more children. It was not by chance that before the crisis had severely devalued the ruble, a significant influx of intellectual workforce came from Western Europe.
According to statistical data today, there are about 11 million immigrants in Russia (mainly from the Central Asian and Ukrainian republics, but also from the Caucasus and Vietnam) to which should be added a variable quota of 4-6 million illegal immigrants. Chinese immigration is practically absent, it does not exceed 100,000 people. In order to prevent the typical phenomenon of Chinese colonizing migration, the government has issued an ad hoc law in which foreign firms in the commercial sector are obliged to hire the local workforce.
The real problem of immigration in Russia remains acceptance and solidarity. Paradoxically, in recent years several Russian NGOs have assumed this role, despite the government’s suspicion. Last year, the mayor of Moscow appealed to the Russians to participate in the traditional New Year concert in the Red Square. In recent years, the square has been filled by young Asians, arriving from the Moscow suburbs to celebrate with a few coins the arrival of the new year.
The Russian Orthodox Church, unlike the Catholic one, does not support the solidarity efforts. Actually, it often blows on the fire of the great Russian nationalism. Until a few years ago, the neo-fascist and xenophobic right had free hands for incursions and pogroms in the markets against immigrants, but it must be acknowledged that the Russian government has long since changed its attitude and has quashed the phenomenon that threatened to turn the suburbs of Russian cities into small universes of “low-intensity civil wars.”