Are Asians discriminated against in Russia?


The influx of migrants to Russia has increased rapidly. International migration has become a factor in everyday life in Russia. However, ethnic migration is perceived by the Russian population as a threat to social security. The demand for a restrictive and repressive migration policy is growing.

The Uzbek Mukhamed-Said works at a vegetable stand in a market in Moscow. (& copy AP)


Russia is increasingly being portrayed as a new country of immigration. Indeed, at the time of the Soviet Union, it had no significant experience of international migration within its current borders, which was associated with a well-controlled influx of foreign students and workers, mainly from the Soviet brother states. Under the post-Soviet conditions, the situation has changed fundamentally - international migration has become a factor in everyday life in Russia. In terms of the number of foreign-born residents, Russia ranks second after the USA, the capital Moscow ranks third in Europe after London and Paris and tenth worldwide. This change appears to be a profound social shock when you consider that the majority of Russian statistical immigrants never made the decision to immigrate, but have become immigrants through the disintegration of their country. Nowadays, most of the migrants flowing into Russia come from the former Soviet states. The drama lies not only in the massive resettlement of people, which was already common in Soviet times, but also in the disintegration of former institutions, relationships and ideas. The drawing of new borders, the changing of the conception of the state as "one country - one people" and the creation of new independent states demanded not only a practical but also a symbolic separation from the post-Soviet states and have eliminated the problems associated with migration from the socio-economic to the ethnopolitical sphere. Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, migration remains the most politicized topic of discussion and the population perceives migration processes almost exclusively through the prism of inter-ethnic relations. The issue is also exacerbated by the opposing demographic situation: to the disadvantage of the Russians and to the benefit of the people of the autonomous republics of Russia and the new states of Central Asia and the South Caucasus. The "demographic pressure" of China is also perceived as dramatic. It is becoming more and more complicated to assess the actual volume and importance of immigration to Russia: since 2008, migration statistics no longer take into account ethnicity, but only record nationality.

Russia's migration bonus

Migration to Russia has a much longer history than the new Russian statehood. Since the mid-1970s, population migration within the former Soviet Union has mainly been directed towards Russia. During this period, Russia's migration bonus was around 9 million people, according to migration statistics. Taking into account the inadequacies of migration statistics, most experts agree that the volume of migration in the post-Soviet years was 2-3 times greater than officially stated. In fact, the population grew by 14-16 million. As a result of the return flow of migrants to Russia in the first half of the 1990s, Kazakhstan lost 12% of its population, Kyrgyzstan 10%, Tajikistan 9%, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan 5% each. Among the countries of the South Caucasus, Armenia with 10% and Georgia with 8% recorded the largest losses. Azerbaijan lost 7% of its population. Belarus was the only country whose population grew by 0.2% as a result of migration from Russia. The central motives that moved people to relocate have changed significantly. Until the second half of the 1980s, settlement of Siberia and the Far East, academic migration and migration from the villages and small towns to the centers were among the main reasons for migration. More and more Russians were returning to their historic homeland from the republics where the war had landed them and where they had worked on large industrial buildings. After their employment contracts expired, they relocated from the north to the south. The army had a major influence on migration, as a result of which almost a third of all resettlers migrated. The brain drain from regional and national centers into the large administrative centers of the Soviet Union, which were usually located in Russia, also played a role. The borders between the republics and regions did not play a fundamental role, but only had a formal meaning in everyday life. Emphasis on ethnic differences was only allowed in the cultural sphere. Although Soviet moral rules were not a solution to ethnic conflicts, they could nonetheless mask them and promote an atmosphere of friendship among the people. During the years of perestroika, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of the post-Soviet states, migration took on a tense character. The migrants now became refugees from areas of armed conflict or resettlers due to precarious living conditions.

Creation of ethnic national states and ethnically motivated migration

Although the population influx into Russia on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union increasingly acquired an ethnic component, overall migration was not ethnically motivated. An exception were the refugees from the zones of ethnic conflict (Karabakh, Baku, Sumgait, Fergana). It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that ethnically motivated migration became a dominant phenomenon, which mainly coincided with the emigration of Russians. For the ethnic Russians in the non-Russian Soviet republics, the change in status from the dominant social group to a social minority was unexpected. The transformation of the post-Soviet republics into nation states was accompanied by a growing nationalism, which resulted in the displacement of Russians from administrative positions and jobs. Population surveys conducted between 1993 and 1995 showed that the view that Russia and the Russians were progressive in the development of other peoples of the former Soviet Union was largely held by the Russians themselves, while other peoples took a diametrically opposed view . The marginalization of the Russian language turned out to be a negative development for the Russians. The overwhelming majority of Russians had poor command of the national languages. The worst results came from Kazakhstan (0.9%), where the Russian and Russian-speaking population made up over half of the population, the best results from Latvia (38%) and Armenia (34%). In addition to language difficulties, there were problems with obtaining citizenship and other forms of legal discrimination based on ethnic characteristics. In the conditions of the economic crisis, uncertainty about the future and fear of losing contact with relatives and friends in Russia, the ethnic factor proved to be a powerful driving force that led to the emigration of millions of Russians. But the outbreak of nationalism and ethnic conflicts also contributed to the emigration of groups to Russia who lived outside the territories of their "titular nation". In the 2000s, the proportion of ethnically motivated migration dropped drastically.