Migration matters https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/21863/all cached version 17/01/2019 11:16:56 en Kyrgyzstan survives on money made by migrant workers, but it doesn’t know how to spend it https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kyrgyzstan-survives-on-money-made-by-migrant-workers-but-it-doesn-t-know-how-to-spend-it <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>No country in the world is as dependent on remittances as Kyrgyzstan. But this money is often used by families to survive, and allows the state to avoid its obligations to its citizens.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_main-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_main-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: Daria Udalova. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/08/23/strana-na-izhdivenii-kyrgyzstan-vyzhivaet-na-dengi-migrantov-no-ne-umeet-ih-tratit/">originally published</a> on Kloop, a Kyrgyz investigative website. We translate it here with their permission.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Altynai, 24, doesn’t know what she will do if her parents stop sending money from Russia. She’ll be in a hopeless situation without those 20,000 soms (£220) a month — this money is her only way of surviving. For the past three years, Altynai (name changed) has been living with her grandmother, whose pension isn’t enough to buy anything.</p><p dir="ltr">She says that residents of her village in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan frequently leave to work abroad. There’s never enough jobs here in Leylek district, which is bordered by Tajikistan on three sides. There are no new enterprises being opened. Most people work for low wages in state institutions.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, over the past decade, more and more people have been leaving Kyrgyzstan to work abroad. In Russia alone, there are more than <a href="https://mvd.ru/Deljatelnost/statistics/migracionnaya">800,000 Kyrgyz citizens on the migration register</a>. Most of them come to work. In 2017, they made money transfers to Kyrgyzstan totalling $2.5 billion — which was more than the <a href="http://www.minfin.kg/ru/novosti/godovoy-otchet-ob-ispolnenii-byudzheta/otchet-ob-ispolnenii-gosbyudzheta-kr-za-2017-god-.html">total state annual expenditure</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe id="datawrapper-chart-dIGz1" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/dIGz1/2/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" height="360"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["dIGz1"]={},window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].embedDeltas={"100":360,"200":360,"300":360,"400":360,"500":360,"700":360,"800":360,"900":360,"1000":360},window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-dIGz1"),window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe.style.height=window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in a.data["datawrapper-height"])if("dIGz1"==b)window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});</script></p><p dir="ltr">This is the second year in a row that Kyrgyzstan ranks first in the world in terms of percentage of remittances to GDP, overtaking Tajikistan and Tonga.</p><p dir="ltr">Batken region, where Altynai and her grandmother live, is the poorest in the country. Here, forty percent of the population live below the poverty line, with no more than 2,600 soms (£28) per month. Without payments from abroad, the percentage of people living below the poverty line would reach a staggering 60%.</p><p dir="ltr">Using data provided by the <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ALRYPi_njFBCCQXN41VOolXWajbZjMX7fRv4NCMp4bU/edit#gid=993226123">National Statistics Commission</a>, Kloop rated the most vulnerable regions in Kyrgyzstan — the poorer a region is, the more it becomes dependent on remittances from abroad. This concerns, first and foremost, the Batken, Jalalabad and Osh regions.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe id="datawrapper-chart-v3wJz" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/v3wJz/3/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" height="322"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["v3wJz"]={},window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].embedDeltas={"100":322,"200":322,"300":322,"400":322,"500":322,"700":322,"800":322,"900":322,"1000":322},window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-v3wJz"),window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe.style.height=window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in a.data["datawrapper-height"])if("v3wJz"==b)window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});</script> </p><p dir="ltr">According to Kyrgyzstan’s National Bank, remittances “help the state to ease tension in society”, lowering the unemployment rate and the poverty level. Emil Nasritdinov, an expert on migration, believes that this allows the state to avoid its responsibilities. “Migration simply helps people to survive, not to die from hunger. This is all that the government needs — it shirks the responsibility [to take care of] the population and transfers it to migrants.”</p><h2>Basic goods</h2><p dir="ltr">Remittances definitely help to save poor Kyrgyzstanis from hunger, but nothing more, as most of this money are spent on basic necessities. “[We buy] food, clothes. I have a sister, she’s a student in Bishkek, she also receives money from abroad,” Altynai says. “It’s impossible to save money. Sometimes I manage to save 1,000-2,000 soms [£11-22], but the money just goes.”</p><p dir="ltr">In 2015, the National Bank examined data from a survey <a href="http://www.nbkr.kg/DOC/20012016/000000000039978.pdf">of 2,800 families in Kyrgyzstan</a> and concluded that three quarters of remittance recipients spend this money on consumer goods — food, clothes, household items. This money more often goes on weddings than education or health care.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Altynai, many families in Leylek not only live on the money of migrants, but also take loans, which they then use remittance payments to pay off. “Every family has two or three micro-loans. People usually take loans for weddings. Some take loans for home improvements, sometimes to buy cars [...] Even when people leave, they take a loan to buy their ticket, buy it and then their relatives pay it off.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_01.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_01.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Remittances are often used to save families in Kyrgyzstan from hunger. Illustration: Daria Udalova. </span></span></span>According to <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1dYLHwO8iBWEXs75hxtVVArinxwaIKNKeOVC3HnzYw4A/edit#gid=620625839">calculations</a> by Kloop, every tenth wedding in Kyrgyzstan is paid for with labour remittances. “Several experts believe that weddings are a waste of money, because everything that migrants earnt with hard work is just spent on a single day,” says Emil Nasritdinov. “There are analysts who instead consider weddings an investment in social capital, which can, with time, bring some kind of dividends. But I tend towards the first position.”</p><p dir="ltr">Analysts with the National Bank believe that spending labour remittances on consumer goods “isn’t a bad thing”. For them, buying consumer goods stimulates the economy, helping local producers sell more goods. Of course, money from abroad is used to buy not only Kyrgyz-made goods, but also imported ones.</p><h2>Dead end</h2><p dir="ltr">For Kyrgyzstan to experience significant economic growth, it needs investments. Labour remittances could be used to invest in business, banking or securities. But according to a study by the National Bank, only 0.3% of the population do this.</p><p dir="ltr">Meder, from Batken region, is one of these enterprising people. For five years now, Meder, together with his partners, has been selling construction materials in the town of Isfana. He makes more money now than he did in Russia, where he worked for three years as a builder and loader — often for days at a time, and without holidays.</p><p dir="ltr">“I went to Moscow because I was in a dead-end situation, there was no work here [...] I had [a loan] at that moment. My mother was seriously ill, and my brother is an invalid. I had to go,” Meder recalls.</p><p dir="ltr">While he was Russia, Meder dreamed of setting up his own business (“so I wouldn’t have to be a migrant worker”), which is why his parents began saving the money he sent them. It was thanks to these savings that Meder managed to set up his own business.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyrgyz state is yet to start programmes to support labour migrants and attract their money for investment in business. Emil Nasritdinov confirms this: “The level of corruption is very high. I don’t see any large-scale investment in developing small or medium-sized businesses by migrants.”</p><p dir="ltr">The National Bank believes that commercial banks could attract migrants into the financial sector by creating deposit accounts with special conditions, conducting consultations on financial literacy or giving business loans to returning migrants. But the banks themselves <a href="https://www.adb.org/publications/financial-inclusion-regulation-literacy-education-kyrgyz-republic">are not particularly interested</a> in this, preferring to earn money on loans to large businesses, commissions on money transfers and serving clients.</p><p dir="ltr">The National Bank sees its role as “guaranteeing macroeconomic stability” and “supporting stable prices”. Together with the government, the Bank tries to teach Kyrgyz citizens how to use their money more effectively.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_02-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_02-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Remittances help reduce poverty levels — and the state avoid its responsibilities. Illustration: Daria Udalova. </span></span></span>As he continues to develop his business, Meder sees how more and more of his countrymen are leaving to work abroad. “Many people stay abroad because the situation here doesn’t improve.”</p><h2>What future?</h2><p dir="ltr">No country in the world is as dependent on labour remittances as Kyrgyzstan. If 10 years ago, remittances made up 20% of the country’s GDP, then today they’re nearly 40%.</p><p dir="ltr">This dependence is dangerous for Kyrgyzstan’s economy, as shown by the Russian crisis of 2014-2015, when payments dropped and the number of people living in poverty rose by 1.5%.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe id="datawrapper-chart-aOyAj" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/aOyAj/2/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" height="400"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["aOyAj"]={},window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].embedDeltas={"100":570,"200":475,"300":425,"400":400,"500":400,"700":375,"800":375,"900":375,"1000":375},window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-aOyAj"),window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe.style.height=window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in a.data["datawrapper-height"])if("aOyAj"==b)window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});</script></p><p dir="ltr">“The future doesn’t good for Batken,” says Nasritdinov. “Another crisis in Russia will make the situation even worse. [...] It’s very unstable and unreliable, a crisis can hit at any moment.” He thinks that the latest <a href="https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0410">US sanctions against Russia</a> and <a href="http://kremlin.ru/acts/news/57883">tougher laws on registration for migrants in Russia</a> could have an impact on money transfers.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyrgyz authorities are planning to solve this problem in their own way&nbsp;— in the draft National Strategy on Stable Development for 2040, they’re planning on expanding the number of locations that people travel to for work. This is why the state plans to help people leave to work abroad and raise their ability to compete abroad. It seems that Kyrgyzstan will continue to survive on the hard-earned money of migrants for a long time to come.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was prepared as part of the Data Fellowship programme of Internews Media-K Project, which is funded by USAID in Kyrgyzstan and supported by the World Bank, IDEM Institute and the School of Data - Kyrgyzstan.</em></p><p><em>Illustrations by Daria Udalova.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/paolo-sorbello/ayka-film-migrant-screen">A new tale of migrant struggles in Moscow puts poverty, motherhood and hope on screen</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine">Listening to Russia’s female migrants</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-rocheva/keeping-welfare-russian">Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/how-social-media-users-in-kyrgyzstan-are-turned-into-extremists">How social media users in Kyrgyzstan are turned into “extremists”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Kapushenko Savia Hasanova Migration matters Kyrgyzstan Mon, 12 Nov 2018 11:36:12 +0000 Savia Hasanova and Anna Kapushenko 120501 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A new tale of migrant struggles in Moscow puts poverty, motherhood and hope on screen https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/paolo-sorbello/ayka-film-migrant-screen <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This Russian-Kazakh film explores how people who migrate to Russia are often subject to forces far greater than themselves.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 17.01.38.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 17.01.38.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ayka. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>The <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oqsXdJnkKA">opening scene</a> of Sergey Dvortsevoy’s film <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8305116/">Ayka</a> sets the scene for a tough, realistic tale. A flickering image of newborn babies awakens Ayka, a Kyrgyz woman, from her hospital bed in Moscow. As she goes to the restroom to get changed, her plan is clear: abandon the baby she just gave birth to. Her dreams of success, of emancipation from an unwelcoming world, ride roughshod over her own health and her newborn child. The warmth of motherhood transitions to the agony and frost that make up Moscow’s winter season as the viewer runs and stumbles with Ayka, who picks up some icicles from the street to numb the pain in her abdomen as she gets to work in a dodgy chicken packing shop.</p><p dir="ltr">This, then, is the life of an undocumented migrant in Moscow, one whose registration card has expired and is thus at the mercy of both rogue bosses and violent police officers. <a href="https://iq.hse.ru/news/185646001.html">Studies</a> show that between 8 and 10 million foreign workers live in Russia, most of them hailing from Central Asia. While specific sectors attract certain types of migrants, men and women from the post-Soviet south interchangeably take up jobs in cleaning, hospitality and other services. <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2017/03/a-glimpse-into-moscows-little-kyrgyzstan/">Increasingly stringent residence rules</a> have made it easier for foreign workers in Russia to become illegal. And the recent economic crunch in Russia <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/strangers-in-village">has not halted</a> the arrival of labourers from Central Asia. Money transfers from migrant labourers in Russia sustain the economies of the poorest Central Asian countries; <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/29/remittances-from-abroad-are-major-economic-assets-for-some-developing-countries/">Kyrgyzstan</a> remains one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world.</p><p dir="ltr">Playing out this premise, <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8305116/">Ayka</a> depicts real-life repercussions of this migration wave. Migration-related hardships – scarce salaries, irregular jobs, harsh border regulation – pit mothers against their own children in what Dvortsevoy describes as an “anti-life” scenario. In 2010, after reading that hundreds of children were being abandoned in maternity wards in Moscow, Dvortsevoy decided to tell the story of a migrant from Kyrgyzstan who feels she has to pick between taking care of her baby and pursuing a career. Kazakh actress Samal Yeslyamova, who plays Ayka, won the highest prize for <a href="https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/festival/films/ayka">best female role at this year’s Cannes Festival</a> – the first from the former Soviet Union to win the award. Speaking to Open Democracy on the sidelines of this autumn’s <a href="https://365info.kz/2018/08/almatintsy-pervymi-uvidyat-polnuyu-versiyu-filma-ajka/">Almaty Film Festival</a> premiere, Yeslyamova described Ayka as constantly struggling for emancipation. “She’s very ambitious and has a very strong character. She walks away from her own child because she wants to be independent. She tells her sister that she doesn’t want to go back to Kyrgyzstan because she doesn’t want that kind of life,” Yeslyamova says, hinting that this attitude is not uncommon among migrant workers.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Studies&nbsp;show that between 8 and 10 million foreign workers live in Russia, most of them hailing from Central Asia</p><p dir="ltr">Back at her occasional job, the pool of blood from the butchered chickens is soon accompanied by the drippings of blood from Ayka’s womb. These crude parallels keep viewers uncomfortable throughout the length of the movie. The thumping of closing doors and stomping of feet and punches are the most vivid part of the soundtrack, together with the perpetual melody of her phone’s ringtone, which she leaves unanswered for long stretches because she knows that to pick up would only bring more trouble.</p><p dir="ltr">The red of the blood contrasts the white of the ubiquitous snow and the milk that soon starts to drip from Ayka’s breasts, keeping her in constant pain. Her squalid conditions leave her life hanging from a thread, until she is finally helped by a fellow Kyrgyz migrant, a cleaner at a dog shelter. She finally eats and drinks some warm tea. Turning on the radio, the notes of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P52H7f0U0GA">“Cry, Baby!”</a> by comedic pop-star Artur Pirozhkov finally break her grimace of pain into a relieved smile. For Ayka, the first, brief moment of happiness arrives an hour into the movie.</p><p dir="ltr">Yeslyamova says she essentially broke character during this scene, but that doing so brought her performance closer to reality. “Even though she was confined to a small room, she could finally have a moment of happiness because she had found some work to do. When the song came on, I found it funny and I really started to laugh and dance.” </p><p dir="ltr">The contrast between the abandonment of a child and the meticulous care for the dogs’ health starkly makes the point that Ayka and her son’s lives are, quite literally, worse than that of an animal. As Dvortsevoy <a href="https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/festival/actualites/articles/ayka-a-moral-dilemma-in-an-impoverished-society">said</a> in Cannes in May, the unnatural act of leaving a child behind is “what happens when relationships between people and their environment break down to the point that the individuals themselves become morally damaged.” This premonition of inhumanity and moral degradation runs throughout the film. Ayka knows that her precarious life is in danger due to a debt with some Kyrgyz mobsters, who pursue her through wintry Moscow and back home in Kyrgyzstan’s Chuy Valley alike. Violence and rape caused her pregnancy, and she is consciously leaving her unnamed child to a life of further strain. </p><p dir="ltr">Ayka will not show it until the final scene, but she is crushed by having to choose between raising a child and pursuing her dreams of escaping poverty through business (she sleeps with a textbook on how to start a business besides her rugged pillow). The parallel narratives of financial and personal ruin are brought together in the closing scenes, as Ayka carries her five-days-old baby out of the hospital towards the mobsters, who will accept the infant in lieu of cash to pardon her debt. In a last escapade, Ayka makes a sharp turn into a building hallway, letting her tears flow as she breastfeeds her son. The final cut to black leaves the viewer suspended in the sourness of the preceding 90 minutes.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Yeslyamova explains that the film’s intimacy and its succession of harsh contrasts are supposed to show the power of nature over free will</p><p dir="ltr">The full sensorial participation in Ayka’s life is an uncomfortable as it is vivid. Yeslyamova explains that the film’s intimacy and its succession of harsh contrasts are supposed to show the power of nature over free will. “We always tried to portray Ayka’s dream of success as her driving purpose. But the idea of the movie is that nature is stronger than your dreams, your efforts, your plans. You cannot resist nature. This is also why we waited for a harsh snowfall to shoot. Even the weather rebelled against the choice of a mother who abandons her child. With the fading of the snowstorm we wanted to show that Ayka was also changing.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ayka’s unflinching depiction of migrant life in Russia is a fresh example of Dvortsevoy’s attempts to show Central Asians’ true experiences with poverty, bureaucracy and racism. The style may be different, but the director draws on his achievements with 2009’s <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436854/">Tulpan</a>, a love story narrated through the lens of life in the steppe – also presented at Cannes, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize. Perhaps the most consistent note in the film is its critique of the myth of personal success. Ayka is the story of those who struggle in vain in the rat race towards personal wealth. At one point Ayka attends a talk by a motivational speaker, whose scripted liberal refrains echo the bluster of pyramid schemes. Dvortsevoy and Yeslyamova show us a world in which the consequences of these failed platitudes extend even to the primal bonds of motherhood. </p><p dir="ltr">Prior to the Almaty screening, the Shymkent-born director said he hoped his film touched the souls of the viewers. He got his wish: the Kazakh upper-middle-class audience was taken back to harder times, if only for 90 minutes.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine">Listening to Russia’s female migrants</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon-john-heathershaw/can-we-explain-radicalisation-among-central-asia-s-migrants">How can we explain radicalisation among Central Asia’s migrants?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia">A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/womens-rights-in-the-north-caucasus">Women’s rights in Russia&#039;s North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” murders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Paolo Sorbello Migration matters Russia Tue, 06 Nov 2018 16:07:03 +0000 Paolo Sorbello 120411 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Poland vs. Azamat Baiduyev: how an EU member state deported a Chechen refugee back to face the Kadyrov regime https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marcin-wyrwal-malgorzata-zmudka/poland-azamat-baiduyev-deportation-kadyrov <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Azamat Baiduyev is the latest person to be deported from Poland on the basis of “secret materials”.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-32199834.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Akhmad Kadyrov's move to support Russian forces paved the way for a new "hard" peace in Chechnya. (c) Bai Xueqi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was originally published in Polish on <a href="https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/tylko-w-onecie/azamat-bajdujew-wydalony-z-polski-w-czeczeni-groza-mu-tortury-a-nawet-smierc/xhxpebt">Onet</a>. We publish a translation here.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>On the last day of August, Poland <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/chechen-refugee-forcibly-disappears-after-unlawful-deportation/29469009.html">deported</a> Azamat Baiduyev, a member of a family deeply involved in the struggle for Chechen independence. The next day in Chechnya, operatives of Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime detained him. Why did our country deport Baiduyev, knowing that, in the best case, his family history risked him facing torture in his homeland, and in the worst case, execution?</em></p><p dir="ltr">On the morning of 31 August, Polish Border Guard officers visited a detention centre in Przemyśl to collect Azamat Baiduyev. The officers put Baiduyev, 33, in a car and took him to Warsaw. In the car, it was unclear to Azamat what was happening — at first, he probably did not realise where he was being taken.</p><p dir="ltr">According to several sources, when Azamat realised that he was going to be deported to Chechnya, he tried to open his veins in the car. According to others, this happened at the airport. Wherever the attempted suicide took place, it is known that Azamat was taken to a hospital in central Warsaw, where his injuries were attended to.</p><p dir="ltr">That same day, Baiduyev was flown to Moscow. He then flew to Grozny, capital of Chechnya. Soon after, according to contacts of Akhmed Gisayev, head of the Human Rights Analysis Center, reported that “roughly a hundred people with weapons, portable radios and police vehicles” surrounded a house belonging to Baiduyev’s uncle.</p><p dir="ltr">According to witnesses, some of these men spoke Russian without a Chechen accent and had a Russian appearance, which indicates that the Russian FSB was involved in the operation alongside the Chechen Interior Ministry. Azamat was abducted by force. It is not known where he is currently located.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>1.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The Polish authorities must have been aware that they were deporting a man who would be immediately threatened with torture and death in Russia. In 2008, Azamat received <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/content/subsidiary-protection_en">subsidiary protection</a> in Poland. The family required this kind of special protection because of Azamat’s father.</p><p dir="ltr">Ali Baiduyev, whose work today allows his family to barely make ends meet, is a serious figure in the struggle for Chechen independence. In the 1990s, Ali Baiduyev belonged to the personal protection team of Dzhokhar Dudayev, first president of independent Chechnya. As the First Chechen War went on, and Dudayev refused to submit to the Kremlin, he became number one on the list of Russian targets. He avoided assassination on at least two occasions in the 1990s.</p><p dir="ltr">As a bodyguard, Azamat's father was particularly fond of Dudayev. He was related to him, and blood ties are the strongest guarantee of trust in Chechnya. The Chechen president often hid in the Baiduyev family home.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Djokhar_Douda_C3_AFev.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="197" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dzhokhar Dudayev. CC BY-SA 4.0 Dmitry Borko / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">After 1996, the hunt for Dudayev became a priority for the Russians. And on 21 April 1996, Dudayev received a phone call from a Russian politicians. What he didn’t know was that a reconnaissance plane was tracking the phone's satellite signal. A laser-guided rocket killed Dudayev a few minutes later.</p><p dir="ltr">Six months later, Russian armed forces occupied Grozny, ending the First Chechen War. In 1999, the Second Chechen War began, only to be lost later. In 2003, when Russia finally took control of Chechnya, Ali Baiduyev became an enemy of the new regime, and had to flee with the whole family.</p><p dir="ltr">The security services of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s new leader, soon began the hunt for Chechens involved in the struggle for independence. In 2016, Kadyrov addressed Chechens living abroad with a clear message on social media: sooner or later, the regime would get to each of them. “One day, maybe in ten or five years, when you’re smarter or when your parents tell you to come home or when they chase you out of Europe, you will not have anywhere to go. And then I will settle with you for all your words.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>2.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">After a few years of wandering, the Baiduyev family arrived in Poland. Fighters against Russian aggression, the Chechens were well received in our country. Since 2007, Azamat had a <a href="http://www.fmreview.org/young-and-out-of-place/pestana">tolerated stay</a> in Poland, and in 2008 he received subsidiary protection, granted to persons who may be in danger even on Polish territory.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Azamat’s mother, he was still under threat from Russian and Chechen security services which had penetrated Poland: “I was afraid of their cars that came to the centre during the day and at night,” Makka Baiduyeva. “Our family took part in the fight for independence. Now, for this reason, they take revenge on us, persecute us, want to destroy us. I asked Azamat to go to a safe place.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>3.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This safe place turned out to be Belgium. “My son requested residency in Belgium 13 times and 13 times he was refused, which in our opinion was based on the lack of sufficient information,” says Makka Baiduyeva.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017, the Belgian police detained Azamat on the basis of reports from France about “his possible involvement in the preparation of terrorist attacks in Belgium.” Although, according to Radio Svoboda, this information was not confirmed, Belgium deported Baiduyev to Poland.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/w92ktkpTURBXy9lMjJiMWRkZDMxMDAwMDU1YWE2Zjk4YmFlNGI4MzBmNy5qcGeSlQLNBOwAwsOVAgDNAvjCww.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In 2008, Azamat Baiduyev received "subsidiary protection" from Poland. </span></span></span>There were no charges against Baiduyev in Poland. However, in April he was placed in the closed deportation centre in Przemyśl. On 29 August 2018, the Office for Foreigners removed Azamat’s subsidiary protection.</p><p dir="ltr">This decision was issued by the Polish Ministry of the Interior and Administration at the request of the Internal Security Agency. When questioned by Onet about the reason, the Ministry of Interior and Administration answered that Minister Joachim Brudzinski “issued a decision on the obligation to return to the country of origin of a foreigner who posed a threat to public safety and order in our country. The decision was issued on the basis of Article 329a of the Act on Foreigners. This provision was introduced by the <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR3742632016ENGLISH.pdf">2016 Anti-Terrorist Activities Act</a>.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>4.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In conversation with Onet, Azamat’s mother confirms that the family has not received any information about the reasons for his deportation. “Why did the Polish authorities not provide him with any evidence of a crime? Why was not he brought before the court in Poland and have his guilt proved? Let the Polish authorities prove him guilty and he will go to prison for up to 50 years to answer for his actions if he is guilty. Why did the Polish authorities send him back to Chechnya?” asks Makka Baiduyeva.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />This final question is important because, according to Jacek Białas, a lawyer from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, regardless of the fault of the individual, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights indicates that the decision to deport to a country where they are threatened with torture or death is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the Polish Law on Foreigners.</p><p dir="ltr">“I did not find any in-depth analysis of the potential threat to this gentleman after deportation in the decision on expulsion,” adds Jacek Białas. “There is no history there, no indication of whether there is a risk of torture or not. We do not know if such analysis was ever carried out. In the light of international standards, which are also in force in Poland, a man can not be deported to face torture, even if he is terrorist and criminal.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Another issue here is Baiduyev’s lack of access to evidence of the alleged crime. Azamat Baiduyev thus becomes the latest in a growing group of people expelled from Poland on the basis of secret materials. The most prominent instance of this kind of deportation involves Ludmiła Kozłowska, the head of the Open Dialog Foundation who was <a href="https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/polands-deportation-of-human-rights-activist-the-back-story/">deported from Poland</a> in August.</p><p dir="ltr">Białas has no doubt that Polish law does not meet the requirements of European Union law in this matter. “It follows from the case law of the European Union Court of Justice that a foreign national who is subject to proceedings on the basis of secret evidence should be informed about the essential reasons which motivate the decision and receive a summary of this evidence. They are thus given a chance to respond to the charges. Polish national law does not offer this opportunity.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Polish Commissioner for Citizens' Rights contacted Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland’s Minister of Interior and Administration, regarding this situation in August 2016. To no effect. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>5.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In the decision to deprive Azamat Baiduyev of international protection, Dr Andrzej Karpiak, the director of the department of refugee proceedings at Poland’s Office for Foreigners, refers to “a definite improvement in the general security situation in Chechnya in recent years”.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Karpiak’s opinion radically contrasts with the latest OSCE document on Chechnya. On the day before Azamat was deported, 15 OSCE countries <a href="https://osce.usmission.gov/human-rights-abuses-in-chechnya-15-osce-countries-invoke-vienna-mechanism/">implemented the so-called “Vienna Mechanism”</a>, expressing “deep concern over serious violations and violations of human rights in Chechnya”. Listing measures taken by the Chechen authorities against citizens, the document mentions “harassment and persecution, arbitrary or unlawful arrest or detention, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.” Under the Vienna Mechanism, the OSCE has requested explanations from the Russian Federation regarding a number of abuses in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, experts confirm the deteriorating human rights situation in Chechnya. “The conflict in Chechnya is intensifying,” says Ahmed Gisayev from the Human Rights Analysis Center. “Many people have been kidnapped and lost, completely disappeared. Criminal cases are made against others. For example, in January 2017, Russian authorities seized 200 civilians as hostages, of whom 27 were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">shot dead</a>. Russian state terror has suppressed Chechnya and the entire North Caucasus. And all this in recent years.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“In Chechnya, even activists and human rights defenders are the object of fabricated accusations against which the world is powerless,” says Maria Książak, co-founder of the Polish Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and expert in the National Prevention Mechanism of Torture. “Oyub Titiyev, the director of Memorial’s Chechnya branch, has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya">been imprisoned on drugs charges for nine months</a>. Earlier, Ruslan Kutayev was <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/08/russia-chechen-activist-leader-arrested-beaten">sentenced to three years and 10 months</a> in a similarly fabricated drug accusation. Despite the Chechen president’s ban, he dared to commemorate the 1944 Chechen deportation. Kutayev was subject to torture by electric shock, his ribs were broken. I think that only the publicity in this case has led to Azamat being found successfully in custody in Urus Martan.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Kutaev_colour_20[from_20YouTube].png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In 2014, Ruslan Kutayev was sentenced to four years in prison on drugs charges. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Anti-government blogger <a href="http://oc-media.org/fleeing-chechen-blogger-detained-in-poland/">Tumso Abdurakhmanov</a> has also experienced first-hand the dramatic situation in Chechnya today. He is currently hiding in Poland from people connected to Ramzan Kadyrov. “I would rather be killed in Poland by a killer paid by Kadyrov than wind up in their hands,” he says. “In one of the reports of Human Rights Watch there is a statement of a Chechen woman: ‘There used to be war, but there was no fear. Now there is no war, but there is fear.’ The regime’s people bring the body of a dead child to the family and make them bury it. The family buries the body and says nothing to anyone. This is what it’s like in Chechnya today.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>6.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">When Onet asked Poland’s Office for Foreigners what exactly motivated the statement concerning the “general improvement of the security situation in Chechnya”, spokesman Jakub Dudziak replied: “As for the situation in Chechnya, it should be remembered that the foreigner was covered by temporary protection in the form of consent for tolerated stay, which was issued only in connection with the ongoing armed conflict in Chechnya at that time — currently this premise does not exist. A foreigner was not covered by international protection in connection with, for example, the threat of persecution.”</p><p dir="ltr">Maria Książak believes that this response proves that the Office for Foreigners spokesman have no knowledge about the actual situation in Chechnya. “If anyone should be aware of the current situation in the Caucasus and threats to individual foreigners who were covered by the refugee procedure or international protection in Poland, it is the Department of Refugee Proceedings of the Office for Foreigners, whose director is Mr &nbsp;Karpiak. It’s his name on the decision depriving Azamat of protection. An office paid from taxpayer money should serve the persecuted and not act against them. Denying the facts, which include the persecution and torture happening in Chechnya today, does not change the situation in the Caucasus, it is only a manifestation of incompetence.”</p><p dir="ltr">We also sent several questions to the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration: Did the Ministry of Interior and Administration know that Baiduyev was persecuted by the Russian authorities, who suspected him of participating in the Chechen resistance movement, as well as by the Chechen authorities? Did the Ministry of Interior and Administration know that Baiduyev’s life is in danger in Russia and Chechnya? How does the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration view the kidnapping or arrest of Baiduyev by Chechen security services the day after the deportation?<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />We have not received any answers from the ministry.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>7.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Although it has already been known for several days that Azamat tried to open his veins when he learned of the coming deportation to Chechnya, Jakub Dudziak, spokesperson of Poland’s Office for Foreigners, suggested in an email to Onet on 10 September that Azamat was not afraid of returning to Chechnya — moreover, he wanted to return to the country.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“The foreigner has a biometric foreign passport issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,” Dudziak wrote. “If the foreigner decided to contact the Russian authorities knowing that his personal data will be subject to thorough verification after submitting the application, it means that he was not afraid of the authorities of the country of origin and decided to return to its protection.”</p><p dir="ltr">“This is a quote from the decision that revoked Azamat’s protection,” explains Maria Książak. “It seems that Azamat applied for a new passport at the Russian embassy. If a person who has protection or a tolerated stay in a given country and wants to travel to another country, he must have another travel document, that is, a current foreign passport. Perhaps Azamat wanted to visit his two children who had stayed behind in Belgium. This does not mean, however, that there was no threat to him in the Caucasus.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>8.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Onet also asked the Ministry of Interior and Administration whether the ministry had obtained security guarantees from the Russian side for the expelled Azamat Baiduyev. We did not get the answer to this question either.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Akhmet Gisayev, who specialises in these issues, explains: “This is a common practice for deported political refugees. Otherwise, I do not understand how Poland could deport Azamat Baiduyev. International law establishes the direct responsibility of the state that deports a person threatened by torture or other degrading treatment. I also know that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Poland and the domestic courts had enough evidence that Azamat Baiduyev was in danger of torture.”</p><p dir="ltr">If the Polish authorities did not ask Russia to guarantee the security of Azamat Baiduyev, this is a serious charge in light of international law. If they did, it shows the kind of importance Russia attaches to these guarantees.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>9.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">When human rights activists and the media began to disseminate information about Baiduyev’s kidnapping in Chechnya, the Chechen Interior Ministry stated that Azamat had not been abducted but detained in connection with a terrorism investigation. This is how we found out that he is still alive.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Apparently, Azamat pleaded guilty to terrorism offences while in detention. “I am not surprised that Azamat pleaded guilty before anybody knew where he was or on which grounds he was being kept there,” Maria Książak comments. “It is hard to believe that this confession was honest and not preceded by torture, blackmail, threats.” Baiduyev is now located in a state prison in Grozny.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>10.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">On 14 September, when I finished writing this article, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights filed a formal complaint with the European Commission regarding the expulsion of foreigners from Poland on the basis of secret materials. One of the things the complaint referred to was the case of Azamat Baiduyev.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>11.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">“My husband’s brother and his sister met him,” Makka Baiduyeva says “They brought a lawyer with them, but the authorities said that this lawyer is from the family, so they will not talk to him. A lawyer from the office was assigned to Azamat instead.”</p><p dir="ltr">“We want to assert our rights,” Makka Baiduyeva declares. “Poland gave us shelter, a permanent residence card. We were hoping for a bright future, we wanted to a good life for our children, take them to the first day of school. All this seemed to be in vain. Who will take care of Azamat’s eight children now? Who will care for them, take them to school, provide for them? What shall we do? Go back to Russia, Chechnya? We do not have anything to do here anymore. Poland deported him.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya">No defence in Chechnya: Oyub Titiyev and the grim future of human rights in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/karena-avedissian/like-me-im-autocrat">Like me, I&#039;m an autocrat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/the-second-chechen-war">The Second Chechen War: Testimony of an Eyewitness</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Małgorzata Żmudka Marcin Wyrwał Migration matters Chechnya Fri, 21 Sep 2018 08:10:33 +0000 Marcin Wyrwał and Małgorzata Żmudka 119767 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Lights in the distance https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/lights-in-the-distance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new book on migration processes in the European Union foregrounds human stories, militarising borders and Europe’s new racism. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitaliy-atanasov/ogni-vdaleke" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-30004563_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>People walk through the centre of Lesbos, Greece. (c) Owen Humphreys PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>British journalist Daniel Trilling, who won the <a href="http://www.migration-media-award.eu/en/winners/94-english/winners-en/print/148-daniel-trilling">2017 Migration Media award</a>, is known for his work on refugees, European borders and migration systems. Trilling’s new book <a href="https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/daniel-trilling/lights-in-the-distance"><em>Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe</em></a> is devoted to stories of people searching for asylum and shelter in the European Union.</p><p dir="ltr">I spoke to him about his new book, media coverage and a changing Europe via email.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In 2015, the topic of refugees became one of the key issues for European media and politicians. You, as far as I know, have been writing about refugees long before that. When did you first take up this topic and what was your first material about the stories of asylum seekers?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, I visited Athens to research a piece about the growth of the far-right – which was my main interest at the time. During my visit I went to interview a group of Afghan refugees who had been targeted by neo-Nazi violence and I was really shocked by what I found. In theory they were free, living in private accommodation in a city neighbourhood, but in reality they were completely trapped: not only by the threat of attack by Golden Dawn, but also by police violence, a dysfunctional Greek asylum process, and an EU border system that tries to control the movement of refugees. I became interested in how this wider system operated, and the effect it had on the lives of the people who encountered it, so I started travelling to different parts of the EU – or to neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Turkey – to meet refugees and other migrants, then following their journeys. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The EU spends a lot of money in order to fence its borders from refugees in the last decade. What the recent so-called “refugee crisis” has changed – what obstacles do asylum seekers face now?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">After a period of political hesitation in 2015 – roughly speaking, between the two shipwrecks off the coast of Libya in April, which provoked panic among European leaders, and the Paris attacks of November, which shifted the focus of debate from humanitarian to security concerns – the EU has sought to restore the old system, in which as many asylum-seekers as possible are prevented from reaching its borders, and as many as possible of those who do are contained in the southern and eastern European member states. </p><p dir="ltr">This involves a further militarisation of the old system: since 2012, border fences and surveillance networks have been built or extended in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and elsewhere, while security patrols have been extended in the Mediterranean. Inside the EU there has been a growth in the use of remote camps and detention centres (particularly in Greece and Hungary), the introduction of racialised police controls at internal Schengen borders (for instance, on the border between France and Italy) and the criminalisation of European citizens who help asylum-seekers continue their journeys. The EU has also been outsourcing border control to states further afield: a deal with Turkey that lowered the number of Syrians and other refugees crossing the Aegean Sea in early 2016 has been followed by attempts to strike similar deals, or invest in border control, or pressure countries to accept deported failed asylum seekers, in various parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/30662554684_421efdece3_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/30662554684_421efdece3_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>It is pointless to put fences in order to separate from refugees. Photo: CC BY 2.0: Meabh Smith/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is having three important effects. First, it's undermining the principles of international refugee protection established by the UN convention of 1951, which are that refugees should not be punished for trying to cross a border without permission, that they should not be pushed back to unsafe countries and that people should be treated as individuals. Second, it's creating further violence and instability in countries outside the EU, most of all Libya, where a European effort to discourage sea rescues and to turn back smuggler boats has trapped thousands of migrants in detention centres where they are abused, tortured and in some cases enslaved. A a recent Italian attempt to pay Libyan smuggler gangs to stop sending migrants to sea has also fuelled fighting between rival militias. Third, it has reinforced divisions within Europe: between migrants and parts of the population who fear their arrival; between the state and people who form migrant solidarity networks. </p><p dir="ltr">I've written about this, and what it tells us about how borders work globally, at greater length <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n14/daniel-trilling/should-we-build-a-wall-around-north-wales">here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Migrants and refugees have always been the subject of speculation and the fomenting of fears by the tabloids and yellow press. During the last crisis, it just happened again, or did something new appear in how conservative media react to the refugee issue?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">You’ll have to forgive me for talking in very general terms, because I can’t follow media coverage in every European country, in every European language – but I think the media coverage of the refugee crisis was, above all, fragmented. You had a single crisis of European border policy, with flashpoints in different places at different times: the central Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea, the Greek Islands, southern Italy, the Balkans, Germany, France etc. </p><p dir="ltr">Each time a new situation arose you saw the news media rushing towards it, producing material that was very immediate and vivid. If a media outlet wanted to evoke sympathy, then it would convey human need and desperation. If an outlet wanted to evoke hostility, it would convey chaos and anger or violence. Often we saw both at once.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">A well-meaning stereotype of the refugee as innocent child – although of course, there are vulnerable children who do need help – can cause damage too</p><p dir="ltr">But the coverage often failed to join up the dots; to show that refugees were being forced onto one route because of the closure of another. For example, one reason people crossed from Turkey to Greece by sea in 2015, and not across the land border, is that the land border had been sealed in 2012. There was also a longer-term pattern of EU countries shutting off legal and safe routes to asylum, such as claiming asylum at overseas embassies. Without this kind of context, a lot of the media coverage – even well-meaning coverage – gave the impression of a unstoppable and unprecedented tide of refugees, seemingly coming out of nowhere. In my opinion, the way out of this is for journalists not only to provide adequate context, but to think of people on the move as individuals with political agency, who are trying to take control of their own lives. A well-meaning stereotype of the refugee as innocent child – although of course, there are vulnerable children who do need help – can cause damage too. </p><p dir="ltr">You’re right that migrants and refugees have always been a focus of racist media coverage, and this has certainly been present in the last few years. This involves the familiar tropes of invasion by foreigners, a “clash of civilisations” between Islam and the west, and the allegedly savage or sexually deviant or uncultured behaviour of migrants. What’s new I think is how these have joined up to form a new, specifically European racism, which sits above its various national forms. Benedict Anderson described nations as “imagined communities”; the European Union is another kind of imagined community – both shaping and shaped by realities on the ground. </p><p dir="ltr">The EU has created this external border that divides it from the rest of the world; and so the people who cross that border without permission are cast by some as a threat to the EU project, and to pan-European identity. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How big is the difference in how the media in different countries covered the topic of refugees?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Some of the broad themes I described above have been similar across Europe, from what I’ve seen. But what interests me is how they are put to different political ends. Take, for example, this <a href="http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2015/10/23/15/2DB32A3B00000578-3286365-image-m-99_1445611105381.jpg">famous photo of refugees being led through Slovenia</a> by police in October 2015.</p><p dir="ltr">To a Merkel-supporting outlet in Germany, this might be evidence that Europe needed to act together to help accommodate refugees (or at least, the Syrians among them). To a pro-Orban outlet in Hungary, it might show why “Christian” Europe needed to build fences to defend its civilisation from Muslim outsiders. In Britain, the image was <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36570759">used</a> by the far-right UK Independence Party for a pro-Brexit poster during the 2016 referendum campaign, suggesting that the ultimate problem was not refugees but the EU itself. In the context of the UKIP poster, people <a href="https://www.newstatesman.com/2016/06/nigel-farage-s-anti-eu-poster-depicting-migrants-resembles-nazi-propaganda">noted the similarity of the image to a Nazi propaganda film</a> about Jewish refugees before the Second World War – but that was probably the opposite of what the original photographer intended. </p><p dir="ltr">Media will use the same basic ingredients for very different ends, which is why it’s important to pay attention to how stories are constructed and what context they are presented in. </p><p dir="ltr">For further reading, the Ethical Journalism Network <a href="http://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/press-release-migration-global-report-on-journalism-s-biggest-test-in-2015">published a study</a> of how European and international media covered the 2015 refugee crisis and identified some of the main problems. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your new book will be released in the spring of 2018. What is the main focus of this work?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The book is a portrait of the EU's border system, seen through the eyes of asylum-seekers who encountered it. I followed a dozen or so different people, from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, over several years and the book tells their stories in detail. It also has a chapter on Ukraine, briefly comparing the journey some of my family took in 1920 – they left Kiev for Berlin during the civil war, and then Berlin for London in 1939 – with journeys taken by Somali refugees and Ukrainian IDPs today.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think that the “refugee crisis”" was used by the Russian ruling class and the media under its control in order to weaken Europe and help strengthen the nationalists and right-wing radicals? Or is this just another conspiracy?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Some of the commentary has been pure conspiracy theory. The claim by a Nato chief in 2016 that Putin was “weaponising” the refugee crisis to “break” Europe – a claim echoed elsewhere – I thought was nonsense. This gives Russia a kind of power it doesn’t possess: Russia is relatively weak, which is why it has covertly provoked and participated in a war to destabilise Ukraine, and why it brutally reinforces a shell of a regime in Syria. This analysis also misses the role of European border policy, which forces refugees to take increasingly dangerous and chaotic routes, in creating the refugee crisis. And it misses the role of western powers in other conflicts: Syrians make up about half the asylum-seekers who have come to Europe in recent years but there have also been significant numbers from Iraq and Afghanistan, and many people from different parts of Africa who have come to Europe via the chaos in Libya. </p><p dir="ltr">Nonetheless it is clear that groups within Russia, at least some of them linked to the Kremlin, have sought to exacerbate social tensions and give support to far-right, anti-immigrant movements in a number of European countries. One recent example is this <a href="http://www.lse.ac.uk/iga/assets/documents/arena/2017/Press-Release-September-2017-%E2%80%93-Initial-Analysis-of-Influence-Operations-in-German-Elections.pdf">study</a> by the London School of Economics, which shows that pro-Russian groups sought to promote the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in the run-up to this years German parliamentary elections. Last year it was revealed that France’s Front National received a loan from a Russian bank. Russian media has at times spread rumours about the threatening behaviour of refugees in Europe, such as this claim of rape by a Russian-German girl in Berlin, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/how-operation-liza-failed">subsequently turned out to be untrue</a>. And more broadly, the international network Russia Today offers a platform to European far-right voices, as well as some from the left, in such a way that it makes Europe seem as if it’s riven by intractable social conflict. (Spoiler: it’s not, and it’s within our power to overcome our divisions.)</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/27196808296_cdea7072f2_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/27196808296_cdea7072f2_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Often refugees have to choose the most dangerous sea routes, because the way overland for them is closed. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Brainbitch/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But racism and nationalism begin at home. Russia's ruling class may well see its interests in promoting reactionary nationalist views to stir up hostility towards migrants in Europe. But it cannot create these things out of nothing. The growth of European far-right parties stems from a crisis in political representation, where the mainstream left and right have, to varying degrees, accepted neoliberal ideology – market values are the values by which we run society; the state is not there to build, only to clean up the mess – and have tried to shut out the alternatives. </p><p dir="ltr">When far-right movements have challenged this by appealing to nationalist or racist sentiment, their flames often fanned by reactionary media coverage, the mainstream parties have tended to try and co-opt this message rather than stand firm against it. Nationalism is the glue that elites use to try and keep deeply unequal and unfair societies stuck together. That's a problem we all have to face and we can't blame it all on Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did Europe change after these events? Do the media keep interest in asylum seekers?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Asylum and migration is a constant topic of interest for European media, but it's largely returned to a background hum for now. As for how Europe has changed? Well, it's too early to tell... the number of refugees who arrived in 2015 is relatively small – less than a million, in an EU of 508 million people – but the manner of their arrival was chaotic and there are big questions about how we can provide for one another, live together, make stronger societies. </p><p dir="ltr">These aren't just questions about refugees and "natives"; they also apply to communities hurt by austerity policies, or by long-term economic inequality and deindustrialisation. Can we build on the networks that form in response to a crisis? Can we convince people who are sceptical, or actively hostile, that we have shared interests? A healthy media would help us discuss these questions. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/syrian-refugees-in-russia">Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/how-operation-liza-failed">How “Operation Liza” failed</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors-tatiana-golova/russian-germans-and-surprising-rise-of-afd-germany">Russian-Germans and the surprising rise of the AfD</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Vitalii Atanasov Migration matters Human rights Tue, 10 Apr 2018 10:59:41 +0000 Vitalii Atanasov 117153 at https://www.opendemocracy.net By defending Russian journalist Ali Feruz, we defend ourselves. Now we need to repeat it https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">The solidarity campaign for Ali Feruz, who faced deportation to Uzbekistan, has been successful. What can we learn from it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_DSC2783-site.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A column in support of Ali Feruz at the 19 January anti-fascist march in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. CC BY 4.0 <a href=https://www.flickr.com/photos/horov/>Dmitry Horov</a>. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>This article originally appeared in Russian on <a href="https://socialist.news/read/article/v-for-ali/">Socialist News</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">For almost a year, people have campaigned in support of Ali Feruz, a journalist with Russian independent media Novaya gazeta. He was first detained in March 2017 on suspicion of breaking Russian migration legislation. This came after the refusal by the Russian authorities to grant him asylum after he fled Uzbekistan, where he had been arrested and tortured by the brutal Karimov regime. For the last six months, after a Moscow court decided to deport him back to Uzbekistan, Ali has been <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ali-feruz/i-don-t-remember-who-i-am-diary-of-detained-journalist-facing-deportation-from-r">held in a special prison for foreign citizens</a> on the outskirts of Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">Yesterday, at 11.10am, Ali Feruz flew to Germany. The story of this journalist and activist, a friend and colleague, has caused a stir in public discussion — for the most part, thanks to the active campaign in support of Feruz. It goes without saying that Ali’s release is a victory for everyone who took part in the #HandsOffAli campaign</p><p dir="ltr">Until his arrest in August 2017, Ali covered the exploitation of immigrants in Russia and the crimes of Uzbekistan’s regime. He volunteered for human rights organisations, was an LGBT activist and a member of the Independent Trade Union of Media Workers. It was precisely because of these connections that when a Russian court threatened to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan — where Ali faced the threat of further imprisonment — a huge campaign was mobilised. Rights activists, trade unionists, LGBT activists — everyone joined in. And Socialist Alternative was one of the driving forces behind the public campaign in defence of Ali.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Freedom for Ali is a victory, but a better outcome would have been to allow Ali to stay, live and work in Russia<br class="kix-line-break" /></span><br class="kix-line-break" />It’s worth reminding ourselves what’s been done. Activists conducted dozens of public demonstrations. We picketed the Russian Presidential Administration, the Interior Ministry’s immigration department and the courts. We took part in marches and protests, displaying placards in support of Ali. There were acts of solidarity in many other countries. The on-line petition on the change.org platform collected over 70,000 signatures. There were fundraising evenings, collections to support Ali, his family and other immigrants who have found themselves held in the Sakharovo immigration prison. We distributed leaflets, recorded videos, issued press releases and held many meetings. In other words, we did everything possible to attract attention to Ali’s case and involve people who weren’t indifferent in action. In addition, of course, the lawyers and rights activists also conducted a huge amount of work.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />In essence, we were forced to fight only for the Russian state to observe its own laws. The authorities should have granted Ali the right to political asylum and not try to hand him over to Uzbekistan’s political police. When it became clear that obtaining political asylum was not going to happen, the demand to allow Ali to leave Russia for a third country became key.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 10.36.46.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ali Feruz in court, 7 August 2017. Source: YouTube / Euronews. </span></span></span>I’ll venture an assumption that those people who, over the course of the past year, spread lies about Ali in the media and social networks will now claim that all he ever wanted was “to get out to the west”. By contrast, some people will think that leaving for Germany was the best outcome for Ali. But we don’t agree. Freedom for Ali is a victory, but a better outcome would have been to allow Ali to stay, live and work in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">Ali is needed here. Not just because he is known and loved. His professional experience and personal qualities were useful to Russian media, civic and political organisations who are fighting for the rights and freedoms of all the oppressed. Ali himself wanted to stay until it became clear that neither Russia nor Uzbekistan would ensure his freedom and allow him to speak his mind. The authorities in these countries only see such people as a threat and are ready to get rid of them. They are prepared to hand over activists like Ali to neighbouring authoritarian regimes, hide them away in prison, torture them — even kill them.</p><p dir="ltr">This is why we still have more work to do and things to fight for. The campaign in Ali’s defence has attracted attention to the arbitrary treatment of immigrants and refugees in Russia, the inhumane treatment of foreign citizens in Russia’s immigration centres, which are no better than real jails.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">We defended Ali, we defended ourselves. Now we need to repeat it — for those people who don’t have the same kind of support as Ali<br class="kix-line-break" /></span><br class="kix-line-break" />The campaign, of course, also revealed several weaknesses. It was hard to keep the campaign “in shape” the whole time. Sometimes mobilisation happened automatically and, at other times, it was hard to get people activated. But we always insisted that the most important thing for this kind of political campaign was public activity, although not every participant always agreed with this.</p><p dir="ltr">But now we have reason to celebrate. This is our success, our achievement. Even in such difficult political conditions, solidarity campaigns can achieve important results.</p><p dir="ltr">Ali is now free. We defended Ali, we defended ourselves. Now we need to repeat it — for those people who don’t have the same kind of support as Ali. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://socialist.news/"><img src="https://socialist.news/assets/img/svg/logo.svg" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>Socialist News is a Russian-language platform dedicated to socialist ideas.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ali-feruz/i-don-t-remember-who-i-am-diary-of-detained-journalist-facing-deportation-from-r">“I don’t remember who I am”: diary of detained journalist facing deportation from Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/igor-yasin-lgbt">Igor Yasin: “If there’s no freedom of assembly for LGBT, there’s none for anyone else”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-rocheva/keeping-welfare-russian">Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/russia-refugee-children-school">Not in my classroom: Russia’s refugee children struggle to get to school</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Igor Yasin Migration matters Russia Fri, 16 Feb 2018 10:33:06 +0000 Igor Yasin 116175 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Anioł stróż Czeczenów https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/aniol-stroz-czeczenow <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Przy białorusko-polskiej granicy utknęły setki zdesperowanych uchodźców z Czeczenii, którzy próbują przedostać się do Unii Europejskiej. Wielu miejscowych podchodzi do przybyszów z niechęcią – choć część decyduje się pomagać. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher" target="_blank">English</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/kak-chechenskie-bezhenzy-pytautsya-sbeghat-v-evropu" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Brest_Railway_Station_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Brest_Railway_Station_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dworzec kolejowy w Brześciu. Zdjęcie autorki. Wszystkie prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>W Brześciu zapadła noc. O tej porze ulice niewielkiego białoruskiego miasteczka położonego kilka kilometrów od polskiej granicy są wyludnione. Wieje silny wiatr. Dwóch mężczyzn wymienia milcząco spojrzenia i przechodzi pieszą kładką nad torami. Z dołu, z perspektywy ogromnego dworca z czasów stalinowskich, wyglądają jak dwie czarne kropki.</p><p>Zatrzymują się w hali dworca. Na pierwszy rzut oka wydaje się pusta, ale wystarczy chwilę zaczekać i pośród smukłych rzędów ławek w poczekalni można dostrzec sylwetki kobiet w hidżabach, otoczone gromadą dzieci. Próbują spać, ale co kilka godzin budzi ich ochroniarz. To będzie długa noc. </p><p>W Europie zainteresowanie kryzysem migracyjnym skupia się na regionie Morza Śródziemnego. Rzadko mówi się o sytuacji na wschodniej granicy Unii. Tymczasem każdego dnia około stu osób uciekających z Czeczenii przed represyjnym reżimem Ramzana Kadyrowa próbuje tu szczęścia, licząc, że uda im się dostać do Unii Europejskiej tak zwaną wschodnią trasą migracyjną przez Białoruś. Większość z nich jest zawracana przez polskich pograniczników i musi pozostać w Białorusi. </p><p>Z nadejściem świtu około sześćdziesięcioletnia kobieta podchodzi do jednej z rodzin, wręcza im bilety z Brześcia do położonego na polskiej granicy Terespola i tłumaczy, jak zachowywać się na przejściu granicznym. Dzieci słuchają z uwagą. Wczesnym rankiem ruszą znów w stronę Polski z nadzieją, że nigdy już nie wrócą do Czeczenii. Nie jest to ich pierwsza próba i zapewne nie będzie też ostatnia. </p><h2>Welcome to Hell </h2><p>Ilekroć Wiaczesław Panasiuk wchodzi do budynku brzeskiego dworca, budzi poruszenie. Obrońca praw człowieka jest tu dobrze znany, niektórzy Czeczeni ciągle go wyglądają.</p><p>Dwudziestodwuletni Panasiuk jest koordynatorem sekcji prawnej Misji Pomocy Uchodźcom w Brześciu (<a href="https://www.humanconstanta.by" target="_blank">Human Constanta</a>). Jest w mieście bez przerwy od swojego przyjazdu we wrześniu 2016 roku. Najpierw nie był wtedy pewien, czy podoła zdaniu. Dziś można nazwać go aniołem stróżem Czeczenów.</p><p>Siedzimy w kawiarni niedaleko stacji. Wiaczesław wskazuje na kelnerkę i mówi – Widzisz ją? Kiedyś, kiedy dworzec był wypełniony po brzegi, uchodźcy poprosili ją o wrzątek, ale odmówiła. Spędziłem całą noc nosząc im termosy.</p><p>– Natomiast ochroniarze – dodaje – zwykle są w porządku wobec uchodźców. Przynajmniej ich nie wyrzucają. W każdym razie nie zawsze. Kiedyś jeden z Czeczenów modlił się na samym środku dworca. Musiałem wtedy odwracać ich uwagę.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_panasiuk_brest_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_panasiuk_brest_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Wiaczesław Panasiuk. Zdjęcie autorki. Wszystkie prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>Wiaczesław przyznaje, że kiedy tu przyjechał, nic nie wiedział o Czeczenach. Dwa lata temu był studentem trzeciego roku na Uniwersytecie w Mińsku. Nie skończył jednak licencjatu: został wydalony z uczelni z powodów politycznych. Nie dziwi więc, że sam będąc „politycznie niepożądanym”, Wiaczesław znalazł wspólny język z Czeczenami.</p><p>Zagustował w utworach Timura Mucurajewa, czeczeńskiego barda bojownika, który zdobył ogromną popularność w trakcie wojny. Wiaczesław śpiewa do wtóru piosenki <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbVWjNY-rcM" target="_blank">Welcome to Hell</a> i mówi mi, że sam już trochę stał się Czeczenem.</p><p>Dlaczego Panasiuk postanowił pomagać Czeczenom?</p><p>– Siedemdziesiąt lat temu bronili Brześcia przed nazistami – odpowiada. – Miasto ma wobec nich dług wdzięczności. Ale ponieważ miasto dziś ich nie chroni, my robimy to zamiast niego.</p><h2>Niewidzialni uchodźcy</h2><p>Panasiuk kupuje bilet na pierwszy pociąg z Brześcia do Terespola. To właśnie z tego podmiejskiego połączenia korzystają Czeczeńcy, by wjechać do UE i ubiegać się o status uchodźcy. Około 8 rano brodaci mężczyźni, kobiety w chustach i małe dzieci zbierają się na peronie. Żadne z nich nie ma wizy Schengen.</p><p>Choć dwa wagony wydzielono specjalnie dla uchodźców, kasjerzy na stacji odmawiają sprzedaży biletów. Próbują tłumaczyć: „Nie! To dla waszego własnego dobra. Dlaczego, na Boga, chcecie z nimi jechać?”.</p><p>Human Constanta szacuje, że tylko w listopadzie około 100 osób każdego dnia próbowało przekroczyć granicę Polski w poszukiwaniu azylu. Panasiuk dodaje, że choć jeszcze pół roku temu udawało się dwóm do czterech rodzin, obecnie pogranicznicy przepuszczają tylko jedną.</p><p>Z próby na próbę kurczą się środki. Większość uchodźców w Brześciu mieszka w wynajętych mieszkaniach, jednak w miarę jak zaczyna brakować pieniędzy, przenoszą się na dworzec.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Tylko w listopadzie około 100 osób każdego dnia próbowało przekroczyć granicę Polski w poszukiwaniu azylu</p><p>Komentując sytuację na granicy, szef MSWiA Mariusz Błaszczak powiedział, że nie dopuści do napływu muzułmanów, a Polska nie podda się tym, którzy dążą do wywołania kryzysu migracyjnego.</p><p>Wielu uchodźców mówiło nam, że na granicy strażnicy zwracali uwagę, że są muzułmanami (co przy dzisiejszej atmosferze politycznej w Polsce oznacza, że są postrzegani jako zagrożenie). Inni opowiadali, że strażnicy narysowali parę rogów w czyimś paszporcie.</p><p>– Pomagaliśmy na przykład uchodźcy, któremu straż graniczna oznajmiła, że po jego twarzy widać, że jest złym człowiekiem – wzdycha Panasiuk.</p><p>W czerwcu 2017 roku polscy i białoruscy prawnicy i aktywiści złożyli skargi do Europejskiego Trybunału Praw Człowieka na zachowanie polskich funkcjonariuszy straży granicznej w stosunku do osób ubiegających się o azyl.</p><p>Po tej interwencji Trybunał orzekł, że Polska nie może nie wpuszczać na granicy uchodźcy chcącego złożyć wniosek o ochronę międzynarodową. Polskie władze zignorowały jednak wiążące tymczasowe orzeczenie Europejskiego Trybunału Praw Człowieka i odesłały uchodźcę z powrotem pociągiem do Białorusi.</p><p>W styczniu tego roku Mariusz Błaszczak zaproponował poprawki do ustawy o cudzoziemcach, które zezwalałyby na deportowanie ubiegających się o azyl bez możliwości odwoływania się od decyzji deportacyjnej.</p><p>Projekt Błaszczaka zakładał również możliwość stworzenia przez rząd listy bezpiecznych krajów pochodzenia i bezpiecznych krajów trzecich. Organizacja Human Rights Watch w raporcie na temat sytuacji w Polsce skrytykowała klasyfikowanie jako bezpiecznych Białorusi, Ukrainy i Rosji. „Takie podejście może doprowadzić do tego, że władze będą z automatu odrzucać wszystkie wnioski o azyl, bez rozpatrzenia ich treści” – przestrzega HRW w wydanym przez siebie dokumencie.</p><p>Tymczasem sąd w Warszawie orzekł, że polscy funkcjonariusze straży granicznej muszą umożliwić wszystkim osobom znajdującym się położeniu Czeczenów pełny dostęp do procedury azylowej. Jest to niewielka pociecha, mając na uwadze, przed czym uciekają Czeczeni.</p><h2>Odległa dyktatura</h2><p>Rosyjska telewizja przedstawia Grozny, stolicę Czeczenii, jako dobrze rozwinięte miasto mogące pochwalić się piękną aleją imienia Putina, jednym z największych meczetów w Europie i wyrafinowanym miejskim stylem życia. Nie wspomina się tam, że ludzie w Czeczenii żyją w ciągłym strachu.</p><p>– Podziemie terrorystyczne w Czeczenii praktycznie nie istnieje. Jednak system praw człowieka wprowadzany obecnie w republice ma na celu wyhodowanie terrorystów – wyjaśnia Oleg Chabibrachmanow, członek Komitetu Przeciwko Torturom. – Na Północnym Kaukazie jest w tej chwili na swój sposób spokojnie, ale ma to miejsce na skutek bezwzględnej polityki antyterrorystycznej.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Oleg_Khabibrakhmanov_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Oleg_Khabibrakhmanov_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Chabibrachmanow. Zdjęcie autorki. Wszystkie prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>Dwa lata temu czeczeńska siedziba komitetu w Groznym została podpalona i dziś obrońcy praw człowieka obawiają się dłużej w niej przebywać. Przywódca Czeczenii, Ramzan Kadyrow, oskarżył organizację o „podsycanie strachu i usiłowanie wywołania niepokojów społecznych w Groznym”.</p><p>Obecnie Rosja znajduje się w pierwszej dziesiątce krajów pod względem liczby osób, które ubiegają się o status uchodźcy w Europie, a 80% rosyjskich aplikantów o azyl pochodzi z Czeczenii. Według Europejskiego Urzędu Wsparcia w dziedzinie Azylu (EASO) w ciągu pierwszych dziewięciu miesięcy 2017 roku wnioski o ochronę międzynarodową w Unii złożyło 16 455 obywateli rosyjskich.</p><p>– Czeczeni kochają swoją ojczyznę bardziej niż jakikolwiek inny naród – wyjaśnia Swietłana Gannuszkina, przewodnicząca Komitetu Pomocy Obywatelskiej, organizacji pozarządowej pomagającej imigrantom. – Jeśli ją opuszczają, to muszą mieć poważne powody. Robią to, ponieważ wszędzie jest korupcja. Ponieważ trzeba oddawać część pensji przełożonym. Ponieważ strach w Czeczenii jest dziś podobny jak w okresie stalinizmu – mówi.</p><h2>Miasto miłości i nienawiści</h2><p>Wiele osób nazywa Białoruś „ostatnim zakątkiem Związku Radzieckiego”. Rządy prezydenta Aleksandra Łukaszenki z pewnością przywodzą na myśl późną sowiecką „stabilizację”, a on sam celowo romantyzuje w ten sposób sowiecką przeszłość.</p><p>Podobni robią dwie starsze kobiety, które zabijają czas na dworcu, rozmawiając o dobrych ludziach i dobrych uczynkach. Uważnie wsłuchuję się w rozmowę, myśląc o Wiaczesławie. Inni mieszkańcy Brześcia także pomagają uchodźcom: udzielają im schronienia, dają ciepłe ubrania i jedzenie. Panasiuk opowiadał mi nawet o brzeskim księdzu, który wspiera czeczeńskich uchodźców i jest krytykowany za pomoc niechrześcijanom.</p><p>Dwie kobiety też są sceptyczne. – Nie rozumiem ludzi, którzy pomagają Czeczenom. Gdyby naprawdę byli uchodźcami, znaleźliby na Białorusi pracę – mówi do mnie jedna z nich. – Mamy tu wiele podupadłych wiosek na Białorusi, niech tu chodzą do pracy i wiążą koniec z końcem. Wyjeżdżają do Europy nie po to, żeby pracować, ale żeby dostać lepszy socjal. Cwane aleki! Poza tym ich kraj i religia są bardzo niebezpieczne – zniża głos.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Wiem, że wielu z nich próbowało żyć na Białorusi, a nawet w Chinach i Kazachstanie, ale ludzie Kadyrowa dotarli do nich i tam”</p><p>– Wiem, że wielu z nich próbowało żyć na Białorusi, a nawet w Chinach i Kazachstanie, ale ludzie Kadyrowa dotarli do nich i tam – odpowiadam.</p><p>– Tak, tak, a Trockiego dopadli z siekierą w Meksyku – wykrzykuje kobieta. – Wiem. Nikt nie jest poza ich zasięgiem!</p><p>– Czyli lepiej byłoby im zostać w Czeczenii i czekać, aż pewnego dnia kolejna matka zastanie syna zabitego w wyniku tortur? – pytam, ale kobieta mi przerywa.</p><p>– Może ja też mogłabym wyjechać za granicę. Ale nie chcę zostawić ojczyzny. Kiedyś w ZSRR wszyscy byliśmy biedni, ale wszyscy byliśmy przyjaciółmi. Teraz każdy myśli o pieniądzach – mówi, machając rękami w powietrzu, dając mi do zrozumienia, że chce skończyć tę nieprzyjemną wymianę zdań. Nieopodal na dworcu śpią ludzie, a ona wciąż spogląda w przeszłość, za minionymi czasami.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechens_Brest_Starodubtseva-2_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechens_Brest_Starodubtseva-2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Czeczeńcy w hali dworca. Zdjęcie autorki. Wszystkie prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>Tymczasem marmurowa poczekalnia brzeskiego dworca budzi się do życia. Za kilka godzin rozpoczną się zajęcia tak zwanej szkoły demokratycznej. W weekendy do czeczeńskich dzieci z torbą prezentów i nową porcją wiedzy przyjeżdża Marina Hulia, nauczycielka z Polski.</p><p>– Każdego ranka zaczynam od modlitwy. Otwieram Koran, dzieci stoją ze mną w kręgu i modlimy się. Śpiewamy po czeczeńsku nieoficjalny hymn Czeczenii, potem uczymy się języka rosyjskiego i polskiego. Uczę dzieci, żeby nie wstydziły się radości. Nieważne, w jakim miejscu odbywają się lekcje – jeśli jest to dworzec, to w porządku, zrobimy co się da, żeby go ożywić – mówi Hulia.</p><p>– W odróżnieniu od innych dzieci, te czeczeńskie chcą chodzić do szkoły. Chcą jechać do Polski, żeby ich mamy przestały płakać, żeby ich ojcowie przestali czuć się bezsilni, żeby jeść coś innego niż tylko owsiankę i ziemniaki.</p><p>Z biegiem czasu dzieci na lekcjach jest coraz mniej. W miarę jak służby graniczne coraz częściej zawracają z powrotem uchodźców, coraz więcej zrozpaczonych rodzin wraca do Czeczenii. Jednak Marina jest zdecydowana, żeby kontynuować lekcje na przekór wszystkiemu. </p><h2>Naród jak ul</h2><p>Nieopodal rynku w Groznym stoją minibusy z napisami reklamującymi kursy do Brześcia. Obok siedzą cztery kobiety z ogromnymi torbami. Nie chcą odpowiadać na pytania. Nieco dalej stoi tak zwana „taksówka do Europy”. Aby zobaczyć Paryż, Czeczen musi zapłacić 400 euro.</p><p>Nawet po opuszczeniu Czeczenii uchodźcy dalej żyją w strachu. Nie obawiają się o swoje życie, ale o krewnych, którzy pozostali w republice. Uchodźcy w Brześciu mówią, że ich rodziny s wypytywane o ich miejsce pobytu w trakcie przesłuchań. Nie czują się bezpiecznie w Brześciu.</p><p>Saida siedzi w kawiarni niedaleko dworca. Z obawy przed prześladowaniem przez czeczeńskie władze uchodźcy ukrywają prawdziwe nazwiska, a niektórzy nawet noszą maski. Saida nosi czarną chustę. Zanim się odezwie, niespokojnie rozgląda się wokół i sugeruje, abyśmy poszli do niej do domu. „Szukają nas”, mówi zamykając drzwi małego mieszkania.</p><p>Rok temu w Czeczenii zaginął jej syn. Saida znalazła go trzy dni później. Leżał pod drzwiami, zakrwawiony i nieprzytomny.</p><p>– Podczas drugiej wojny czeczeńskiej, kiedy mój syn był małym chłopcem, na naszym podwórku wybuchła bomba. Został wtedy poważnie poparzony. Innym razem ocuciliśmy go po torturach, opowiedział, że bili go po bliznach, pytając, skąd je ma, gdzie produkuje i trzyma materiały wybuchowe.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Ludzie Kadyrowa wysyłają ofiarom zdjęcia zrobione w trakcie tortur, żeby przypomnieć im o tym, co przeszli</p><p>Syn powiedział jej później, że sam się zabije, żeby wojsko dało spokój rodzinie.</p><p>Syn Saidy próbował złożyć wniosek o status uchodźcy w Polsce 65 razy. Żadna z tych prób nie powiodła się, a rodzinie zaczyna brakować pieniędzy. Wkrótce nie będą mogli zapłacić czynszu. Mąż Saidy ma raka wątroby.</p><p>Według Panasiuka, ludzie Kadyrowa wysyłają ofiarom zdjęcia zrobione w trakcie tortur, żeby przypomnieć im o tym, co przeszli. – W 70% wszystkich przypadków torturowani mężczyźni ofiarami przemocy seksualnej. Żaden Czeczen nie przyzna się, że go to spotkało – zaznacza Wiaczesław.</p><p>Mahmud, były żołnierz, uważa, że to wstyd się skarżyć. Podczas konfliktu na Ukrainie wraz ze swoim plutonem pojechał walczyć na Donbasie.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_1072941.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_1072941.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Członkowie patriotycznego klubu „Ramzan” podczas uroczystego marszu z okazji Święta Konstytucji Republiki Czeczeńskiej, 2012. Zdjęcie (c): Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. Wszystkie prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>– Warunki były następujące: zostaliśmy zwolnieni z pracy, żebyśmy mogli zgłosić się na ochotnika, a po wszystkim mieli nas znowu przyjąć do pracy. Obiecano nam 100 dolarów za dzień – wspomina.</p><p>Kiedy odmówił dalszej walki na Ukrainie, Mahmud został oskarżony o sentymenty antyrosyjskie i zdegradowany.</p><p>– Kazano mi wyeliminować rodzinę, której ojciec należał zbrojonego gangu. Nazywał się Szejk Buriacki, zlikwidowaliśmy go sześć lat temu. Znałem tę rodzinę i wiedziałem, że nie są zaangażowani w żadną radykalną działalność, więc odmówiłem. Zrozumiałem, że ziemia do nich należąca znajduje się w dobrej lokalizacji, przy skrzyżowaniu, gdzie można zbudować hotel. Wiedziałem, że biurokraci chcą ją przejąć.</p><p>Mahmuda zabrano do Wydziału Dochodzeń Wewnętrznych, gdzie został oskarżony o udział w zbrojnym gangu. Założono mu sprawę karną. Potem zaczęły się tortury.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Czeczenię można opisać jako świetnie zamaskowaną dyktaturę</p><p>– Zabrali mnie do piwnicy i jakby ukrzyżowali. Były tam cztery metalowe uchwyty, dwa na suficie, dwa na podłodze. Przyszło dwóch zamaskowanych mężczyzn i powiedzieli, że jeśli nie przyznam, to oni to przyznanie do winy ze mnie wytłuką. Bili mnie gumowymi pałkami – wspomina Mahmud. Rozpina bluzę i pokazuje blizny.</p><p>– Zaczęli mi wyrywać paznokcie kombinerkami. Też mogę pokazać, nie mam paznokci u stóp. Wtedy byłem gotów przyznać się nawet do zamachu na Lincolna.</p><p>Kiedy w marcu ostatni raz rozmawiałam z Mahmudem, on i jego żona mieli za sobą trzynaście prób przekroczenia granicy, ale za każdym razem zostali zatrzymani przez straż graniczną i odesłani z powrotem. Czeczeńskie władze szukają go, pokazuje mi SMS-a o treści „znajdę cię i zastrzelę jak psa”.</p><p>– Wstydzę się przyznać, ale bardzo się boję – mówi.</p><p>– Czeczenię można opisać jako świetnie zamaskowaną dyktaturę. Ludzie nie pozwolą, aby pachołki Kadyrowa długo pożyli, ponieważ zadali zbyt wiele bólu i cierpienia. Zaraz po rezygnacji Putina ludzie na miejscu wyeliminują Kadyrowa. Czekają na to. Zebrali się jak pszczoły w ulu i są u kresu cierpliwości – mówi mi jeden z ukrywających się w Brześciu uchodźców.</p><h2>Cienie, ale nie zapomniani</h2><p>– Każdego dnia, kiedy pomagam kolejnej rodzinie, dokonuję wyboru. Jeśli wysyłam wolontariusza, mówię mu: „Decydujesz, kto zostanie zabity jako ostatni”. Ocenia się rodziny według określonych kryteriów; trzeba zdecydować, kto potrzebuje najbardziej pomocy – mówi Wiaczesław. Każdego wieczoru rozmawia z dziesiątkami czeczeńskich rodzin. Próbuje utrzymać emocje w ryzach i stara się nie robić im zbyt wielkiej nadziei. Czasami mu się nie udaje.</p><p>– Pamiętam rodzinę, która mieszkała na granicy Czeczenii i Dagestanu. Brat dołączył do obozu wahabitów w górach i przychodził do domu dwa razy dziennie jeść. Dla rodziny było nie do pomyślenia, że mogłaby go nie karmić. Tak więc rodzina ta była torturowana. Uciekli, spędzili cztery miesiące w Brześciu i 67 razy próbowali przekroczyć granicę. Zrezygnowali i wrócili do Czeczenii, gdzie ojciec został zabity. Matka z dziećmi uciekła z powrotem do Brześcia. Tym razem stosunkowo szybko pozwolono jej przekroczyć granicę. Dzieci wciąż myślą, że ojciec żyje, że nadal jest w Brześciu. Czy ktoś w rodzinie musi umrzeć, żeby reszta przekroczyła granicę? – pyta retorycznie Panasiuk.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Itum-Kale_1_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Itum-Kale_1_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Wioska Itum-Kale village, południowa Czeczenia, 2011. Zdjęcie na licencji CC-by-2.0: Vladimir Varfolomeev / Flickr. Niektóre prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>Często wychodzi na balkon, żeby zapalić papierosa. Widać przyćmione światło w domu naprzeciwko, gdzie mieszka rodzina czeczeńskich uchodźców. Wieczorem zwykle widać sylwetki dzieci, które siedzą w oknie i czekają. Gdy Wiaczesław pojawia się na balkonie, rodzina zbiera się przy oknie i pozdrawia go. Nie znają się osobiście, ale ten rytuał ma miejsce każdego wieczoru.</p><p>– Jedna z rodzin uciekła do Moskwy. Przez dwa dni utrzymywaliśmy kontakt przez WhatsApp. Potem przesłali mi wiadomość: „Znaleźli nas, to koniec. Dziękujemy za wszystko, co dla nas zrobiłeś”. Próbowali uciec do Polski 50 razy. Kiedy próby nie odnoszą skutku, nie wiedzą już, gdzie się podziać i są gotowi umrzeć. Wiem o co najmniej dwóch rodzinach, którym nie udało się nam pomóc i których członkowie zginęli po powrocie do Czeczenii.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Znam też ponad dwadzieścia rodzin, które wróciły do Czeczenii, od których nie otrzymałem ani jednej wiadomości”</p><p>Znam też ponad dwadzieścia rodzin, które wróciły do Czeczenii, od których nie otrzymałem ani jednej wiadomości. Obiecywali, że skontaktują się ze mną, kiedy tam dotrą. Mogę tylko domyślać się powodu. Cała rodzina została natychmiast zlikwidowana – mówi, po czym milknie na minutę i wyciąga kolejnego papierosa.</p><p>Wiaczesław żegna się z jeszcze jedną czeczeńską rodziną, ostatnią tego dnia. Wyłącza telefon i zamyka drzwi balkonu. Ostry podmuch powietrza wdziera się do pokoju, by w ciągu kilku minut rozwiać się w cieple. Sylwetki dzieci w oknie naprzeciwko znikają w ciemności.</p><p>Od redakcji: Wiaczesław Panasiuk opuścił Białoruś, jego rodzinę przesłuchiwano. Panasiuk przeszedł kurs rehabilitacyjny dla obrońców praw człowieka, by poradzić sobie z doświadczeniami pracy z czeczeńskimi uchodźcami w Brześciu. Chce kontynuować pomoc osobom ubiegającym się o azyl. Od czasu jego wyjazdu z kraju sytuacja na brzeskim dworcu znacznie się pogorszyła.</p><p><em>Tłumaczenie: Aleksandra Małecka</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/europa-z-second-handu">Europa z second handu: Ukraińcy w Polsce</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Marina Starodubtseva Migration matters Chechnya Belarus Sat, 23 Dec 2017 00:25:50 +0000 Marina Starodubtseva 115472 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Chechen watcher https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Hundreds of desperate Chechen refugees are still stranded on the Belarusian border, waiting to enter the EU. Many locals are sceptical of the newcomers — but some have stood up to help. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/kak-chechenskie-bezhenzy-pytautsya-sbeghat-v-evropu">RU</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/aniol-stroz-czeczenow-pl" target="_blank">Polski</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Brest_Railway_Station.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Brest_Railway_Station.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Brest railway station. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It’s night in Brest. At this hour there isn’t a soul on the streets of this small Belarusian town just a few kilometers from the Polish border. Two men silently exchange glances and cross the bridge over the railway tracks, braving the strong wind. Down there, from the immense Stalin-era railway station, they look like two black dots. </p><p dir="ltr">They stop in the hall of the railway station. At first glance, it seems like the place is empty, but wait a moment and you’ll distinguish the figures of women in hijabs, surrounded by a flock of children, among the slender rows of benches in the waiting room. They’re trying to sleep, but every few hours the security guard wakes them. It’ll be a long night.</p><p dir="ltr">European attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis of migration is mostly focused on the Mediterranean. The situation on the European Union’s eastern border barely gets a look-in. Every day, roughly one hundred people fleeing the repressive rule of Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya try their luck here, hoping to enter the EU along the so-called Eastern Route through Belarus. Most of them are turned back by Polish border guards and have to stay in Belarus. </p><p>At the crack of dawn, a woman in her early sixties approaches one of the families, gives them train tickets from Brest to the Polish border town of Terespol and explains how to behave at the border crossing point. The children listen attentively. Early in the morning they will head for Poland again, hoping never to return to Chechnya. This isn’t their first attempt, and it probably won't be their last.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Chechen Watcher</h2><p dir="ltr">Whenever Viachaslau Panasiuk enters Brest railway station, people take notice. The human rights defender is well known here; some Chechens are always on the lookout for him. </p><p dir="ltr">Panasiuk, 22, is coordinator of the legal department of the Refugees Rescue Mission in Brest, established by a human rights organisation <a href="https://www.humanconstanta.by">Human Constanta</a>. He hasn’t left Brest since his arrival in September 2016. Back then, he didn’t know whether he was up to the task. Now one could call him The Chechen Watcher. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_panasiuk_brest.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_panasiuk_brest.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Viachaslau Panasiuk. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Viachaslau and I are sitting in a cafe near the station. He points at a waitress: “You see her? When the station was totally packed, the refugees asked her for hot water, but she wouldn't give them any. I spent the whole night carrying thermos flasks for them.”</p><p dir="ltr">“As for the security guards,” he adds, “they’re usually okay with Chechen refugees. At least they don't throw them out. Well, not always. Once a Chechen prayed right in the station building. I had to distract the guards while he was praying.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Viachaslau admits he knew nothing about Chechens when he first arrived here. Two years ago, he was a third-year student of the University of Minsk. However, he wasn't able to receive his bachelor’s degree: he was expelled from the university for political reasons. As a “political undesirable” of sorts himself, it may be no surprise that Viachaslau found common cause with the Chechens.</p><p dir="ltr">He’s developed a taste for the songs of Chechen militant and bard Timur Mutsurayev, a phenomenon of the Chechen war. Viachaslau sings along to “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbVWjNY-rcM">Welcome to Hell</a>”, and tells me he’s become slightly Chechen himself.</p><p dir="ltr">So, why did Panasiuk decide to help these Chechens?</p><p dir="ltr">“Seventy years ago, they defended Brest against the Nazis — the city is now in their debt,” he responds. “But now that the city doesn’t protect them now, we do instead.”<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">Invisible refugees</h2><p dir="ltr">Panasiuk buys a ticket for the earliest train from Brest to Terespol. Chechen refugees use this commuter train to enter the EU and apply for refugee status. Bearded men, women in headscarves and little children gather at the platform at around 8 AM. None of them have Schengen visas. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Two carriages are allocated specially for the refugees, but cashiers at the station refuse to sell them tickets. They try to explain: “No! It’s for your own good. Why on Earth do you want to travel with them?”</p><p dir="ltr">As of this month, Human Constanta estimates that up to 100 people attempt to cross the Polish border to seek asylum every day. Panasiuk adds that if six months ago, two to four families succeeded, now only one family is not turned away by border police. </p><p dir="ltr">With every attempt to cross, resources dwindle. Most refugees in Brest live in rented apartments; however, they run out of money slowly, so they are eventually forced to leave for the train station.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As of this month, up to 100 people attempt to cross the Polish border to seek asylum every day</p><p dir="ltr">When commenting on the situation on the border, the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Poland Mariusz Blaszczak said he would not let the influx of Muslims happen and <a href="https://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/szef-mswia-mariusz-blaszczak-o-czeczenach-na-polskiej-granicy,672450.html">Poland would not surrender to those prompting the migration crisis</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Many refugees told us that while on the border, guards drew attention to their being Muslims (which in today’s political atmosphere in Poland means a security threat). Others said some guards even drew a pair of horns in someone’s passport. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“We helped one refugee whom the border guards said that they could tell by his face that he was a bad person,” sighs Panasiuk.</p><p dir="ltr">In June 2017, Polish and Belarusian lawyers and activists sent complaints to the European Court of Human Rights about the actions of Polish border guards against asylum seekers. </p><p dir="ltr">After this, the ECHR decided that Poland should not return a refugee who wanted to submit an application for international protection at the Poland-Belarus border. However, Polish authorities <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/15/poland-ignores-european-court-over-return-asylum-seeker">ignored the binding European Court of Human Rights interim orders</a> and put him on a train back to Belarus. </p><p dir="ltr">Earlier this year, Mariusz Blaszczak proposed amendments to the Law on Foreigners that would allow rejected asylum seekers to be deported without the possibility to appeal their deportation decisions. </p><p dir="ltr">The new amendments proposed by Blaszczak in January also introduced the possibility for the government to establish a list of safe countries of origin and safe third countries. In its report, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/24/eroding-checks-and-balances/rule-law-and-human-rights-under-attack-poland">Human Rights Watch dismissed the idea</a> that Belarus, Ukraine and Russia could be designated as such. “Such possible designations could result in the authorities ruling all asylum claims inadmissible without considering the merits of the claims”, concluded the document.<br /><br class="kix-line-break" />Yesterday, a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/hfhrpl/photos/a.130813724398.104434.90194404398/10155880752804399/?type=3&amp;theater">court in Warsaw ruled</a> that Polish border guards must now allow those in the Chechens’ position full access to the formal asylum seeking procedure. A small relief, given what they’re fleeing from.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">A distant dictatorship</h2><p dir="ltr">The capital of Chechnya, Grozny, appears on Russian TV channels as a well-developed city with a beautiful avenue named after Putin, one of the largest mosques in Europe, and a sophisticated modus vivendi. They don’t mention that people in Chechnya live in constant fear.</p><p dir="ltr">“A terrorist underground in Chechnya is practically non-existent. Nonetheless, the human rights system which is being established in the republic now aims at the cultivation of terrorists.” explains Oleg Khabibrakhmanov, a member of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. “In one sense, the North Caucasus is peaceful these days, but only because of an indiscriminate anti-terror policy.” Two years ago the committee’s office in Chechnya was burnt down and now human rights activists are afraid to hang around there for long. The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, accused the organisation of “stoking fear and trying to trigger civil unrest in Grozny.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Oleg_Khabibrakhmanov.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Oleg_Khabibrakhmanov.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Khabibrakhmanov. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Currently, Russia is among the top ten countries by number of applicants for refugee status in Europe, and 80% of Russian asylum-seekers are from Chechnya. <a href="https://www.easo.europa.eu/information-analysis/analysis-and-statistics/latest-asylum-trends">According to EASO</a>, during the first nine months of 2017, 16,245 Russian citizens applied for international protection in the EU.</p><p dir="ltr">“Chechens cherish their homeland more than any other nation”, Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civic Assistance Committee, an NGO which aids migrants. “If they leave, there surely are solid reasons. Because there's corruption everywhere. Because you have to surrender part of your salary to your superiors. Because the level of fear in Chechnya today is like back in the Stalin era.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">City of love and hate</h2><p dir="ltr">Many people call Belarus “the last corner of the Soviet Union”. President Alexander Lukashenka’s rule certainly reminds one of late Soviet “stability”, and consciously romanticises the Soviet past in this manner. </p><p dir="ltr">So, too, do a pair of elderly women killing time by the station doors, talking about good people and good deeds. I cautiously listen in on the conversation, with Viachaslau’s example on my mind. Other Brest citizens also help the refugees: giving them shelter, warm clothes, and food. Panasiuk also told me about a priest in Brest who helps Chechen refugees, and is criticised for helping non-Christians.</p><p dir="ltr">These two women are just as sceptical. “I don’t understand those who help these Chechens. If they really were refugees, they would find jobs in Belarus,” one of the elderly women says to me. “We have plenty of decrepit villages here in Belarus, so come here to work and live from hand to mouth. They go to Europe not to work but to get better welfare payments. Smart alecs! Besides, their country and religion are very dangerous” — she whispers.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I know many of them have tried to live in Belarus — even in China and Kazakhstan — but Kadyrov’s men found them even there”</p><p dir="ltr">“I know many of them have tried to live in Belarus — even in China and Kazakhstan — but Kadyrov’s men found them even there”, I respond.</p><p dir="ltr">“Yeah, yeah, Trotsky was killed with an axe in Mexico” she snaps. “I get itnobody’s beyond their reach!”</p><p dir="ltr">“You think they'd better stay in Chechnya and wait until a mother finds her son killed after yet another torture session?” I exclaim, but she interrupts me.</p><p dir="ltr">“Maybe I could go abroad. But I don’t want to leave my homeland. Back in USSR, we were all poor, but we were all friends. Now all anybody thinks about is money” — she responds, waving her hands in the air to signal an end to this unpleasant conversation. A handful of people are sleeping in the bus station nearby, and she’s still turning the clock back to times past.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the marble waiting room of the Brest railway station begins coming to life. In a few hours, classes of the so-called democratic school will begin. On weekends Marina Hulia, a teacher from Poland, visits the Chechen children with a bag of presents and a portion of new knowledge. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Chechens_Brest_Starodubtseva.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Chechens_Brest_Starodubtseva.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“I begin every morning with a prayer; I open the Quran, children stand in a circle with me and we pray. We sing the unofficial anthem of Chechnya in Сhechen, then we have Russian and Polish language classes. I teach children that being cheerful isn't shameful. A place of schooling is irrelevant; if it happens to be a train station, alright, let’s do our best to make it lively,” says Hulia.</p><p dir="ltr">“Unlike others, these Chechen children want to go to school. They want to go to Poland, so their mothers would stop crying, so their fathers wouldn't feel helpless, so they wouldn’t live off porridge and potatoes.”</p><p dir="ltr">But over time, the lessons are getting smaller. As more refugees are turned away by the border police, more families return to Chechnya in despair. Yet Marina is determined to hold her classes, come what may.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Beehive Nation</h2><p dir="ltr">Outside the central market in Chechnya’s capital of Grozny stands a minibus advertising trips to Brest. Four women sit nearby with huge bags. They don’t answer questions. A little further is the so-called “taxi to Europe.” To see Paris, a Chechen needs to pay 400 Euros.</p><p dir="ltr">Even after leaving Chechnya, refugees still live in fear. They fear not for their lives, but for those of their relatives who remain in the republic. Refugees in Brest say their relatives are interrogated for information on their whereabouts. They don’t feel safe in Brest either.</p><p dir="ltr">Saida sits in a café near the Brest train station. Due to their fear of persecution by the Chechen authorities, refugees hide their real names, and some even wear masks. Saida wears a black headscarf. Before speaking, she anxiously glances around her and suggests we go to her home. “They’re looking for us,” she says, as she shuts the front door of her small apartment.</p><p dir="ltr">A year ago, her son went missing in Chechnya. Saida found him three days later— lying at her doorstep, bloodstained and unconscious.</p><p dir="ltr">“When my son was a small boy during the Second Chechen War, a bomb went off in our yard and he was severely burnt. When we revived him after his torture, he said they had beat his scars, asking him where they were from, and where he made and stored explosives.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">After torture sessions, Kadyrov’s men send their victims photos to remind them of the ordeal</p><p dir="ltr">Her son later told her that he would kill himself so that the military would leave his family alone.</p><p dir="ltr">Saida’s son has attempted to obtain a refugee status in Poland 65 times. All his attempts have come to nothing, and the family is running out of money. Soon, they won’t be able to pay their rent. Saida’s husband has liver cancer.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Panasiuk, after torture sessions Kadyrov’s men send their victims photos to emind them of the ordeal. “In 70% of all cases, the tortured men were sexually assaulted. Not a single Chechen will tell anyone he has been assaulted this way”, adds Viachaslau.</p><p dir="ltr">As a former soldier, Mahmud says he finds it shameful to complain. During the Ukrainian crisis he, along with his platoon, went to fight in the Donbas. “The conditions were as follows: we were fired from our jobs, so that we could go as volunteers and then we would come back a find jobs again. We were promised $100 per day.” Mahmud recalls.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_1072941.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_1072941.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of the patriotic club "Ramzan" during the festive procession dedicated to the Day of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic, 2012. Photo (c): Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After he refused to go and fight in Ukraine, Mahmud was accused of anti-Russian sentiments and demoted. </p><p dir="ltr">“I was then ordered to eliminate a family, the father of which was an armed gang member. His name was Sheikh Buryatsky, we liquidated him six years ago. I knew this family and I knew they weren’t involved in any radical activity, so I refused. I understood that the family’s land was in a good location — at the crossroads, where a hotel could be built. I knew the bureaucrats wanted it in their hands.”</p><p dir="ltr">Mahmud was taken to the Internal Investigations Division where he was warned and accused of being an armed gang member. A criminal case was opened. Then the tortures began.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Chechnya can be described as a dictatorship under a splendid disguise</p><p dir="ltr">“I was taken to a basement, where they sort of crucified me — there were four metal rings, two on the ceiling, two on the floor. Two masked men came in and told me that if I didn’t confess, they would beat these confessions out of me. They beat me with rubber batons,” Mahmud recalls. Then he unzips his hoodie and shows the scars.</p><p dir="ltr">“They began to pull out my toenails with pliers. I can show them as well, I have no nails on my little toes. At that moment I was ready to confess to Lincoln’s assassination, to say the least.” </p><p dir="ltr">When I last spoke to Mahmud in March, he and his wife had made thirteen attempts to cross the border, but every time they were stopped by the border guards and sent back where they came from. The Chechen authorities are searching for him; he shows me a text message which reads: “I will find you and shoot you like a dog.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’m very scared,” he says.</p><p dir="ltr">“Chechnya can be described as a dictatorship under a splendid disguise. People won’t let his [Kadyrov’s] henchmen live for long, because they have brought too much pain and suffering in our land. Right after Putin resigns, our people will eliminate Kadyrov. They’re waiting for it. They have gathered together like bees in a beehive and they are at the limit of their patience,” a refugee currently hiding in Brest tells me.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Shadows, but not forgotten</h2><p dir="ltr">“Every day when I help another family, I make a choice. If I send a volunteer, I tell him “You decide who’ll get killed last.” You always assess families according to certain criteria; you have to decide who is in a greater need of help,” Viachaslau says. Every evening he talks to dozens of Chechen families. He tries to keep his emotions under control and refrain himself from giving them too much hope. Sometimes, he fails.</p><p dir="ltr">“I remember one family that lived on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. The brother went to a Wahhabi camp in the mountains, and came back home for food twice a day. It was unthinkable for the family not to feed him, he was a family member, after all. So the family was tortured. They fled, spent four months in Brest, and made 67 unsuccessful attempts to cross the border. They gave up, and returned to Chechnya, where the father killed. The mother with her children fled to Brest again. This time, they let her cross the border pretty quickly. The children still think their father is alive, that he’s just still in Brest. Does somebody in a family have to die before the rest can cross the border?” asks Panasiuk.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Itum-Kale_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Itum-Kale_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Itum-Kale village, southern Chechnya, 2011. Photo CC-by-2.0: Vladimir Varfolomeev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">He frequently goes to the balcony for a smoke. A dim light is visible in the house opposite, where a Chechen refugee family lives. In the evening, one can usually see silhouettes of the children, sitting at the window, waiting. When Viachaslau appears on the balcony, the whole family gathers at the window and they greet each other. They don’t know each other personally, but this ritual takes place every evening.</p><p dir="ltr">“One family fled to Moscow. We kept in touch via WhatsApp for two days. Then they messaged me and said, “They’ve found us, we are finished, thank you for everything you’ve done for us.” They attempted to flee to Poland 50 times. When they fail they don’t know where to go anymore and are ready to die. I know of at least two families whom we couldn’t help and the members of which got killed upon arrival back in Chechnya. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I know of more than twenty families who came back to Chechnya, from whom I haven’t received a single message</span></p><p dir="ltr">I know of more than twenty families who came back to Chechnya, from whom I haven’t received a single message. They swore to me they would establish contact with me when they are there. I can think of a reason for all this – the whole family was eliminated at once,” he says, then keeps silent for about a minute and pulls out another cigarette.</p><p dir="ltr">Viachaslau says goodbye to one more Chechen family, his last for today. He switches off his phone and closes the balcony door – a gust of the sharp wind finds its way into the room; in a matter of several minutes it’s completely dispersed in the warmth. The children’s silhouettes in the opposite window fade away, absorbed by darkness.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Editor’s note: Viachaslau Panasiuk has now left Belarus, and his relatives have been interrogated. Affected by his work with Chechen refugees in Brest, Panasiuk has undergone a rehabilitation course for human rights defenders, and hopes to continue helping the asylum seekers. Since his departure from the country, the situation at Brest station has deteriorated significantly.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kasia-narkowicz-konrad-pedziwiatr/why-are-polish-people-so-wrong-about-muslims-in">Why are Polish people so wrong about Muslims in their country?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yulia-gorbunova/we-have-nothing-else-to-sell-but-our-teeth">We have nothing else to sell but our teeth</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Marina Starodubtseva Migration matters Human rights Chechnya Belarus Thu, 23 Nov 2017 12:27:51 +0000 Marina Starodubtseva 114852 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/syrian-refugees-in-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Syrian citizens are fleeing from their war-torn homeland, and some of them have chosen Russia as their country of asylum. But life for them here is also a struggle. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/siriyzy-v-rossii-drugaya-voina" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/5564-12-Refugees1-472x310_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/5564-12-Refugees1-472x310_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="302" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Free integration courses for refugees in the "Civic Assistance Committee". Source: refugee.ru. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s support for Syria, in fact, only extends to its armed forces, and the country’s civilian population has received less and less attention as the years pass. In July 2017, only two Syrian citizens were given refugee status in Russia. In January 2017, 1,317 Syrian citizens were given temporary asylum, but by summer the number had fallen to 1,301. And although Russia is one of a handful of countries to issue visas to Syrians ‚ and with it the right to legally escape the war — the situation of displaced people in Russia is far from enviable.</p><p dir="ltr">Svetlana Gannushkina and Natalya Gontsova of the<a href="http://refugee.ru/en/"> Civic Assistance Committee</a>, a Russian NGO that supports refugees and forcibly displaced persons, spoke to oDR about the problems they face in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How many Syrians are currently living in Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Svetlana Gannushkina:</strong> According to official figures, there are now roughly 7,000 Syrians in Russia. That’s a small number for the whole of Russia, but a significant burden for our organisation. At my count, there are 2,000 Syrians living here permanently and with legal status. Another 1,300 have temporary asylum, and only two people have refugee status. This is not surprising: only 589 people overall have refugee status in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">About 5,000 Syrians are, however, in limbo — these are the people who turn to us for help. Many of them live in the Moscow region, in the towns of Losino-Petrovsky and Noginsk. We are also approached by people whose temporary asylum status hasn’t been renewed, a situation that has recently become the norm.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are there specific criteria for assigning Syrian citizens who have fled their country refugee status?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Natalya Gontsova:</strong> The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees considers all Syrians to be refugees, since they are fleeing from a war.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1img_5038_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1img_5038_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="448" height="346" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Svetlana Gannushkina, Chairperson of the Committee, and Natalya Gontsova, Counselor for Migration Issues. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why do Syrians choose Russia as their country of asylum? It doesn’t seem like an obvious choice.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG: </strong>First, Russia is one of the few countries that still issues Syrians with tourist entry visas. In the second, some Syrians have connections here. Aleppo, for example, was historically famous for its garment industry. Before the war, successful business people from the city opened clothing factories in Russia and recruit fellow Syrians to work in them. Some people, for example, had already set up shop in Russia in 2011, and then, when they realised they couldn’t return home, they settled here and invited their families to join them. That’s what has happened in Noginsk. A few young Syrian men settled there, gave their brothers or fathers power of attorney so they could marry a Syrian woman. After the marriage was officially registered in Syria, their brides could join them here.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Visas play a role here. Russian consulates hand them out pretty easily. And people flee to whatever country accepts them"</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> Yes, visas play a role here. Russian consulates hand them out pretty easily. And people flee to whatever country accepts them. We recently helped a family from Syria, a mother and two children. When I asked how they had come to Russia, the woman said that they had paid $3,000 each for tourist visas. Of course, every consul is well aware that if someone is coming from Syria or Yemen, which are experiencing conflict, they will request asylum. But there’s no consistency about what happens next: Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which issues the visas, knowing that these people are not coming as tourists, has one policy; the Internal Ministry, meanwhile, has another, and refuses them asylum.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Where does this attitude come from?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> I think this cruelty is forced on them from the top. Russia doesn’t need migrants — this is what the government believes, and explains it by suggesting that “the people won’t like it”. The argument goes like this: if we give asylum to someone today, there’ll be another crowd banging on the door tomorrow. Europe is in shock and doesn’t know what to do next. </p><p dir="ltr">But who are these “people” they talk about? I’m part of the people. The intelligentsia are also part of it, and don’t try to deny that. I don’t live on benefits: I’ve worked all my life, just like my ancestors. Everybody has their own perception of “the people” — i.e. others who are like themselves. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Refugees here see Russia as a wheel which you need to keep constantly spinning in order to survive"</p><p dir="ltr">I make frequent trips to Europe and have never seen any shocked-looking Europeans — we <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">only see them on our TV screens</a>. In Germany, they recently published an electoral map showing where people had voted for Alternative for Germany, whose policies are based on anti-migrant/refugee ideas. Interestingly enough, AfD won the most votes in regions with very few migrants — unfortunately, mainly in the former GDR.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do refugees in Russia see the country as a temporary home or are they interested in settling here?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> There are various types of refugees and migrants. Some are families: the husband comes first and the family follows. They settle down here, learn Russian, get used to life here and want to stay, so they do all they can to get permanent residence status. But there are also young unmarried men who are more mobile, see no prospects in Russia and would happily move on if they could. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC09513_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC09513_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Civic Assistance Committee opened courses for Syrian refugees, children and adults in Noginsk. Photo: Polina Rukavichkina / refugee.ru. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">In general, of course, refugees here see Russia as a wheel which you need to keep constantly spinning in order to survive. It’s hard psychologically, so they dream about moving to somewhere where they’ll have a better reception. Some people hope for help from members of their own community, but are abandoned. Half of them have told me how they paid several thousand dollars to other Syrians in Russia to organise temporary residence permits, and then discovered that their “helpers” just disappeared with the money.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Refugees who are refused legal status — and that’s the majority — can expect to be expelled from Russia. But people somehow find ways to live under the radar for years, and sometimes decades"</p><p dir="ltr">Many are prepared to stay because they have no choice: they have nowhere to go back to. Refugees often say to me: if it wasn’t for the children, I’d rather go back to Syria and die there than suffer here. It’s usually older people who tell me this. I immediately remember my own grandfather: he never left his home village, but was keen to see his daughters, at least, leave for the city. It’s the same for elderly Syrians: they don’t want anything for themselves and everything they do is for their families’ future. People are the same everywhere.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> At the same time, refugees who are refused legal status — and that’s the majority — can expect to be expelled from Russia. But people somehow find ways to live under the radar for years, and sometimes decades. This is a peculiar thing about Russia. I know one man — not, it’s true, from Syria — who was ordered to be expelled by a court. But he has lived very well for 20 years in Russia. He has a wife and child, and works informally, off the books. His mother-in-law, admittedly, can’t understand why he and his wife have never formally married — she doesn’t know he has no official ID papers. But he pays the police off any time he’s challenged about it. Not everyone, of course, has such phenomenal charm and chutzpah. </p><p dir="ltr">Most refugees are fleeced by the police, ripped off or worked into the ground by their employers and remanded in custody when the courts decide to expel them. There have been real cases of Syrians being expelled, but more recently, appeal courts have been overturning expulsion orders.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But where did the rumour come from that you can buy refugee status with a bribe?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Syrians have told us that there was a woman working in the Directorate for Migration Affairs who took money for organising residence permits. She was an intermediary between the migrants and the official who took the decisions, and was the person who actually handed people the papers they had paid for. But then it was discovered that many of those whom she had “helped” weren’t even in the migrant database.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What does a Syrian, or any other refugee in Russia, need to do to get some official status and become a legal resident here?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> The first thing they need to do is visit the Directorate for Migration Affairs and fill in an application form. That’s the theory, anyway. But in Russia they still have to fight for this application form to be accepted. Even trying to hand in the documents you need to apply for refugee status is no easy matter. The staff at the Directorate immediately try to put you off: “It’s too much of a hassle, and they’ll refuse you anyway.”</p><p dir="ltr">We had a case recently where a family — a mother and her two adult sons — arrived from Syria, and one of our volunteers went to the directorate with them. Initially the staff wouldn’t accept their application form for refugee status, but the volunteer persuaded them to take it. And how did it all end? A couple of months later their application, both for refugee status and temporary asylum was refused.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But how could they refuse them this status? Surely there is a UN Refugee Agency directive on this.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> They say that everything is fine in Syria, that international agreements are being signed everywhere and the situation is being normalised. But our Directorate for Migration Affairs doesn’t pay much attention to UN directives and international agreements. Its reference point is Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the arguments put forward for refusing a given person refugee status are based on information coming from that ministry.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"As for supporting refugees, we can say that the institution of asylum doesn’t actually exist in Russia. No one pays any attention to people here — and this applies not just to asylum seekers, but our own citizens"</p><p dir="ltr">They often write, for example, that “most of our population have difficulties of some kind: this applicant’s difficulties are nothing out of the ordinary”. In other words: “everybody suffers here, and you have to suffer as well”. </p><p dir="ltr">Applications are also turned down on the grounds that a person has come to Russia to improve his material situation, because of financial problems back home and not because it’s dangerous there — as though there’s nothing dangerous about having no work and nothing to eat. Maybe the bombs are no longer exploding every few minutes, but there’s still plenty of danger.</p><p dir="ltr">Refusals are often couched in absurd language. A young man applies for asylum, for example, and his elderly mother is still in Syria. The refusal document reads: “It is possible for him to return home, because he has family there, and his family members can help him.” But who is going to provide any support for him? His elderly mother, whom he may not even be able to find any more?”</p><p dir="ltr">Here is an extract from a refusal of temporary asylum in Russia to a 19-year old Syrian woman:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">According to the information bulletin of the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, issued on 4 July 2017 within the framework of the implementation of the Memorandum on the Creation of De-escalation Zones in Syria, signed by the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran on 4 May 2017, inspection teams are continuing to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire regime. The situation in the de-escalation zones is considered to be stable. The number of populated localities that have joined the reconciliation process has reached 1871, while the number of armed formations that have expressed their approval of the acceptance and implementation of the ceasefire conditions has reached 228. Negotiations are also continuing with armed opposition groups over acceptance of the ceasefire conditions in the Governorates of Aleppo, Ildib, Damascus, Hama, Homs and El Quneitra. The Centre for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties is carrying out humanitarian operations in the city of Aleppo, where the local population is receiving food parcels. Taking all this into account, there are grounds for believing that conditions in the home country of this applicant have stabilised considerably [emphasis added].</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But given that Russia provides Syria with military support, why can’t we give asylum to its people fleeing from the war?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> No, we don’t support Syria: we support its regime, which is not supported by the Syrian people. We don’t support the country, but government is friendly with it. Our governments are friendly with one another, but it’s really dangerous when governments talk to one another behind our backs.</p><p dir="ltr">As for supporting refugees, we can say that the institution of asylum doesn’t actually exist in Russia. No one pays any attention to people here — and this applies not just to asylum seekers, but our own citizens. Legalising migrants would be good for us as well as them: they would pay taxes, send their children to school, have vaccinations and visit their doctors to avoid becoming carriers of disease. They would also learn our language and culture and become a source of this language and culture, wherever they happened to be. It’s not military power and bombs that spread Russia’s influence in the world: it’s our language and culture.</p><p dir="ltr">Our citizens are perfectly capable of realising this. They just need to have it explained to them that these people are already in Russia, and the question of whether they should be doesn’t arise. Do we want them to live here legally, or to live here anyway, but as illegals? And that would mean an increase in corruption, a fall in wages and salaries, children aimlessly wandering the streets and getting drawn into a criminal environment.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, you can do what you like with an illegal worker, “squeeze the crap out of him”, as <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xd5q47/the-best-of-vladimir-zhirinovsky-russias-craziest-politician">Vladimir Zhirinovsky</a> puts it. You can squeeze him, and then throw away the crap - and there’ll be a queue of people to replace him waiting behind the door. What we have is a slave labour system. These powerless migrants, who can be underpaid or not paid at all, are a gift for dishonest employers. One of the things we do at Civic Assistance is to help these migrant labourers, which isn’t easy. We phone employers and ask them to pay the workers the money they have earned but unfortunately, we can think ourselves lucky if we get half of it back. We also try to defend the migrants’ interests in court, but there’s often nothing that can be done as there’s no proof of any formal working relationship.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>If a refugee or migrant has no formal status or has lost it, what can he or she do?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Theoretically, they should leave Russian territory within 48 hours. But they have a month to lodge a complaint with the Internal Ministry. If that is declined, they can take the matter to a district court, and if there are turned down there, they can go to appeal.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Refugees spend thousands on roubles on bribes: one person demands one here, another one there. People call them 'fines', but we know that they aren't"</p><p dir="ltr">If they lose their case at a Moscow City or Moscow Region Court, that’s basically the end of the line and they become illegal. They can’t leave Russia either — no other country will take them. So they go off to complete another application form, and the system gears up again: when a migrant turns up at the Directorate for Migration Affairs to make a second application, the police are called and they are taken to the nearest police station, where an officer draws up a charge sheet stating that they have “infringed the Russian Federation’s visa regulations”. The case then goes to court, and the court decides whether to expel them or not. And even if the judge decides to let them stay, they still have to pay a 5,000 rouble (£65) fine. And police practice in the Moscow region is that a repeat residence application can’t be filed until the fine is paid. But if the fine hasn’t been paid after 14 days, it’s back to the police station.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How long does it take to process an appeal?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> The whole process can take up to a year and while it’s going on the person has the legal right to remain in Russia. The police, however, take no notice of this rule, and if someone’s stopped on the street, it’s straight to the police station. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"People complain that they are forever getting stopped on the street by the police — even those who could 'pass' as Russians"</p><p dir="ltr">To live for a year in this state of suspense is really stressful. Let’s assume the refugees are not living in Moscow. They’ll have to travel there and back more than 11 times to go through the process of applying for documents and appealing when they’re turned down, and each time stand in a queue and be sworn at and even called “terrorists” and asked “what they’re doing here?” It’s not easy. They are continually being stopped on the street. Refugees spend thousands on roubles on bribes: one person demands one here, another one there. People call them “fines”, but we know that they aren’t.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But if refugees manage to jump through all these hoops and finally get a document giving them temporary asylum, can they then walk along a street without any fear?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> To be completely legal, you have to be registered at a given address. And that’s another circle of hell: you need to find accommodation and a landlady who’ll agree to register such a “peculiar” tenant.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And who will agree to let rooms to refugees in Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> That’s another massive problem, and many people refuse, but greed is a powerful persuader. Landowners bump their prices up by several hundred percent. Families look for flats; single people rent a bed in a shared room. It’s hard to convince owners that registering tenants doesn’t mean giving them official residence rights. And even if they do convince them, there’s yet another hurdle: the Directorate for Migration Affairs requires flat or house owners to come with the tenants to have them registered, and the owners get their share of insults and xenophobic remarks as they stand in the queue with the refugees.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is it possible to assess the numbers of refugees and migrants in Russia?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG: </strong>It used to be easy: the figures would be on the Directorate’s site. But now the Internal Ministry is responsible for the issue, and they aren’t publishing them anymore. We use Federal Statistics Office figures in our work.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But judging by those figures, there are only two Syrians with refugee status in the whole of Russia. Do you know who they are?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> We have no idea who they are. Why should they turn to us if everything is going so well for them? I’ve been working at Civic Assistance for two years now, and the figures haven’t changed – there are still just two Syrian refugees.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But in the last six months, the number of Syrians who have been given temporary asylum in Russia has also dropped (to 16). What’s that about?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Temporary asylum is only given for a year, or sometimes less, whereas you can hold refugee status for three years. Then you need to renew it. Exactly a month before your refugee status runs out, you have to go to the Directorate and “re-register”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1445100157_676779_89_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1445100157_676779_89_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="341" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>More than a month the family of Syrian refugees with four children lived in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport. After all, they didn't receive refugee status. Photo: Ekaterina Fomina / Novaya Gazeta. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">For a long time, the people working at the Directorate were very laid back about it all: a lot of refugees would turn up just ten days before the expiry of their status. But now if they re-apply even 29 days before, rather than 30, they are immediately refused any extension and reported as having missed their deadline. This year we have won a number of cases relating to asylum application renewal, all of them heard in Lyubertsy, in the Moscow Region, where the court officials were sympathetic to the plight of Syrian women and children.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do refugees find out about Civic Assistance?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Unfortunately, many of them still don’t know about us. Information about the committee is spread through the grapevine, but there are people who know about us but don’t come to us for help because they know that we can only help in isolated cases. We explain to people how they can act within the law, but often they don’t get the outcomes they’re hoping for. So people get disillusioned with the system, and sometimes with us as well.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> But it’s not just Civic Assistance that helps refugees. We have the Memorial Human Rights’ Centre’s Migration and Law network operating out of our offices. The network has several dozen legal advice points around Russia, from its western borders to the Far East.</p><p dir="ltr">The Migration and Law network has been going for more than 20 years now, despite a desperate lack of resources. When we don’t have enough money to pay our legal experts, they mostly go on working for us for free. We have a collective of like-minded people who meet up for seminars twice a year to discuss issues around migration and our work. We also invite people from the Directorate for Migration Affairs and other government bodies, as it’s absolutely essential that we work together. It’s obvious that NGOs can’t solve the problems of migration on their own.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>If Syrians are fortunate enough to get refugee status, what help can they expect from the Russian authorities?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> Firstly, the right to work. Then the opportunity to live in a temporary accommodation facility (of which there are five or six across Russia) and money for their journey. Those who have only just applied for refugee status and are waiting for a decision have the right to a one-off payment of 100 roubles (£1.30) and Compulsory Health Insurance.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What medical services can they access?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> If they are at death’s door, or about to give birth, they’ll get an emergency ambulance. The fact that they don’t know they have the right to dial the emergency services is another matter. But if they don’t have Compulsory Health Insurance, the hospital will try to throw them out as quickly as they can. The UN Refugee Agency has a partner, the Health and Life charity, which has an agreement with a private clinic in Noginsk (where the largest number of Syrian refugees live), and they run a clinic twice a month (but only for those who are in the process of applying for refugee status).</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Getting some kind of official status involves an enormous amount of hassle — all that running around from one government office to another, and then several appeals. Do refugees share their experiences with you? How do they stand the constant stress?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>NG:</strong> People complain that they are forever getting stopped on the street by the police — even those who could “pass” as Russians. In small towns like Noginsk, if police officers see a light haired lad in the company of migrants — that’s his reputation gone.</p><p dir="ltr">We’ve asked men about attacks, hate crimes. They’ve told us about insults and beatings. But they don’t complain: it would take pliers to drag any information out of them. Women are much more sensitive to xenophobia. They also stand out more on the street — most of them wear hijab. And local children don’t want to play with their children. But there’s an additional problem in Noginsk: most of the children aren’t given places in school, although in Russia, education is universal by law.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"In our government's eyes, we are, unfortunately, a 'foreign agent'. It would probably prefer that we didn’t exist"</p><p dir="ltr">I can tell you about one situation I witnessed myself: I went to the local education authority offices with two mothers, to get their children places at school. I sat them down on a bench opposite the director’s office, while I waited in the reception area. Suddenly an agitated woman flew into the office and started shouting, “Was it you who came with them? Ask them to stop talking in their language. Don’t they know where they are?” She was literally screeching that she couldn’t stand them speaking in Arabic.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s very unpleasant for Syrian women to be treated in such a way. At home in Syria, many of them were respected figures, but here they can be insulted, held by the police without food for several days and laughed at. Russians in general treat them like dirt.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do you fund your work?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> We are funded by foundations in other countries and have partnership support from the UN Refugee Agency. But they can’t give us as much money as in the past: the refugee issue is an enormous global problem, and Russia is doing very little to combat it. Ukrainian refugees are the exception: over the last four years around 200,000 Ukrainians have received Russian citizenship; a slightly larger number, temporary asylum, and 300 people have even been given refugee status. But this is a special case, which we aren’t discussing here.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What is the Russian government’s attitude to you?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>SG:</strong> In our government’s eyes, we are, unfortunately, a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">“foreign agent”</a>. It would probably prefer that we didn’t exist. They imagine that since we receive grants, the grant givers call the tune, whereas in fact the tune is called by international law and the people who ask for our help. </p><p dir="ltr">In January this year, our government passed legislation on organisations “engaged in socially useful functions”, and it is now preparing to support them by creating a register of these NGOs. But the same legislation states that those NGOs that the Ministry of Justice has included in the “Foreign Agent” register will not be eligible to be included in the “socially useful “one. </p><p dir="ltr">This is sad. But our work is needed and people are ready to help us, so for the moment we shall carry on.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/russia-refugee-children-school">Not in my classroom: Russia’s refugee children struggle to get to school</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/neil-hauer/to-victors-ruins-challenges-of-russia-s-reconstruction-in-syria">To the victors, the ruins: the challenges of Russia’s reconstruction in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia">A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/syriauntold-editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/why-are-russians-indifferent-to-syrian-conflic">Why are Russians indifferent to the Syrian conflict?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia North-Africa West-Asia oD Russia Ekaterina Fomina Migration matters Russia Human rights Thu, 02 Nov 2017 07:40:29 +0000 Ekaterina Fomina 114405 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russian-Germans and the surprising rise of the AfD https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/odr-editors-tatiana-golova/russian-germans-and-surprising-rise-of-afd-germany <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The right-populist AfD party is soon to take its first seats in the Bundestag. What was the role of Germany’s Russians in that unprecedented electoral success? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/redaktori-odr/v-poiskah-chuzhogo-germanii" target="_self"><strong><em>RU</em></strong></a>, <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/redaktionelles-odr/auf-der-suche-nach-dem-anderen" target="_self">Deutsch</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_14040027143_a905be03fd_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_14040027143_a905be03fd_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“A people’s decision, not politics against the people!” AfD members out campaigning before Bundestag elections. Photo: CC-by-NC-2.0: strassenstriche.net / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On 24 September, Germans voted for a new Bundestag. Chancellor Angela Merkel clinched an historic fourth term, with her party, the centre-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union), and its sister party the CSU (Christian Social Union), topping the polls. Her victory was, however, marred by the hard-right populist AfD winning its first seats in parliament. </p><p>Alternative für Deutschland, or to give the party its full name: Alternative for Germany, holds an openly xenophobic attitude to immigrants and refugees and precious little in the way of policies on other issues. Much of Germany’s media have no doubt where the blame lies: AfD’s votes, they say, must have come from the “Russians” – or rather, recently repatriated ethnic Germans from the former USSR. But is this really the case – and where did the idea come from in the first place? oDR talked about the situation with sociologist Tatiana Golova, a Research Associate at Berlin’s <a href="https://www.zois-berlin.de" target="_blank">Centre for East European and International Studies</a> (ZOiS).</p><p><strong>Two repatriates from the former USSR, or Russian Germans as they are also known, have just won seats in the Bundestag. There’s also a common perception of the AfD (encouraged by its leaders) as the party of the Russian-speaking Diaspora. How true is this? Does the AfD really represent their interests?</strong></p><p>I’m going to answer your question with two more – what is the Russian-speaking Diaspora and who are these “Russian Germans”? If we mean post-Soviet immigrants, the 2015 census gave their number at around three million (and the structure of the census was such that the number of second-generation repatriates recorded was lower than is actually the case). A majority of them are, of course, ethnic Germans from the former USSR. In Germany they are officially described as “late resettlers”, meaning people of German ancestry who repatriated after the fall of the Iron Curtain. About 2,300,000 of them, together with their families, resettled in Germany between 1990 and 2015. Many of them have since had children in Germany, so there is now a second and a third generation. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">About 2,300,000 people with German ancestry from the former Soviet Union resettled in Germany between 1990 and 2015</p><p>There are, of course, other groups of settlers. The second largest belongs to the Jewish emigration from the former USSR, mainly from Russia – about 200,000 people from this group settled in Germany over the same period. Since 2015, highly qualified immigrants have also been arriving under the aegis of the <a href="https://www.apply.eu/" target="_blank">Blue Card scheme</a>, the EU equivalent of the US Green Card programme. And then there are family members, refugees and Russian nationals who have been living in Israel, the USA or other European countries. </p><p>The AfD is keenest to reach “late resettlers”, because they have the right to vote in Germany. Other immigrants from the former USSR face considerable difficulty in gaining these rights, and not all of them are successful. Thus, post-Soviet migration is divided not only along cultural lines but also by potential participation in German political life. </p><p>As for their interests and political leanings, a 2016 publication by the <a href="https://www.svr-migration.de/en/" target="_blank">Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration</a> revealed that just 4.7% of late repatriates, with or without German citizenship, supported the AfD (the figures reflect a poll conducted in 2015, before the party’s open drift rightwards). For comparison, the figure for its support among the “indigenous” population was a mere 1.8%. </p><p><strong>How do the political views of people from the former USSR compare with those of other immigrant groups in Germany? Do late repatriates differ from other groups in this respect?</strong></p><p>They share much, but much divides them. Turkish immigrants, gastarbeiters and their families, have always supported the Social Democrats and still do. For a long time, the CDU were the party of choice for Russian Germans, with 65-68% supporting them, but by 2016 this figure had fallen to 40-45%. German sociologist Andreas Büst, however, notes that the same thing is happening with Turkish immigrants – a broadening of political preference. The longer people live in the country, the more diverse their political views. The left-wing Die Linke are gaining popularity among them, as are the Greens and other groups.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Merkel_EEpresidency_Feb17_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Merkel_EEpresidency_Feb17_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Germany’s latest elections saw a shift in the balance of power, but chancellor Angela Merkel has held on for a fourth term in office. Photo CC-by-2.0: Arno Mikkor / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In terms of elections, how do you find out what party Russian Germans voted for? Well, you can look at districts where they live with a high population density, a result of both a short-sighted housing policy in the 1990s and individual preferences. The Russian German faction within AfD is always crowing about its results in areas of high density housing – take Maibuche in the town of Waldbröl in North Rhine-Westphalia. It’s a small constituency with a high concentration of Russian Germans, where 50% of voters support AfD – though their 124 votes had little influence on the local result. The turnout was only 44%, much lower than the German average of 78%. This pattern is similar to many other places, including larger population centres with a high proportion of post-Soviet immigrants with the right to vote – in the Buckenberg district of Pforzheim in Baden-Württemberg, for example, AfD got 37%. </p><p>A more interesting question is to what extent one can extrapolate the views of all Russian Germans from these results. There are, after all, people who don’t live in areas of high immigration and are not immersed in more or less closed Russian-speaking communities. However, there’s little quantitative analysis of voluntary segregation of such groups. </p><p><strong>So what’s the origin of this supposed connection between Russian Germans and the AfD? Why is it assumed, and why has the AfD identified them as potential voters?</strong></p><p>Remember that the story of Russian Germans in the twentieth century was one of deportation and repressions. But the repressions have become a background issue – after all, anybody who considered it seriously would find it difficult to support a political party that is demanding a restrictive policy towards asylum seekers. The main factor now is how they perceive a common future: “We returned to our roots in Germany, and expected it to be like this and like this. We work, we earn money, we provide for ourselves. If you want to do well here, you work hard; you have a traditional family; you have strong intergenerational links and of course you adopt German cultural norms, you live like a German among Germans”.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Migration has a particular resonance for Russian Germans: “we waited so long, then these refugees turned up and they let them in straight away!”</span></p><p>There is also an ethnic component to this – “we were persecuted as Germans; we want to live in our German homeland” and so forth. On the other hand, this is a generic picture of Russian Germans’ way of life in small towns and villages in Siberia and Kazakhstan before they repatriated to Germany. The Russian Germans’ “return to the homeland” in the 1990s didn’t play out quite as it’s remembered today.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AfD_Rus_Advert_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AfD_Rus_Advert_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Defend your children from the consequences of uncontrolled migration and the teaching of perversion in schools!” reads this Russian-language AfD newspaper advertisement. Photo: Ayder Muzhdabayev / Facebook. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>That return was a potent story, and it was exploited by the CDU. The attraction of AfD, for its part, lies in disenchantment: “we returned to our homeland and found it completely different”. Russian Germans discovered that that Germans didn’t actually see them as fellow Germans. They felt discriminated, even as they underwent a process of assimilation that led them to a variety of political positions. And today you have AfD, ready to exploit the disenchantment, and not just on issues close to Russian Germans, but to those like the refugee question which remain highly charged among the wider population.</p><p>Russian Germans are particularly sensitive on this point: “we waited so long [and many of them did wait several years] and then these refugees turned up and they let them in straight away – why was it all so unfair?” What they don’t mention is that once the “Russians” did arrive, they were presented with considerably more rights and opportunities, and a fast track to German citizenship. We can say that the AfD gains traction on the back on wider issues, but cleverly tailors its statements to resonate with the attitudes of Russian Germans.</p><p>Importantly, AfD is a new party, and its members are not all former Christian Democrats. In Germany, if you want to end up in the Bundestag you need to get involved in politics from an early age – say, at school. That wasn’t common among Russian immigrants 20 or more years ago. But the AfD, as a young party, allows you to skip all the preliminary steps in your political career. That often has mixed results. Waldemar Herdt’s was the seventh name on the AfD candidate list in Lower Saxony at this election; Anton Friesen (born 1985) was fifth on the list in Thuringia. They, with their good German names, were both elected, but others were not so fortunate. Sergey Chernov was eleventh on his local party list, and Yevgeny Schmitt, another Russian German, was seventeenth. AfD supposedly wants Russian German support, but is not keen on putting Russian names high enough on its lists for them to be actually elected.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">AfD supposedly wants Russian German support, but is not keen on putting Russian names high enough on its lists for them to be elected</p><p>At the same time, a new generation of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and others is also on its way up through the ranks, having started at the bottom. Things should be getting interesting.</p><p><strong>The growth of right-wing movements like the AfD is hardly confined to Germany. The Russian-speaking community in its various incarnations has a powerful rightist potential in both the USA and Israel. Yet the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of people emigrating to Germany is very different from that of those who emigrated to those countries. Nevertheless, we see similar processes taking place. How can we explain this?</strong></p><p>I can’t say much about the USA and Israel, but I can about Germany. Russian Germans’ desire to emigrate to Germany and to belong there is based on their ancestry – that is a conservative principle. If they were to argue against that, they would be arguing against themselves. It didn’t start with the AfD – which was hardly the first rightist party to start mobilising Russian Germans. Just looking at the election results in Saxony, we can see that although nationalist and “patriotic” parties once had a lot of support, they weren’t as popular as the AfD is today. After all, not everyone was prepared to vote for the openly extreme right-wing NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany). Since the AfD didn’t have its roots in classic right-wing extremism, it got votes from ordinary people who had little interest in politics. And although many Russian Germans had right-wing views, they preferred not to vote for radicals – they generally had a more traditionalist outlook. </p><p><strong>You say that AfD’s strategy is to appeal directly to those immigrants who have the vote. Do you think other parties are equally interested in their views? Have the established democratic parties made any attempts to set up a dialogue with the Russian-speaking Diaspora? </strong></p><p>Somewhat, but they haven’t been successful and have perhaps started on the wrong foot. It seems to me that Russian Germans rarely get involved in the typical grassroots party work of knocking on doors in your local community. At the same time, distancing oneself from politics is a particularly strong phenomenon among post-Soviet people. Most wouldn’t touch political party meetings with a bargepole. But there are projects out there which aim to raise political consciousness among both Russian Germans and other Russian-speaking communities. The <a href="http://www.bvre.de/o-nas.html" target="_blank">Union of Russian-speaking Parents</a>, for example, attempts to involve post-Soviet immigrants in political life by organising a series of discussions before the elections in places like Leipzig and Marzahn, a dormitory suburb of Berlin.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The AfD chooses to speak to Russian Germans as “real Germans” - in Russian!</p><p>These events took place in Russian, and representatives of different parties were invited. It was really interesting and it was good that they took a different approach from the “oh, we can’t invite the AfD”. </p><p>The key question is, how specific are the problems of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and to what extent can their concerns be met by existing parties? The Greens are working on this – they’ve been raising question of full recognition of people’s earlier pension contributions before they came to Germany (this is especially relevant for Jewish immigrants). Other parties are also running discussion sessions, but I wouldn’t say they had met their full potential.</p><p>And last but not least, parties should be speaking to immigrants in Russian. It’s not a question of people not being able to speak German: the second generation speaks it well, the older generation with various levels of fluency – but when you speak Russian to people, you acknowledge their distinctiveness. How the AfD approaches this is fascinating, because they speak to them as “real Germans” – in Russian!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_35023461874_6ac0d21828_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_35023461874_6ac0d21828_k.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Two candidates from repatriate backgrounds (or as they’re still known, “Russian Germans”) have won seats in the Bundestag. Photo CC-by-2.0: Andy Blackledge / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Electoral rights are just one aspect, albeit an important one, of the experience of Russian speakers in emigration. Quite apart from the Russian Germans in Germany, there are a larger number of people who keep their Russian passports for years, don’t apply for citizenship in their new country for one reason or another but have nevertheless settled and live a normal life there. </strong></p><p><strong>Meanwhile, nationals of other EU states resident in Germany have at least local voting rights (they can elect members of their local council but not vote for a Chancellor), but citizens of post-Soviet states have no such rights. If they were given the same rights, would we see a different election result? And could such a reform increase the electoral potential of Germany’s democratic parties? </strong></p><p>The 2016 report I mentioned earlier found no significant difference in voting patterns between people with German citizenship and those without. Also, it’s not just Russian Germans who are conservative in their attitudes, but also the highly educated immigrants who have arrived under the Blue Badge scheme. So I’d like to look at other forms of political participation. There is electoral legislation, but in principle one can join a party and be a political activist without having citizenship. </p><p><strong>And do former Russian or Soviet citizens avail themselves of this kind of participation?</strong></p><p>To a limited degree, to put it mildly. There’s a certain distrust of public politics. The liberal immigrant community in Berlin is active in raising consciousness of what’s going on in Russia, but only in Russian-speaking circles (it would be good to do the same thing in German). Nevertheless, they do also discuss Russia’s attempts at interference in the German elections and the general political situation in Germany. There is a liberal Russian-speaking community, not only from Russia, that actively debates the situation in Crimea, for example. So discussion exists, but it’s a question of what concrete political forms it can take: whether people should take to the streets or not. After all, there are rarely many protesters in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin.</p><p><strong>Our columnist Nikolai Klimeniouk <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/merkel-victory" target="_blank">believes that the true victory of the right is that it now sets the political agenda</a>, despite lacking any coherent manifesto. The AfD has succeeded in getting everyone talking about immigrants and refugees, while other issues have been put on the back burner. Even the extreme right is setting an agenda for political participation. Given that, during the election campaign a supposed link between “Russians” and the German right suddenly started making the headlines, this is very relevant. So why did AfD’s opponents go along so easily with this idea that Russian-speaking immigrants were some kind of enemy within? </strong></p><p>This isn’t the first stigma to have been attached to settlers from the former Soviet Union. Back in the 1990s they were often not acknowledged as Germans and were on the receiving end of nasty xenophobic jokes; then they acquired a criminal reputation: young guys spreading Russian prison culture in German jails, alcoholics without a future and so on. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russian Germans are now “the AfD voters”, which is very convenient: responsibility for the rise of the right can be shifted onto the shoulder of foreigners</p><p>Now they are “the AfD voters”, which is very convenient: responsibility for the rise of the right can be shifted onto the shoulders of foreigners. The stereotype that Russian Germans are not real Germans is still very strong. </p><p><strong>In a word, they’re seen as some kind of hicks from the sticks?</strong></p><p>That’s it – they’re behind the times. And Russian Germans “obviously” voted this way on orders from Putin. But they didn’t vote for AfD because someone from outside had brainwashed them. They didn’t need propaganda to convince them of some of the party’s policies – restriction on refugee entry, for example. But the enlightened German public found it very convenient to believe that Russian Germans were responsible for AfD candidates winning Bundestag seats – even though Russian Germans have only two parliamentarians out of AfD’s 94. </p><p><strong>So all German politics revolves around the harassment of the “Others”? AfD stigmatises Muslim refugees, while liberal Germans lash out at the “Russians” who vote for this same AfD. It seems to be a vicious circle, with everyone looking for enemies.</strong></p><p>I think this will stop soon. There are other issues on the agenda, and I hope that this hunt for the “Others” will end. But that depends on how AfD behaves in the Bundestag. In the long term, these election results might encourage people in the Russian community who don’t share the party’s positions to become more politically active. </p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andriy-portnov/germany-and-disinformation-politics-of-ukraine-crisis">Germany and the disinformation politics of the Ukraine crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/how-operation-liza-failed">How “Operation Liza” failed</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/polina-aronson/you-re-better-than-you-think">You’re better than you think</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-grinko/why-moscow-will-never-get-museum-of-migration">Why Moscow will never get a museum of migration</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Germany Tatiana Golova Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Migration matters Russia Wed, 04 Oct 2017 15:52:50 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia and Tatiana Golova 113799 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Not in my classroom: Russia’s refugee children struggle to get to school https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/russia-refugee-children-school <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Headteachers in Russia’s schools are turning foreign children away — fearing hefty fines and pressure from the migration services. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/deti-bezhenzev" target="_blank"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Education-in-Emergencies-Will-Syrian-Refugee-Children-Become-a-Lost-Generation_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Education-in-Emergencies-Will-Syrian-Refugee-Children-Become-a-Lost-Generation_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children of Syrian refugees in an improvised school in Jordan. Forty percent of refugee children from the Middle East are not educated. Photo: Freedom House, open source.</span></span></span>Nura, 12, takes her belongings from her rucksack and lays them on the desk: a big, bright pink pencil-case emblazoned with the words “I’m CHIC”, a notebook, textbooks, and erasers. Nura always shares erasers with her neighbour Gufran, with whom she sits at the back desk in this classroom. On the next row sit two younger girls — another Nura and Soraya, who are best friends. The children slurp lollipops and freshly-picked plums as they take out trading cards. All of them are originally from Aleppo.</p><p dir="ltr">The girls have turned up for a lesson at an integration centre in the town of Noginsk, just outside Moscow. It’s run by <a href="http://refugee.ru/en/">Civic Assistance</a>, a human rights organisation that runs classes for the children of foreign citizens in Russia. The school itself comprises two classrooms in an office building. The walls are covered with posters of the alphabet, animals and household objects, as well as children’s drawings. Among them are samples of applications made to Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS), including possible answers in Arabic and Russian (and phrases such as “documents must be submitted to file an application” and “refusal for temporary asylum”).</p><p dir="ltr">Usually around 10-15 people turn up for a lesson, but today there are just five girls. After all, tomorrow is the festival of Kurban-Bayram. There’s no single timetable — teacher Elena Lebedeva, who is trained in pedagogy, begins the lesson with multiplication tables, then everyone reads a text about a boy, in which they have to insert the missing words in the correct grammatical case. “The towel is on the windowsill — so there is a messes in his room,” concludes Nura.</p><p dir="ltr">“A mess,” Elena Yurevna corrects her. “Teacher?” Gufran raises her hand, pronouncing the Russian word without softening the final “l” as is custom. “What’s a windowsill?” Nine year-old Shahad doesn’t know what the word “everywhere” means. While their elders are engaged, the young girls share green plums among themselves — during breaks Soraya and Nura make a break for a plum tree which grows near the school.</p><p dir="ltr">Gufran tells me that she and her sisters (Soraya and the younger Nura) have lived in Russia for five years. The older Nura and her family moved to Noginsk even earlier — back in 2011. This school for the children of refugees opened three years later. One of its founders was the Syrian journalist Muiz Abu Aljadail. Initially, teachers’ salaries were paid by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). However, local authorities actively obstructed the centre’s work: the FMS put pressure on those from whom it rented facilities, and it soon had to move premises. Muiz eventually left Russia. Today, the centre’s work is only possible thanks to private donations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Without a clear legal status, the children of refugees cannot receive an education — although they formally have the right</p><p dir="ltr">Syrians have lived in Noginsk since well before the war, and generally worked in textile factories (of which there are eight in this city of 100,000). When war broke out in Syria, many decided to stay here for good and arranged for their families to join them. The majority of these people had arrived in Russia on tourist visas, after which they received temporary asylum. Once that period had expired, the migration service told them that they could return home — in the minds of these government officials, the war in Syria had already come to an end.</p><p dir="ltr">Civic Assistance cites <a href="http://refugee.ru/publications/39-priznannyh-bezhentsev-v-2016-godu-rossijskie-antirekordy-i-pochemu-malta-silnee-rossii">data</a> from the Federal Statistical Service: as of 1 January 2017, only two Syrian citizens in Russia had full refugee status. Some 1,317 had temporary asylum. According to the same body, there are over 2,000 Syrians living in Noginsk alone.</p><p dir="ltr">Without a clear legal status, the children of refugees cannot receive an education — although they formally have the right. Article 43 of Russia’s Constitution <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_28399/8452df644dd1f63f07ca7744f87beddac2947282/">guarantees</a> the right to a free education, accessible to all. Article 78 of the federal law “On Education” <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_140174/61481667d956e25b4c53b1febedf53ed1121e78c/">addresses</a> the right of foreign citizens in Russia to free pre-school, primary, and secondary education. Nevertheless, in 2017 the RUssian Ministry of Education adopted <a href="https://rg.ru/2014/04/11/priem-dok.html">Order 32</a>, according to which foreign citizens must present documentary evidence of their right to stay in Russia upon enrolling their children in school.</p><p dir="ltr">This development essentially closed the Russian education system to the children of migrants and refugees. School directors and headteachers frequently interpret the order as meaning that migrants must have the right to temporary or permanent residency in Russia — and refuse to enrol children without it. To make matters worse, pupils are threatened with expulsion when it becomes clear that their registered residency in Russia is drawing to an end.</p><p dir="ltr">Civic Assistance points out that directors and headteachers <a href="http://refugee.ru/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Doklad-o-dostupe-k-obrazovaniyu.pdf">often avoid giving written refusals</a>, and instead simply delay enrolment of refugee children in school, citing incomplete documents. Online enrolment, which has been introduced in all Moscow’s schools, is no better: the system doesn’t allow non-citizens without registration to send their children to first grade.</p><h2>Meet the migration service</h2><p dir="ltr">In 2015, Nurbek Kurbanov, an Uzbek citizen, took his sons’ expulsion from school to Russia’s Supreme Court. Vera Pankova, director of school 34 in the city of Tver, openly discussed her close cooperation with the FMS. In October 2014, the service sent letters to schools across Russia (a copy of which was obtained by Civic Assistance) instructing them to verify the legal status of all their pupils. Otherwise, the letter continued, the school would be fined under an article of Russia’s code of administrative offences, which concerns “provision of a dwelling, vehicle, or other services to a foreign citizen or stateless person who is in the Russian Federation in violation of the established order of rules of travel or transit through its territory.”</p><p dir="ltr">In assessing Kurbanov’s appeal on the case of his expelled children, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the practice was illegal. “The absence of the listed documents [such as a registered place of residence or domicile] cannot be sufficient grounds for refusing the enrolment of a child in any educational institution which has free places,” <a href="http://refugee.ru/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Reshenie-VS.pdf">concluded</a> the court. Yet despite this decision, and aid provided by Civic Assistance, school directors are in no hurry to enrol children without registration.</p><p dir="ltr">Daniil Aleksandrov, a professor at the department of sociology at the Higher School of Economics, adds that not all schools cooperate with the FMS. “I myself have seen how school administrations cover for children who don’t have the right documents from the migration service. The teachers were very worried about their pupils — to such an extent that our researchers were not allowed to enter some of these schools, due to the fear that the children might encounter some [legal] problems as a result.”</p><h2>Avoiding an answer</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_02501227.LR_.ru__0_1 (1).jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="332" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children during lessons in the secondary school of the village of Krasny Desant, in which there is a refugee camp from the south-eastern regions of Ukraine. Photo: Sergey Pivovarov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Arseny Kovpan, an eight-year-old boy from Odessa, didn’t go to school this year. Just like the year before, and the year before that. His family has lived in Russia for three years — Arseny’s father works as a barman, his mother as a hairdresser. His parents are on the migration register, have work contracts, and rent out an apartment. Furthermore, his older sister Yaroslava has already been studying at school for three years — the same school which refuses to admit Arseny.</p><p dir="ltr">Yury Kovpan, the boy’s father, says that when he tried to enrol Arseny in the first grade in June 2016, the school demanded to see not only their temporary registration (which the family had last year, and still has today), but also a temporary residence permit or residency card. The school’s director Natalya Faydyuk didn’t provide a written refusal. “They didn’t directly say ‘no’,” remembers Yury, “but simply kept on repeating that our documentation was incomplete. Bring all the documents, and we’ll admit him.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Kovpan family decided to bring the case to the courts — but first and second instance courts sided with the school. In the words of Darya Manina, an employee of Civic Assistance who reviewed the situation, the main argument of the department of education rested on the expiration of a certain three-month period: Arseny’s parents had <a href="http://refugee.ru/news/ne-hochu-suditsya-hochu-uchitsya-2/">appealed</a> to the court more than three months after the school’s refusal.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">''As soon as the decision is clear, the family must demand the refusal in writing. Headteachers frequently avoid face-to-face meetings, preferring to communicate through their secretaries''</p><p dir="ltr">In a Moscow City Court session on the Kovpan family’s case, a representative of the Department of Education insisted that Arseny’s parents first came to the school not in June, as the father had said, but on 28 August — by which time there were no more free places in class. The court dismissed the case against the school, but Arseny’s parents still intend to petition the Supreme Court. That said, they’ve now gone back on the idea of a conventional school education altogether; Arseny and Yaroslava will now study at home instead.</p><p dir="ltr">Konstantin Troitsky, a rights defender, believes that the case of the Kovpan family, just as many others, shows that parents should always insist on a written refusal. “As soon as the decision is clear, the family must demand the refusal in writing. Headteachers frequently avoid face-to-face meetings, preferring to communicate through their secretaries — they’re very reluctant to provide any written statement, but you must insist.”</p><h2>Prospects and paradoxes</h2><p dir="ltr">The children of Syrian refugees are no exception to this trend — they’re also not wanted in the education sector. This year only three of them are enrolled in school; the rest must stay at home. The families of Nura and Gufran also received a refusal.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our children really like learning. What would they be doing without this school? They’d just sit at home all day, left to themselves. Here, they can spend time together, learn, and meet the volunteers. The main thing is they feel that they’re starting to speak Russian better, that they’re making progress,” says Elena Yuryevna, the children’s teacher in Noginsk. Anna, a volunteer at the centre, agrees with her: “Once we let the younger kids go home early, and thought the older ones would then want to leave too. But Nura said ‘No! We still have maths!’”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/mlag8.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/mlag8.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children of migrants, as a rule, exemplary pupils, and parents inspire respect for teachers. Photo: MIA "Fergana". All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Nura and Gufran speak Russian well, and take their studies seriously. They always listen to their teacher. But as the sociologist Daniil Aleksandrov puts it, that’s nothing exceptional for the children of migrants or refugees. In a <a href="https://spb.hse.ru/data/2014/11/05/1102249517/Polozhenie_Detei_Migrantov_FULL.pdf">report</a> for the Higher School of Economics on the situation of migrant children in St Petersburg, researchers stated that the main factor affecting progress in education is the age at which they move. If a child moves to a new country before the age of seven, her academic performance will not be markedly different from that of her classmates. Progress in English language, for example, is on average slightly higher among children for whom the Russian language is not native. For example, the average score for algebra among Russian children is 3.5 — for foreign children it’s 3.4.</p><p dir="ltr">“The children of migrants are, as a rule, exemplary students,” concludes Aleksandrov, recalling the words of one school director in the Moscow region. “They are always neat, they always do their homework, and their parents instil in them a respect for their teacher.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">''We asked children without Russian citizenship whether they encountered xenophobia or discrimination. They say that there were some cases — on public transport, on the street — but not a single instance at school''</p><p dir="ltr">Nura and Gufran say that from time to time, strangers glare or shout at them to “go home.” However, Aleksandrov is certain that migrant children rarely face xenophobia. “My colleagues came across an interesting paradox” begins the sociologist. “On the one hand, a teacher says that migration is an awful thing — ‘people come over here, they fill the streets…’ and so on. But if you give it ten minutes and ask about her migrant pupils, she’ll say that she has amazing children in her class who study very hard. Half her mind is occupied by this fear of migrants; the other half by her wonderful students!”</p><p dir="ltr">Aleksandrov continues that other schoolchildren tend to have a good attitude towards children of other nationalities. “We asked children without Russian citizenship whether they encountered xenophobia or discrimination. They say that there were some cases — on public transport, on the street — but not a single instance at school.” Stories about frequent conflicts between Russian schoolchildren and the children of migrants are nothing but myths, he believes.</p><p dir="ltr">Fatima’s mother (one of the three Syrian children who have been enrolled in school in Noginsk) confirms this: “Fatima does clash with other children: she says that sometimes the kids whisper behind her back, but there are no big problems with her classmates.” As Aleksandrov puts it, school is a safe social space for migrant children.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">''Children who don’t have access to a school education often experience serious difficulties — they find it difficult to socialise, and rarely end up with a well-paying job''</p><p dir="ltr">Research carried out in 2010 by Yuliya Florinskaya, a researcher at the Russian Institute of Demography, found that the <a href="http://demoscope.ru/weekly/2012/0515/analit02.php">percentage of the children of migrants who don’t attend school varies from 10 to 25%</a>. Troitsky believes that migration policy depends on the position of the particular region: “In Moscow city everything is fairly harsh, but in the wider Moscow region, there’s no unified, centralised system — so variants are possible. However, in Noginsk the authorities won’t budge, and Syrian children aren’t going to school.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Children who don’t have access to a school education often experience serious difficulties — they find it difficult to socialise, and rarely end up with a well-paying job, as they have very limited opportunities,” explains Aleksandrov. “A child may fall into the grey economy, or work in a tyre repair shop or something like that, and remain there for the rest of his life. A girl who stays at home and helps her mother with the housework will usually end up as a cleaner or work in the service sector. Furthermore, schooling for these children is also a way of integrating their parents — they’ll go to parents’ meetings and participate in the life of the school. That’s why we stress the idea that schools should be left alone.”</p><p dir="ltr">Yet despite the hard work of lawyers and human rights defenders, school education is accessible only to a few. A March 2016 report by Russia Today on the school in Noginsk <a href="https://russian.rt.com/article/153232">claimed</a> that “Russia [compared to western countries] strives to take all necessary measures to fully integrate refugees into society, so that they can continue to live, work, and study as usual.”</p><p>A school education, apparently, is not included in these “necessary measures for integration” — foreign parents should presumably educate their children themselves. Meanwhile, Russia continues to provide <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/neil-hauer/to-victors-ruins-challenges-of-russia-s-reconstruction-in-syria">increased military support</a> to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and the self-proclaimed republics in south-eastern Ukraine. The victims of these conflicts will just have to make do.</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/convert-and-love-russia-s-muslim-wives">Convert and love: Russia’s Muslim wives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-grinko/why-moscow-will-never-get-museum-of-migration">Why Moscow will never get a museum of migration</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/strangers-in-village">Strangers in the village </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anastasia Platonova Migration matters Education Thu, 21 Sep 2017 20:20:50 +0000 Anastasia Platonova 113517 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Moscow will never get a museum of migration https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-grinko/why-moscow-will-never-get-museum-of-migration <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russian museums tend to avoid the subject of migration at all costs. For curators, it seems the people and history embodied in migration processes are invisible. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-grinko/musey-migratsiy" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02270490.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02270490.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian museums, much like Russian society in general, perceives migrants as mere “gastarbeiters” whose stories are not worthy of their curiosity. Photo (c): Maxim Blinov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Three years ago&nbsp;<em>Izvestiya</em> trumpeted the news that Moscow was scrapping its “Museums for Migrants” project. “Gastarbeiters,” apparently, just didn’t want free visits to the capital’s museums. The article didn’t, of course, mention that the scheme had never got off the ground in the first place. Meanwhile, exhibitions and entire museums devoted to migration are springing up across the world. This year has not only seen new developments in museums across America, but a greater civic role. The <a href="aam-us.org/about-us/media-room/2017/american-alliance-of-museums-statement-on-the-travel-ban-imposed-january-27-via-executive-order" target="_blank">American Alliance of Museums released this strong statement</a> in response to Donald Trump’s executive order on restricting immigration to the USA:</p><p class="blockquote-new">“History, art, science, and culture don’t stop at our borders, nor should the people who dedicate their lives to sharing and explaining these foundational elements of our society. By helping us to understand this broader world, they help us to understand each other. We are gravely concerned that this executive order runs counter to these objectives.”</p><p>Russia has had the largest rate of net migration alongside Germany and the USA, but not a single museum has appeared here to reflect that fact. If you search for the words “migrant” or “migration” on Russia’s largest museum website, you will not find a single hit.&nbsp;</p><h2>The migration that wasn't</h2><p>Even if we ignore migrants from outside Russia, this silence looks more than strange. The latest figures from the Internal Ministry’s Main Directorate for Migration reveal that 88% of migrants in fact resettle within the Russian Federation, and only 12% come from other states. But from the legendary invitation of the Varangians to rule Kievan Rus’ in the 9th century to the mass waves of emigration throughout the 20th century, migration has played an immense role in Russian history.</p><p>To say that the subject is entirely ignored woul be a gross generalisation. There are private and public museums that do deal with migration, as it's an integral part of their story: one example is <a href="https://www.jewish-museum.ru/en/" target="_blank">Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center</a>.</p><p>Recently, museum projects connected with local identity have started to focus on migration, as the history of many towns and cities can’t be understood without it. The <a href="tomskmuseum.ru/about_mus/" target="_blank">regional history museum in Tomsk</a>, for example, ran a project on “Siberians Free and Unfree”, while Izhevsk’s award winning <a href="http://www.centrgalereya.ru/" target="_blank">Gallery exhibition centre</a> is working on a project entitled “The Izhevsk Decalogue.” These initiatives are, however, the exception. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">If you search for the words “migrant” or “migration” on Russia’s largest museum website, you will not get a single hit </p><p>So, where all the other other migration stories?&nbsp;</p><p>We can look at the question from three different angles: migrants’ narratives about museums; historical narratives connected with museums and migration and finally, museum narratives about migration. </p><p>Let’s start with the abstract concept of migrants, since it’s evidently all their fault. All over the world, people who have left their homes and moved to pastures new enjoy visiting museums – except in Russia, where they supposedly have no desire to visit museums or recognise their worth. Here’s an example of their mentality, as seen by a <a href="http://echo.msk.ru/programs/poehali/828015-echo/">show</a> on the <em>Ekho Moskvy</em> radio station: “You suggest that migrants should find out about our country by going to museums. But there are a lot of young people coming here; why not take them to football matches or discos instead – wouldn’t that make it easier for them to assimilate in our country? Will they really want to go to museums?” Or, “Viktor is on the line with another question for us: ‘If a migrant doesn’t speak even two words of Russian, what can a museum do for him?’” </p><p>I would like to ask Viktor a question: how do Russian tourists manage in the Louvre, if they don’t speak two words of French? But in the end, museums’ interest in the subject of migration is hardly surprising: they work with artefacts and works of art, which speak to us in a universal language that everyone can understand (so long as the museum is doing its job). And a focus on migration doesn’t necessarily mean a focus on migrants themselves: it can sometimes be more important to bring the locals’ attention to the concept itself. Although, not necessarily Viktor’s.</p><h2>Invisible visitors </h2><p>But we have got distracted from the main question – do migrants in Russia go to museums? </p><p>A <a href="https://www.academia.edu/29366786/%D0%9C%D0%A3%D0%97%D0%95%D0%99%D0%9D%D0%90%D0%AF_%D0%9A%D0%90%D0%A0%D0%A2%D0%90_%D0%9C%D0%9E%D0%A1%D0%9A%D0%92%D0%AB_%D0%93%D0%9B%D0%90%D0%97%D0%90%D0%9C%D0%98_%D0%9C%D0%98%D0%93%D0%A0%D0%90%D0%9D%D0%A2%D0%9E%D0%92_Museum_map_of_Moscow_migrants_view">field study</a> carried out in 2014-2017 revealed that fewer than 20% of migrants had never been to a museum. The researchers had individual conversations with migrants (both citizens of other countries and stateless people) as part of a formal procedure where the Moscow committee of the Internal Ministry’s Main Directorate for Migration <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_36927/1084d905fa1d14c68e8d6dc599631d0bc6614241/">determined</a> whether individuals in these categories could be categorised as Russian speakers. The committee meets twice a month and has so far assessed 358 people, 11.4% of the total number of aspirants.</p><p>But what was much more interesting were the answers given by respondents to the question, “What Russian museums have you been in?”</p><p>Some answers fitted standard stereotypes: </p><p class="blockquote-new">“The Central House of Artists (more than 10 times – we were fixing the window panes), the Paleontology Museum, the Darwin Museum, the Biological Museum – also for work, you get to see everything (on the sly) at one go; it’s very interesting”.</p><p>Others shattered expectations: </p><p class="blockquote-new">“The museum-flat of the ballerina Galina Ulanova, the Gulag museum…Why those? I just worship the great dancer’s art. I also love Stalinist imperial architecture, especially the high rise buildings – I dream of visiting them all. I haven’t managed to visit Moscow University’s main building – isn’t there a museum there too? But I don’t know when it’s open. I also visited the Gulag museum with a friend: it was very interesting. You need to know your history, so as not to repeat it”. </p><p>And a few reminded Russia’s museums of the meaning of the word “competition” and their place in the world:</p><p class="blockquote-new">“The Italian courtyard in the Pushkin Museum. I’ve been to Venice and seen the frescoes there. What is there to see here?” </p><p>In all, these migrants, who “don’t go to museums”, in fact mentioned 137 Russian and world museums they had collectively visited. We would probably not have had a better response from “indigenous” Muscovites, 70% of whom, according to the <a href="http://miscp.ru/en/" target="_blank">Moscow Institute For Social and Cultural Programmes</a>, never go to museums. Admittedly “migrant”, and indeed “Muscovite” are rather abstract definitions that encompass dozens of social strata and population groups. The museum world shows no interest in recognising and studying either category – just look at the description of “target groups” in most projects and schemes run by Russian museums. </p><p>Nonetheless, if some of these “generic migrants” go to museums, then the passivity shown by the museums can’t be explained by a lack of demand for their services.</p><h2>Catherine the Great: gastarbeiter</h2><p>Perhaps this ignorance on the subject of migration has more prosaic roots – that museums just have nothing to work with. They’d love to tackle the topic, but their collections don’t allow it.&nbsp;</p><p>It’s an interesting hypothesis, but in Europe, museums of more or less every kind – from Italian palaces and Barcelona’s Maritime Museum to Athens’ Byzantine Museum – run projects on migration. Even Tenerife’s unique underwater Atlantico museum has tackled the subject.</p><p>Russia’s museums perhaps believe that their collections are so homogeneous as to exclude any reference to migration. But the facts show otherwise. The luxurious palace and grounds of Tsarytsino are in the Top Ten of migrants’ favourite Moscow museum complexes. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tsaritsino_BW_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tsaritsino_BW_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Visitors to the Tsarytsino park and museum complex in suburban Moscow. Photo CC-by-2.0: Alex1 / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>You might wonder how should an 18th century palace address “migration”. But you need to remember whom it was built for — not Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow’s former mayor, but his favourite heroine Catherine the Great. </p><p>And Catherine, a minor German princess, started off in her own way as an immigrant worker, brought to Russia as a diplomatic pawn with concrete responsibilities, albeit aristocratic ones. The initial function of the palace also had nothing to with a settled existence, but, on the contrary, with the Empress’s constant shuttling between Moscow and St Petersburg. The estate later fulfilled a similar ritual-seasonal purpose in its “dacha” period in the 1870s.</p><p>While we’re about it, we can even see the palace’s architecture as a fine example of the migration of styles – the Gothic is not native to Russia. And we mustn’t forget the migration of collections: the museum holds mainly works of applied art from former Soviet republics – that’s right, the same ones that our awful “migrants” come from (we don’t mind their <em>objets-d’art</em>). And let’s not forget the grounds and park – the natural world is an example of regular migrations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center"> Tsarytsino’s collection comprises mainly works of applied art from former Soviet republics – that’s right, the same ones that our awful “migrants” come from </p><p>Indeed, we have to recognise that it is only the theme of migration that allows us to conceptually and consistently weave Tsarytsino’s numerous strands into a single narrative.</p><p>It is the same with the State Literary Museum, which was intended as one of the main elements in the Moscow government’s “Museum for Migrants” project mentioned at the start of this article. </p><p>On the one hand, what have migrants to do with great Russian literature? But migrants have provided three out of Russia’s five Nobel Prizes for literature – and the last winner, Belarusian writer Svetlana Aleksievich (who writes in Russian) is no exception. Even if we turn from national pride to more prosaic subjects, we still can’t deny that journeys (i.e.migration) are at the heart of all traditional literature, whether folk tales, myths or epics. This goes back to the Odyssey and is as true for literature today. </p><p>In this context it’s interesting to look at the museum devoted to the life and work of the brilliant poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), a descendent of Scottish immigrants who became one of Russia’s national treasures. This fact may be regarded as both a motivating force for people with an immigrant background and something to ponder for the “indigenous” population. But it is not only famous names who have left their mark on national life: there has been practically universal migration. To see all the places where Lermontov lived and worked you need to go by air. And the themes he chose for his works are full of this migrant reflex – one of his most famous lyric poems begins, “A lonely sail is flashing white/ Amidst the blue mist of the sea!”. </p><p>There is, by the way, a mass of useful themes for an anthropologist or museum educator in Lermontov’s work: take, for one, the voluntary/involuntary migrant Pechorin, who, like his creator, was <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jun/27/hero-our-time-lermontov-review">exiled to the Caucasus</a> where he tried various ways of establishing contact with the local population. </p><h2>Refined racism</h2><p>We have to admit here that the problem lies not in the migrants or the art collections, but in peoples’ heads. </p><p>The hosts of the Ekho Moskvy radio show began their discussion of this issue with a remark that illustrates beautifully the average Russian’s idea of migrants: “And now they’ve dreamed up a scheme called ‘Migrants in Museums’. I must say that when I read the brief for it, I thought I had stumbled on some comedy script…”</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">This imperial myth gets in the way of our museums not only engaging with the subject of migration, but of any interaction with real people</span></p><p>The museum community, supposedly among the more enlightened members of our society, should have a totally different view of this issue. But, no. This humorous take on the subject of migration is in fact one of the more harmless ones. Museum workers are not laughing - here are some of their other remarks on the issue, as <a href="https://www.facebook.com/museumaudit/posts/1883155761941719">posted</a> on Facebook: </p><p class="blockquote-new">“Museum workers fear and envy migrants. What good does it do to a museum to get involved in this dangerous subject of migrants? How can we protect the museum from the migrants that, as we know, get everywhere and sneak their homies in after them?”</p><p>In closed museum workers’ groups on social media you can find such “conceptual” suggestions as: “we should have asked these ‘guests of the capital’ to augment our collections: they’re so good at smuggling illegal stuff!”</p><p>And in any case, engagement with the subject doesn’t eliminate the “refined racism” in their attitudes to people with an immigrant background. </p><p class="blockquote-new">“We had a really positive experience. We held an exhibition of Armenian artists living in St Petersburg and you know, it was a real hit! We had full galleries every day! And the migrants did come – quite a diaspora (they’re easy to recognise). They, of course, understood their own art, and we’re thinking that maybe if you begin with something familiar, then they can start getting to know…well, less accessible stuff. More contemporary, say – things they’re not familiar with. We could use projects like that to attract and educate them…” </p><p>It’s difficult to think of St Petersburg’s Armenian diaspora as migrants, since it has been in existence since 1710, just seven years after the founding of the city. </p><p>But even that’s not the point. We still feel the need to teach and educate people of other countries and ethnicities, to raise their cultural level to our own, even when a museum is working with people whose culture it is exhibiting. This imperial myth gets in the way of our museums not only engaging with the subject of migration, but of any interaction with real people. How would you like it if you were always in the role of a pupil?</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Moscow Centre of Museum Development brought out a calendar that repeated every possible stereotypical view of migrants</p><p>Even when attempts are made to draw attention to this issue, the narrative stays the same. </p><p>The Moscow Centre of Museum Development brought out a supposedly “humorous” calendar in an attempt to illustrate the subject of migration and inform the public about “the openness of our capital’s museums to every actual and potential visitor”. But it presented all migrants in the form of “Maksud”, a manual worker who speaks Russian badly and knows nothing about contemporary art. When some museum specialists called the cartoon illustrations chauvinist, other members of their professional community complained.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Maksud_Museum_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Maksud_Museum_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Moscow’s Centre of Museum Development published a calendar displaying more or less all the prejudiced views about migrants. Here, a Tajik labourer called Maksud is at the contemporary art gallery. Noticing than a conceptual installation features rubber bricks, he cries “Hey! Let me fix that for you!” Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>The Russian state is traditionally seen as the most “European” element of our country, but in this area it is resoundingly at one with the public. Moscow’s Department of Culture <a href="https://iz.ru/news/549717">analysed</a> the failure of the “Museums for Migrants” project in the following words: “We also ran an experiment: we invited a few Tajiks to a museum, but they all said they would only come if we paid them 300-500 roubles [£4 - £6.50]”. So here we have another fine image of the migrant manual worker from Tajikistan.</p><p>It’s no surprise that even the few exhibition projects devoted to the subject of migration are incapable of rising above this level. The introduction to the “Migrant Moscow” exhibition created by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration states that “in general, these are people from poorer countries who come to Russia on a temporary basis, to take up work not requiring high qualifications of any kind”. Once again, the subject of migration is displaced by the subject of migrants, and we end up with yet another reiteration of the same old story – that migration equals migrants, and migrants are temporary unskilled workers, criminals and terrorists. </p><p>Russian museums are afraid of the subject of migration and avoid it at all costs, even when it is obvious and natural. And despite successful projects curated by the Museum of the History of Religion, the Museum of Street Art and the Museum of Moscow, this fear stops them creating a unified narrative of migration – something that concerns every one of us.</p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/strangers-in-village">Strangers in the village </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-zavadsky/we-re-all-strangers-here">We’re all strangers here</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ivan Grinko Migration matters Russia Fri, 21 Jul 2017 05:44:12 +0000 Ivan Grinko 112403 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Strangers in the village https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/strangers-in-village <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Despite Russia’s economic woes, labour migrants from Central Asia continue to arrive. And now they seek a better life not only in big cities, but in deserted Russian villages. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/chuzhiye-sredi-svoikh-migranty" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong><strong><em></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Neroznikova_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Neroznikova_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ten year old Safia, the child of labour migrants from Tajikistan, in the village of Kamenka, Tula Region. Photo (c): Ekaterina Neroznikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>According to official data, in 2016 there were 3.2m citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan working in Russia. However, unofficial figures cited by the media put the number at 10m. </p><p>Some arrived in Russia quite recently, but many have been here for decades. The presence of migrants is visible now not only in Russia’s big cities, but in its <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/02/death-throes-russia-iconic-countryside-170207084912286.html" target="_blank">dying villages</a>, too. In villages depopulated by urban migration and a host of other factors, Tajik and Uzbek citizens are replacing local residents who have died or moved away. </p><p>Most Russians see migrants from Central Asia as potentially dangerous aliens. Can harmful stereotypes about these “gastarbeiters” be countered? What’s stopping them from integrating in Russian society? After a visit to two villages, oDR decided to put these questions to Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the <a href="http://refugee.ru/en/" target="_blank">Civic Assistance committee</a>, and Anna Rocheva of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration’s Migration and Ethnicity Research Center. </p><h2>Everyone’s favourite scapegoat </h2><p>Medvedkovo is a typical Moscow dormitory suburb, comprising high-rise flats, shopping centres and endless traffic jams. It’s home to Russia’s first, enormous Auchan shopping centre, which opened here in 2002. The village of Chelobityevo lies just across the road. </p><p>Chelobityevo’s reputation as a settlement of Central Asian migrants has been somewhat tarnished now. Since 2009, the village has frequently made headlines as a target for police raids in which hundreds of illegal immigrants have been rounded up. In 2011, the level of hostility towards the newcomers was particularly high. The tabloid <em>Komsomolskaya Pravda </em>ran a feature claiming that Chelobityevo was literally “occupied” by 20,000 migrants. Journalists, both local and foreign, have written about the village ever since: some call for the incomers to be deported, writing of black markets, hotbeds of disease and crime. Others defend them, discussing slave labour and human rights, questioning a system that drives desperate people into illegal activities. </p><p>Sympathetic accounts, however, are rare. A few years ago, bulldozers arrived in Chelobityevo and razed the migrants’ mosque to the ground, along with most of their houses. Those living in old railway carriages and other homemade shelters were evicted.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A few years ago, bulldozers arrived in Chelobityevo and razed the migrants’ mosque to the ground, along with most of their houses</p><p>There are now many fewer migrants living here, about 5,000 in all. But Central Asian Chelobityevo lives on. A large hostel hides behind a corrugated fence. Anyone can rent a bed there, but it mostly houses Tajiks and Uzbeks. </p><p>“Some medics working in the emergency services have already learned Tajik,” Bakhrom Khamroyev from the Memorial Human Rights Center tells me. “After all, they have to come here often — someone’s always falling ill or giving birth.” Bakhrom has been here dozens of times. He’s witnessed the rise and fall of the village.</p><p>He takes me for a walk along Kolkhoznaya Street. On my right are ramshackle, hastily constructed houses. On my left, several diggers are flattening out a piece of wasteland previously occupied by migrants’ shacks. One house is a bakery; in another, the people breed dogs for sale. The Tajiks and Uzbeks mostly work in nearby shopping centres, tiny canteens and small food kiosks. They’re firmly settled and integrated into what has become a normal dormitory town outside Moscow.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/chelobitevo-44_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/chelobitevo-44_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Where Moscow begins – or ends. Chelobityevo village, Moscow Region. Photo (c): Ekaterina Neroznikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“Migrants’ children go to the local school,” says Khamroyev. “The pupils are 50-50 locals and incomers. They speak excellent Russian, without an accent, better than their parents.” Some locals have left and sold their houses to migrants, who have now become fully fledged Chelobityevites. </p><p>While labour migrants have been settling in this village for quite some, the backlash against them only <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra" target="_blank">began in 2013</a>. “During the 2013 Moscow mayoral election campaign,” Anna Rocheva tells me, “all the politicians tried to play the anti-migrant card to their own advantage. Every candidate, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again" target="_blank">including [Alexei] Navalny</a>, talked about ‘sorting out the illegals’. Opinion pollsters found a clear increase in xenophobia at the time.”</p><p>“When there other explosive events in the news, in Ukraine or Syria, for example, the migrant issue was put on ice, and respondents expressed a more reasonable attitude to the newcomers,” remarks Rocheva. “In other words, people’s reactions depend a lot on what the media are peddling at a given time.”</p><p>“Politicians’ scare stories about migrants are often baseless,” adds Gannushkina. “You only have to open the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ website to see that the huge number of crimes supposedly committed by migrants is a complete myth. Only three to four percent of crimes in Moscow are committed by foreign citizens, and that includes crimes specific to migrants, such as immigration offences — crimes Russian citizens simply can’t commit. Those figures are pretty stable.”</p><p>Muscovites nonetheless assume that migrants are chiefly responsible for crime. And a combination of all these factors is turning migrants into an untouchable caste in the hierarchy of Russia’s large cities. </p><h2>New Russians </h2><p>Away from the capital, it’s a different picture. The village of Kamenka is half an hour’s drive from Tula, an industrial city 200km south of Moscow. Kamenka contains about 30 houses, a bus stop and a grocery shop. It’s split in two by a small brook where children play in the summer. Only two of the kids are ethnic Russians: the rest are Tajiks. </p><p>Husnoro, a smiling middle-aged woman, came here with her two sons in 1999. Her sister, who already lived in Kamenka, helped Husnoro apply for a temporary residence permit. In 2004 she and her husband automatically received Russian citizenship and a year later they bought a dilapidated house from locals who had moved to Moscow. </p><p>“Life was hard in Tajikistan then,” Husnoro tells me. “We wanted to earn some money and give our children an education. Then things got better back home, and in 2004 we even tried to return. But our elder son protested — he was in the fourth grade and it turned out that in Russia he was a year ahead in the curriculum. So we went back to Tajikistan for a year and then returned to Kamenka.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka-5_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka-5_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Labour migrants from Central Asia have also built lives for themselves in Russia’s dying villages. Photo (c): Ekaterina Neroznikova. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>Husnoro’s husband worked mostly as a labourer in the village, but then he got a job at the local plant producing reinforced plastic. By 2014 they had saved enough to build a bigger house, and they recently installed a traditional courtyard where people sit on mattresses to drink tea and socialise. Husnoro also has a garden where she grows carrots, beetroot, potatoes and radishes.</p><p>Many women in Kamenka have a similar history: today, it’s practically a Tajik village. There are also Tajiks in the neighbouring villages of Archangelskoye and Bobrovka, and even a cattle farm owned by Tajiks. They have no problems with their Russian neighbours, whose numbers have dwindled over the years.</p><p>Husnoro has five children, and her 10-year old daughter Safiya is in the fourth grade at school. There are just nine children in the class: four Russian and five Tajik. Safiya has never been to Moscow, but is very keen to see the capital, especially Red Square. She has been to Tajikistan several times, but didn’t like it there. </p><p>“I want to be a surgeon when I grow up,” she says. “My big brother told me that you need high grades to get into medical school, so all my grades are ‘excellent’.” Safiya, unlike her mother, speaks Russian like a native. She shows me around Kamenka, wearing a brightly coloured headscarf and pink waterproof boots edged with cheap artificial fur; under her jacket she has a traditional colourful Tajik dress with trousers underneath, as Sunni and Central Asian tradition demands. </p><p>There are eight Tajik families living in Kamenka, all of them with children. Some have five members, some ten. One man has two wives (one Russian, one Tajik) and ten children. He’s very religious. Safiya says his eldest daughter always wears a <em>niqab</em> [face veil] when she goes out of the house. Apart from one disturbing incident, the little girl doesn’t remember any conflict between Tajiks and Russians in Kamenka.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka_House-2_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka_House-2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian villager’s house in Kamenka, Tula Region. Photo (c): Ekaterina Neroznikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“There was one man who didn’t like us playing near his house. He shouted at us not to go on his land or up to his stream, and one day he even fired a shotgun at us. We always complained about him to his wife, and now he has quietened down and behaves politely. He doesn’t carry a gun any more. The rest of the Russians are fine, they’re used to us and even understand a few words of Tajik,” says Safiya. </p><p>In another half hour we walk past the gun owner’s house and Safiya shows me the tree he shot at one day (while he watches us through the fence).</p><h2>Selective solidarities</h2><p>For Svetlana Gannushkina, antagonism towards migrants is no surprise. “After the collapse of the USSR, there was sympathy for Russians returning from other post-Soviet republics, and again for eastern Ukrainians in 2014. But there’s never been much warmth towards Tajiks and Uzbeks, not even during the Soviet period.” </p><p>Anna Rocheva tells me that there is a similar attitude in Russia to migrants from the South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and migrants from Russia’s North Caucasus republics such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“How can you still be an ‘outsider’ after 20 years?”</p><p>“In the 1990s, a lot Russian speakers from Central Asia and the South Caucasus fled to Russia from the conflicts taking place in those regions. They were resettled in semi-rural areas, in an official attempt to revive the ‘Russian village,’ despite the fact that they were mostly urban residents, usually with university degrees. To the locals, they were outsiders, and they were treated as such. The same happened to the ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks who arrived from Central Asia later. How can you still be an ‘outsider’ after 20 years? We can and must deal with these attitudes – this needs to be the focus of any integration policy.” </p><h2>School as an agent of integration </h2><p>The local school is a kilometre away from Kamenka, in the village of Arkhangelskoye. It is attended by the children from the three neighbouring villages and has 50 Tajik and 47 Russian pupils. </p><p>Everyone has to wear school uniform — Safiya’s is a long burgundy coloured dress with a waistcoat on top. The girls in the junior classes are not allowed to wear headscarves, but in the senior school they may wear a hijab, and the boys a skullcap. </p><p>Safiya’s best friend is another Tajik girl who also lives in Kamenka and is in the same class at school. “I have Russian friends too, although I don’t like one of them,” she tells me. “I bring a packed lunch with me, because the school food isn’t halal, and she keeps looking at my plate and saying that I eat ‘brown food’. I couldn’t care less: Mum’s food tastes nicer.” </p><p>Safiya divides her teachers into those who are nice and those who are evil. There’s only one teacher that Safiya doesn’t like, who steers clear of Tajik children in the hallways and doesn’t let them play. But the Russian children don’t avoid their Tajik classmates: they all play tag together after school. </p><p>Research carried out by specialists in St Petersburg shows that Russian schoolchildren have no negative feelings about children of other ethnicities. Interaction with other children is no bar to migrant integration; the main obstacle is the education system itself.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka_Son_12_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka_Son_12_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="355" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A childhood on the move. Child of labour migrants from Tajikistan in Kamenka village, Tula Region. Photo (c): Ekaterina Neroznikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“The main factor is the teaching of Russian,” says Rocheva. “A few years ago every district in Moscow had its own Russian language school that children coming from elsewhere could attend, whatever their age. They would learn Russian for a year there before transferring to an ordinary local school. Unfortunately these schools didn’t last long. Their funding disappeared. Now all that is left are individual courses run by volunteers, such as the ‘Children like Any Others’ centre, but they’re not enough. </p><p>“It’s a big problem: a child who can’t speak Russian well can’t learn properly. And often schools don’t want to accept migrants’ children.” </p><p>Gannushkina points out other flaws in the education system: the problem, she says, isn’t the “pupil-pupil” or “pupil-teacher” relationship, but the “parent-authorities” one. </p><p>“Discrimination in the area of education is not a question of teachers treating migrants’ children differently, but of schools refusing to accept children if their parents don’t have resident status. In 2015 we even took the Ministry of Education to court, demanding that the directive restricting school entry be overturned. The Russian constitution gives every child living in the country the right to education, without any restriction. </p><p>“This is extremely important for Russia’s future. If the circumstances are right, children who learn together grow up more accepting of difference. And this applies equally to both the children of migrants and our own children,” says Gannushkina. </p><h2>“They accepted me as I am”</h2><p>Malika works at a school teaching English to pupils in both junior and senior classes. She is the only ethnic Tajik among the teaching staff. She shares the house where she lives with her husband and three children with a family of ethnic Russians. </p><p>Malika has been at the school since 2008. She wears a hijab in class — the other teachers have no problem with that, but some parents aren’t happy. There’s nothing they can do, however. There’s a chronic shortage of teachers, and having Malika, who has a degree in English, is a big bonus for the school. </p><p>Earlier on there was another Tajik teacher, who taught Russian at the school. She was an older woman who had grown up in the Soviet years, when the teaching of Russian was a respected and highly sought after profession. She taught Russian in Tajikistan, where de-Russification has only been noticeable over the past 15 years.</p><p>One migrant woman came to join her husband in Kamenka, in search of work. He wanted to move his whole family and even bought a house, but the wife couldn’t deal with life in rural Russia and after two years returned to Tajikistan. The husband eventually moved to Moscow and rented the house to Tajiks. That was unusual. In general, the incomers all settle into village life.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka_Tea_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kamenka_Tea_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Our Dastarkhan. Tea in the home of Tajik labour migrants in Kamenka, Tula Region. Photo (c): Ekaterina Neroznikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“I never wanted to live in Moscow,” says Malika. “I breathe more easily in a village. We came here as part of a programme to help young families working in the countryside. We were given a <a href="http://www.financialguide.ru/encyclopedia/zhilishnyj-sertifikat" target="_blank">housing certificate</a> that we were able to supplement with additional payments and exchange for this house.” </p><p>Malika’s house is modest but comfortable. She unrolls mattresses on the floor for us to sit on, spreads a tablecloth on the floor and treats us to tea with bread, jam, sweets and a paste called <em>sumalak</em>, made from germinated beans. A pot of <em>mastava</em>, a traditional Central Asian soup, simmers away in the kitchen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“I would go back home if people weren’t so narrow-minded. In Tajikistan, I couldn’t work at a school wearing a hijab, whereas here they accepted me as I am”</p><p>“I left Tajikistan in 1993,” she tells me. “The country has changed a lot since then, but women wearing a hijab are still frowned on.” In rural Russia, people are less bothered by Malika’s clothes: “In Tajikistan girls who cover their hair are taunted. People call them nuns, and laugh at them on the street. I’ve been called names here, but a lot less than in Tajikistan.”</p><p>“I would go back home if people weren’t so narrow-minded. In Tajikistan, I couldn’t work at a school wearing a hijab, whereas here they accepted me as I am. Russia has given me a lot, and I am proud that I live here. I feel free. I don’t know why anyone should treat me badly.”</p><p>The men of the village, including Malika’s husband, mostly work in Moscow and just come home at weekends. There is work locally, however, in a battery farm and a reinforced plastic plant which is happy to hire Tajiks. </p><p>Although their new employers worry, the Tajiks have no problem with documents: there is a well established procedure for receiving temporary residence rights and later, citizenship. Nevertheless, Malika believes it’s more difficult now to get a Russian passport than it was 10 years ago: “It’s just a question of numbers. When I go to Yasnogorsk [the nearest town] I bump into our people everywhere.” </p><p>Malika also feels that there is now a new wave of migration taking place — the generation that came to Russia in the early nineties is well settled, and has started inviting relatives. Despite the rise in the dollar exchange rate, labour migrants keep on coming.</p><h2>Beyond the ghetto</h2><p>Migrants rarely live in their own separate communities, says Gannushkina: Chelobityevo, and now Kamenka, are rare exceptions. In general, she feels, migrants don’t want to live apart from other population groups. </p><p>However, as Moscow and other big cities have a smaller quota allowance for temporary residence permits than remote rural areas, it makes sense for migrants to settle in villages. “But even if they get their permits there, they still come to Moscow for work,” notes Gannushkina. “It’s a simple question of supply and demand. There are few jobs in the countryside.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/_MG_1085_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/_MG_1085_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The long road home. Safia walks down the streets of Kamenka village, Tula Region. Photo (c): Ekaterina Neroznikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The only exception to this rule, adds Rocheva, is areas where there is active agricultural development: “There are several villages in the Orenburg Region where Uzbeks live and work. At the end of the 80s, one Uzbek migrant opened a business growing tomatoes and cucumbers. He worked very hard, while the local population did very little — there was a lot of drinking going on. The budding entrepreneur brought his brothers and nephews over from Uzbekistan to help him and now heads a large family business. Other Uzbeks have also settled and work in the village, and even more come for seasonal work. But what we have in the Tula area is rare.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">As Moscow and other big cities have a smaller quota allowance for temporary residence permits, it makes sense for some migrants to settle in villages</p><p>While it may be easier for migrants to avoid harassment in isolated villages, Rocheva doesn’t see cultural differences such as dress and traditions as important factors in their integration in Russian society: “The main issues are around ID documents, negative police attitudes, bad working conditions and a lack of interest in integration of the part of the government. Basically, no one is trying to resolve the issue.”</p><p>“So what have the authorities been doing? In January 2016 they introduced an examination in Russian language, history and legislation — supposedly to help migrants integrate. But a survey we ran last year showed that it was too little, too late — it was just another <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/society/17/04/2017/58f486a39a79479a09b8e674" target="_blank">expensive piece of paper migrants needed to able to work legally in Russia</a>.”</p><h2>Victimisation at work and in the courts </h2><p>Sadly, the average Russian sees Central Asian migrants as an undifferentiated mass of threatening “gastarbeiters”. Politicians happily exploit these prejudices, as do the police, who prey on migrants’ fears and insecurities. </p><p>And those are many. Gannushkina tells me that the migrants are ignorant of their rights and see the cops as all-powerful: “Migrants, old and young, try and keep away from the cops. They’re wary of them. But then, so are Russians in general.”</p><p>“That’s why we opposed the merger of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) with the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” says Gannushkina. “The structures for managing migration were abolished and now local migration agencies answer not to the FMS, but to the local police. All the old links have been broken: qualified specialists are leaving and being replaced by people who, to put it bluntly, know nothing about migration. We will have to raise, for the tenth time at least, the question of creating a system and official body to handle migration. If, of course, we even want to be a civilised country.”</p><p>A strategy to aid migrants’ integration is sorely needed, otherwise they’ll remain caught in this vicious circle where the cop is a petty, vengeful Tsar and the migrant guilty by definition.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01020202.LR_.ru__1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01020202.LR_.ru__1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An employee of Russia’s Federal Migration Service announces the reason for their detention to a group of illegal labour migrants at the Kazan railway station in Moscow. Photo (c): Alexandr Utkin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Rocheva advocates integration workshops, to facilitate interaction between individual local people and migrants: “We developed and ran events like this, assessed their effectiveness and eventually created systematic recommendations for successful integration workshops. At their centre should be the idea of <em>inter</em>culturalism, which assumes individual interaction while taking people’s cultural baggage into account.</p><p>“This is a much more effective approach than an all-purpose ‘multi-kulti’ one where people interact not as individuals but as representatives of ethnic collectives — Tajiks would come out on the stage and dance and then the Uzbeks would make <em>pilaf</em> — and there you had it, friendship between peoples!”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“This is a much more effective approach than an all-purpose ‘multi-kulti’ one where people interact not as individuals but as representatives of ethnic collectives”</p><p>Now it is the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs that tackles the issue of migrant integration. Until now, there has simply been no one capable of working with the guidelines that specialists such as Rocheva have proposed. If the agency takes this on seriously, it will have its work cut out. The main thing is not to make the mistake of trying to turn any incomer into a typical, average Russian. </p><p>“There’s an idea that if the migrants stop, let’s say, nibbling sunflower seeds, people will start seeing them as the same as ‘us’,” says Rocheva. “But in fact, in every society there have always been ‘us’ and ‘them’, with different people falling into one or other group depending on historical context. So the perception of some differences of behaviour as evidence of outsider status is an effect rather than a cause.”</p><p>For my part, all I can advise the decision-makers is to pay a visit to the school where future surgeon Safiya is studying — and see how effective a refusal to divide people into “us” and “them” can be. Integration in the classroom can go a long way to building tolerance and inclusivity towards our fellow residents from Central Asia. It’s a must if, as Svetlana Gannushkina puts it, we ever want to be a “civilised” country. </p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-rocheva/keeping-welfare-russian">Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine">Listening to Russia’s female migrants</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-zubarevich/four-russias-new-political-reality">Four Russias: the new political reality </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">The long echo of Tajikistan’s civil war</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Migration matters Russia Thu, 13 Jul 2017 14:24:00 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 112256 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-rocheva/keeping-welfare-russian <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Russian state has absolved itself from providing social services to migrant workers. Are its own citizens next? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-rocheva/odnobokii-neoliberalizm-meditsina-ne-dla-vsex">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02781601.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02781601.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A visitor to a multi-purpose migration centre in the village of Sakharovo, outside Moscow, where social services are offered to labour migrants. This complex, the largest such centre in the country, was visited by Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin. Photo (c): Maxim Blinov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Russia has still not come to a final decision on its policy towards migration, despite having produced a raft of strategic government documents on the subject. During the 2000s the country experienced a “</span><a href="https://www.hse.ru/news/science/4044178.html" target="_blank">demographic dividend</a><span>”, with a surplus in its working age population, along with fewer children and elderly people. However, since 2009 the supply of labour has been dropping every year relative to demand. To sustain economic growth, external labour supply sources are increasingly in demand — namely, migrant workers.</span></p><p>Recent figures show that there are<a href="https://iq.hse.ru/news/185646001.html" target="_blank"> around seven to eight million foreign workers in Russia</a>. Most of them are from Central Asia — Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries will also supply the future of migrant labour in Russia. Many migrants come from rural areas; the large Russian cities where the demand for their labour is concentrated represent their first ever experience of city life. Labour migration is, as a rule, linked to downward social mobility: the education they have received in their home countries is rarely reflective of the jobs they have to take here.</p><p>Most migrants from Central Asia are men: women make up less than a fifth of those from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and fewer than 40% of those from Kyrgyzstan. Those from Kyrgyzstan are also more likely to be young: their social norms dictate that women should marry before the age of 25 and start having children in the first three years of marriage. They are expected to marry “at the right time”, have children, take responsibility for the health of the marriage — and earn a living. All this takes place in a situation where few are educated about sex, with a consequent lack of contraceptive measures.</p><p>The regulations on healthcare for foreign citizens that came into force in Russia in 2011 practically deprives female migrants of any right to qualified medical help during pregnancy and childbirth. And as research that I carried out at Moscow’s School of Social and Economic Sciences and Manchester University shows, the new law affecting foreigners is also the clearest reflection of the changes in Russia’s social welfare sytem as regards its own citizens.</p><h2><span>“They’re flooding into our country and now they’re having babies”</span></h2><p>In 2009, Aidjan left Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, to join her husband in Moscow. He had lived there for four years and had received Russian citizenship. He’d bought a car, was working in the construction industry and could provide for a family. Once in Moscow, Aidjan got pregnant with her first daughter almost immediately. Friends of her husband told her that if she applied to the Ministry of Health, she could get free antenatal care at a women’s clinic. She applied, brought along the necessary paperwork and gave birth in a local maternity ward. </p><p>But by the following year, when she was once again pregnant, this arrangement was no longer in force. She spent the first months of her pregnancy in Moscow and thought about going to a private antenatal clinic, but the cost was prohibitive and she didn’t trust the “Kyrygyz” health centres that were beginning to spring up, although they were cheaper. One day, when she went to one of these clinics for a check up, she was told that the foetus was “defective” and that she needed an abortion. She was unconvinced: “Kyrgyz women are the only ones who come to this clinic, because the staff are all Kyrgyz here. They might have lied: perhaps I don’t need the abortion.”</p><p>To check the diagnosis, Aidjan went to another, non-Kyrgyz clinic, where she was told that everything was OK. In the end she flew to Bishkek for her antenatal care and returned to Moscow, with all the right papers, to give birth. These “international” antenatal care stories are fairly rare: not everyone can afford to travel back and forth, and not all women are convinced that such care is even necessary. Neither was Chinara, a Kyrgyz woman who came to Moscow in 2004.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Birth_Ekaterinburg_3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Birth_Ekaterinburg_3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maternity ward in a Ekaterinburg city hospital. Photo CC: Peretz Partensky / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>When I met her, Chinara was 36. She lives in Moscow with her husband and three children, the youngest of which was born in Moscow and the two elder ones in Kyrgyzstan. She first arrived in Moscow from a village in the Batken Region of southern Kyrgyzstan: her husband had already been in Moscow for a year and was working in construction; there were no mobile phones then so they had to go to the post office to talk to one another. Chinara missed her husband, and life in the village was difficult without a husband – she had to lug coal and firewood around by herself.</p><p>When she got pregnant in Moscow, Chinara kept on working and looking for jobs. She didn’t give any thought to seeing a doctor, as she felt fine, didn’t think of her pregnancy as an illness and so saw no need for any medical services. </p><p>“I didn’t go for a check up – we were short of cash,” she says. “Once you start, it’s ‘go here’ and ‘go there’. I felt fine, had no pain or anything. I even postponed a scan where I could have found out the sex of the baby. I didn’t know whether I was having a girl or a boy. I kept putting it off, and then I just gave birth.”</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The “migrant” maternity hospital was notorious not only because you could catch an infection, but also for the attitude of the medical staff</span></p><p>She was surprised when she went into labour, as according to her dates it should have happened later, and she had planned to return home to Kyrgyzstan for the birth. She also hadn’t completed a prenatal record, a document with information about the expectant mother based on her antenatal care, including scans. At the time, mothers without this record were sent to a maternity hospital with an infectious disease department, which was notorious among migrant women. Another woman I spoke to told me that women would even bribe the emergency doctors to take them to any other maternity ward: “There’s this maternity hospital with an infectious disease department, so apart from the maternity wards there are other sick patients and elderly people, not to mention the drunks in the sobering-up room. So my mum gave the doctors 500 roubles not to take me there.”</p><p>The “migrant” maternity hospital was notorious not only because you could catch an infection, but also for the attitude of the medical staff. Chinara arrived at night, and says she found herself in a horror film: there were lots of women giving birth and very few staff: “a doctor comes along to examine you, and all the other women start screaming ‘Help me, doctor’, and the doctor shouts back, “there are lots of you and just one of me!” she says. “Everyone’s screaming, everyone’s in pain… I’m screaming too, and we can’t hear one another.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sary_Tash_Mother_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sary_Tash_Mother_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mother with child. Sary-Tash, Osh Region, Kyrgyzstan, 2010. Photo СС-by-2.0: Evgeny Zotov / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>When Chinara went into the second stage of labour she was wheeled round to the delivery room, where the midwife started trying to hurry her up: “Come on, let’s get it out, it’s the end of my shift.” Chinara pushed as hard as she could and gave birth to a daughter, after which she was pushed out of the delivery room on a trolley into a corridor, where she and several other new mothers had to wait several hours before they were given beds in a ward: “they’re busy with births in there, they don’t have time to wheel you round the wards.” When the doctors examined her, says Chinara, they said: “You came here to earn money and then you go and have children. Why do you have these children?”</p><p>I heard similar tales from other people. Ainura had her children in Bishkek, but witnessed how a relative was treated in Moscow: “When I saw that, I scolded her,” she says. “You’d have been better off, I told her, going back to Kyrgyzstan, and paying for proper treatment - not this attitude, like you’d had sex under a fence somewhere. When you don’t have the right passport, they treat you badly in maternity hospitals, even if you pay. So a lot of women go home to have their children.”</p><h2>Unwanted patients</h2><p>Chinara and Ainura’s stories don’t just reveal a lot about the medical professionals’ racist attitudes, but also highlight structural problems — the paradoxical situation facing Russia’s healthcare system. Before 2010, legally employed foreign citizens had the right to take out an Obligatory Medical Insurance (OMI) policy and have treatment in state medical facilities, while their employer paid their OMI contributions. </p><p>However, in 2010 the employer’s contribution element was abolished and migrants lost their access to state medical services – whether or not they were in work. Up to then, Moscow’s Health Department had accepted applications from foreign women to register with women’s health clinics for their antenatal care, but from 2010 on this ceased to be possible. The very formula, “accepted applications” suggests that the department regarded this “service” as something marginal and exceptional and one from which migrants were implicitly excluded, making them file a special application to access it. Female migrants were simply seen as a bottomless, precarious workforce, not individuals with their own lives and needs which continued when they arrived in Russia. </p><p>This change in attitude to foreign citizens took place against the backdrop of a general reform of Russia’s health service, in which medical establishments adopted a per capita financing system. As a result, help offered to patients without an OMI policy (for whom a hospital wouldn’t receive any money) were the responsibility of the hospital management itself. As the medical director of one Moscow maternity hospital explained: “Our salaries will now come out of the OMI fund. And not only salaries, but food, bedding and so on. I have a staff of 140, and a tiny cost margin – so how can I make enough money to pay my staff? So now everyone will refuse to accept migrants arriving in ambulances. If they need our services, let them pay!”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“I have a staff of 140, and a tiny cost margin – how can I make enough money to pay my staff? Now everyone will refuse to accept migrants arriving in ambulances”</p><p>In other words, directors of medical facilities are faced with a dilemma: either help people and break the bank, or refuse to and be dragged through the mud by the media, like the case in Primorye in 2013 where an <a href="https://ria.ru/vl/20131106/974947854.html" target="_blank">Uzbek woman almost gave birth in the porch of the maternity hospital</a>&nbsp;as the staff refused to take her in.</p><p>Of course, the medical services for which a hospital would or wouldn’t be refunded by the state (for treating patients without OMI policies) had to be formalised and a list drawn up. But a clear policy on this took quite some time to complete, but even when it was completed it still raised questions: for example, the distinction between “acute” and “urgent” situations was not clearly defined, <a href="https://ria.ru/vl/20131112/976178923.html#ixzz38yM2xlXd" target="_blank">particularly where childbirth was concerned</a>. In 2013, new regulations were drawn up, obliging medical staff to provide help to any patient, <a href="https://rg.ru/2013/03/11/inostr-med-site-dok.html" target="_blank">so long as it could be classified as urgent</a>. Regional budgets didn’t always take into account the cost of treating patients who had no OMI policy, which exacerbated the problem.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/NTV_DOKU_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/NTV_DOKU_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Migrant mothers have overrun Moscow’s maternity wards!” claim several Russian TV news programmes. Image still via YouTube / NTV, 2012. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>A growing commercial sector catering to migrants benefitted substantially from these changes: for example, the migrant community started opening their own clinics, staffed by doctors from Central Asia. For some migrants, this was a welcome development – treatment was cheaper and there was no language problem. Others, including Aidjan, didn’t trust the new clinics.</p><p>Meanwhile, <a href="http://www.ntv.ru/novosti/324008/" target="_blank">reports started appearing in the media about how migrants were exploiting emergency facilities</a> (where treatment is free to all by law) and indulging in “medical tourism”. Central Asian women, they claimed, were <a href="https://newsmsk.com/article/14aug2012/rodi_tour.html" target="_blank">coming to Russia expressly to give birth for free</a>. The interviews I conducted in 2010-11 didn’t confirm this, and Moscow Health Department statistics for 2013 give the number of births to foreign women as 7% of the total, and <a href="http://www.ntv.ru/novosti/324039/" target="_blank">not a third, as some journalists claimed</a>.</p><h2>Unilateral neoliberalism</h2><p>In 2016, the Russian government made citizens of other countries responsible for their own healthcare. From 1 January 2016 every foreign citizen applying for a work permit had to produce a voluntary medical Insurance policy, or an undertaking from their employer to provide whatever medical treatment they required. In other words, over the last seven years, Russia has gradually withdrawn from any obligation to provide any health-related services: making migrants themselves responsible for them, increasing their everyday expenses and creating a large, precarious market for private insurance firms.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In abdicating its responsibility for the welfare of foreign citizens working on its territory, the Russian government follows neoliberal model which is at work elsewhere</p><p>This tendency – to make foreigners more responsible for themselves and provide extra income for third parties – isn’t restricted to healthcare. As a recent study by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration shows, the introduction of an obligatory exam in Russian language, history and legislation (also in force since 1 January 2016) is part of the same trend – <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/society/17/04/2017/58f486a39a79479a09b8e674" target="_blank">to create extra income for universities at migrant workers’ expense</a>. The idea was supposedly to help migrants integrate, but the exam does little to help this process. Presenting this exam as a means of promoting integration with the local population, without undertaking any systematic measures to do so, effectively makes them responsible for their own integration, as it has done in the health sector. </p><p>In abdicating its responsibility for the welfare of foreign citizens working on its territory, the Russian government is following a neoliberal model which is at work in other countries as well – in the USA, especially, but also in the countries of the “Global South”. How it works is that migrants are accused of abusing the social services of the host country, while at the same time an ethical panic is whipped up over “illegal migration”. Foreign workers are held responsible for structural social problems, which often leads to restricted access for them to social welfare systems, healthcare and education.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02258886.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02258886.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A migrant in a temporary tent camp at Golyanovo, Moscow Region, 2013. Photo (c): Andrei Stenin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>At the same time, foreign migrants are an ideal, flexible workforce for a neoliberal state: if the economy is growing they are an instant solution to any labour shortfall, while at a time of economic crisis they can be equally rapidly removed. The host country has no responsibility for migrants’ social welfare: but plenty of sanctions against them – a closed border, deportation or administrative expulsion. </p><p>Employers can hire migrants on the basis of a service contract, rather than a Labour Code, which means they can circumvent both the requirements of employment legislation and any contractual agreement with the employee: migrants very rarely set up trade unions or assert their legal rights.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Russia’s unilateral neoliberalism, there is nothing to mitigate the increasing inaccessibility of the social welfare system. And that doesn’t just apply to migrants</p><p>While following the neoliberal economic model, Russia’s legislators are forgetting one thing: this model implies not only a rejection on the part of government of any “social burden”, but also a number of other policies, from consolidating the institution of private property to the lowering of taxation. At least in theory, these encourage a general growth in prosperity thanks to increased individual business activity and neutralise, to some extent, the effects of state withdrawal from many other sectors. </p><p>Russia’s unilateral neoliberalism doesn’t entail any such neutralising activity: there is nothing to mitigate the increasing inaccessibility of the social welfare system. And this doesn’t just apply to migrants. Unilateral neoliberalism widens the general gap between rich and poor and in the end affects all members of society — sooner or later every citizen who finds themselves in hospital will feel themselves to be an “intruder”.</p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">Russia, Inc.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine">Listening to Russia’s female migrants</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/kicking-habits-kicking-back">Kicking habits, kicking back</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Rocheva Migration matters Russia Health Thu, 29 Jun 2017 15:09:57 +0000 Anna Rocheva 111984 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">People displaced by the war in eastern Ukraine need a community to represent their interests — any community. Why is that proving so difficult? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-donbas">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33910476774_022795b769_z (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2017: Avdiivka, Donetsk oblast. CC BY-SA 2.0 Rebecca Harms / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>An Italian journalist once asked me why I love my country. He also asked me whether I consider myself Ukrainian. After all, I was born in the Donbas, and I speak mostly Russian in my everyday life. But just because my home is now a war zone and my mother tongue is Russian doesn’t make me any less a citizen of Ukraine, or infringe my ability to relate to my country with respect, love and healthy criticism.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Recently, I was asked another question at a Kyiv hospital. I’d gone to register at the clinic, and the clerk behind the desk asked where I was registered previously. When I replied “Luhansk region”, she answered: “Oh, you’re not a separatist by any chance?” This kind of question would stop anybody in their tracks. And perhaps we could joke about it, if that phrase didn’t conceal a war and the lives of people who are dear to me.</p><h2>The strength of stereotypes</h2><p dir="ltr">The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">stigmatisation of people from the Donbas</a> often happens precisely on the everyday level, with everyday people, in everyday life. People take the example set by politicians, who have never said publicly: “We are all residents of one country and we are all needed here, every person who has a Ukrainian passport is worth the attention and care of our state, whichever part of the world they might be in.”</p><p dir="ltr">Before the war, the issues of language and where you’re registered as living didn’t seem particularly important. Many things can be taken as given when there isn’t a war going on: you cross the street when the light turns green; cars drive on the right side of the road; when someone steals your pursue, you go to the police station; and if you live in a country, you take care to improve it and make it more comfortable, just as that country takes care of you, too.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">A state relies on functioning communities — professional associations, groups that gather around certain interests and so on. Debates within these groups and between them allow the whole of society to remain healthy and capable of evaluating situations critically, find solutions and defend its interests. In turn, the comfort of these groups and their active public position guarantees an equal society, one with the power and confidence in its own rights and obligations.</p><h2>Totemic solidarity</h2><p dir="ltr">Before the war, society in Donetsk was<a href="http://www.korydor.in.ua/ua/opinions/vladimir-rafeenko-trevozhnaya-shtuka-e-ta-nasha-sovremennost-no-zhit-v-nej-mozhno-i-dazhe-nuzhno.html"> made up into small local communities</a>. Some people liked theatre, some were artists, others were activists (both on the left and the right), there was an intelligentsia oriented around the sciences and the arts, and so on. There were also ongoing divisions inside these communities. But as violent events began to develop in the region from 2013 onwards, these communities split up even more, disintegrating into even smaller units.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">But there’s solidarity in this story, too. And it’s worth mentioning it, so that these communities can start working again to find possible ways of defending their interests.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">On 21 November 2013, when students, programmers and journalists came out onto the Maidan in Kyiv, five people paid a visit to the monument to Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s national poet, in Donetsk. These people were representatives of different communities, but inside their groups they turned out to be the only people who decided to demonstrate publicly in support of EuroMaidan. One of the first people to do so was<a href="https://day.kyiv.ua/ru/article/obshchestvo/eto-tragediya-kotoraya-poroy-perehodit-v-komediyu"> Evgeny Nasadyuk</a>, a director and playwright, who works under the name Pyotr Armyanovsky. This demonstration, which initially attracted five people,<a href="http://day.kyiv.ua/ru/news/040114-doneckiy-evromaydan-razbilsya-na-pary"> grew gradually</a>, with 10 people, then 50. Over the course of several months, active residents of Donetsk stayed close to the Shevchenko monument for days on end.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/512785_main (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>November 2013 meeting, Donetsk. Source: <a href=http://www.segodnya.ua/regions/donetsk/podderzhat-evromaydan-v-donecke-prishli-pyat-chelovek--476863.html>Segodnya</a>.</span></span></span>By January 2014, this kind of demonstration became impossible. The activists in Donetsk began to be attacked more regularly, there was more violence on the streets, and the violence was starting to slip of out of control. </p><p dir="ltr">Teenagers armed with bats would attack the demonstrators, and they remained unpunished despite the fact that the city police was still functioning, and the plan to reorganise it hadn’t arisen. One way of scaring the activists was to<a href="http://novosti.dn.ua/news/199972-khronyka-22-yanvarya-v-donecke-tytushky-napaly-na-zhurnalystov-y-sozhgly-flag"> douse them with zelyonka</a>, the green dye<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-euromaidan-attacks-zelyonka/25263137.html"> used to humiliate politicians and other persons of interest</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">All five activists who came out to protest in Donetsk in November 2013 spoke Russian. They were all residents of the Donbas, and now they are all displaced people</p><p dir="ltr">A few months passed and people who called themselves residents of Donetsk came out to protest allegedly against the values of EuroMaidan. In the twisted logic of this protest, the problem of defending the region’s Russophone population and their human rights (which was also linked to language) somehow emerged. In the media, this demonstration<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mW76uDpaF0I"> received the name “Anti-Maidan”</a>, as something opposed to the protests happening in Kyiv.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">All five activists who came out to protest in Donetsk in November 2013 spoke Russian. They were all residents of the Donbas, and now they are all displaced people. They demonstrated to assert their rights as citizens of Ukraine, to protest against corruption in society and all institutions of power, to support modernisation and the improvement of the country’s education system. These values are universal, and thus there’s no room for exclusion on regional or other grounds here.</p><p dir="ltr">The largest demonstration, called “pro-Ukrainian” by activists and the press,<a href="http://www.historians.in.ua/index.php/en/avtorska-kolonka/1299-kateryna-yakovlenko-hudok-akhmetovu-abo-zhaduiuchy-donetskyi-maidan"> took place in April 2014</a>. Here, it was the same “five and fifty activists” who’d stood in front of the monument to Shevchenko previously. Indeed, it was the image of this demonstration, which showed a Ukrainian flag flying on Lenin Square in Donetsk, that went viral.&nbsp;</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AmYL4JGYREU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>April 2014: the last "pro-Ukrainian" demonstration in Donetsk. Source: True Donbass</em><p dir="ltr">But it wouldn’t be quite accurate to call this protest “pro-Ukrainian”. For the people on Lenin Square, the most important motivating factor wasn’t the Ukrainian national idea (although that was also present), but resisting the spontaneous violence that had begun to spread not only through the city’s streets, but its institutions too, thus alienating the city’s residents. It was precisely opposition to violence that became an important element for people trying to assert humanist ideals and democratic principles in April 2014. All of this helped reinvigorate Donetsk’s local community for a time, its importance and faith in the idea that city residents could defend their city.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Although this protest was mostly attended by Russian speakers, the Ukrainian flag became its main symbol. This choice was not an accidental one. The Ukrainian flag expressed hope of retaining the state as a force that could defend the city and country against an external threat (many people were worried that the Crimean scenario could be repeated in eastern Ukraine). With the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-portnov/how-eastern-ukraine-was-lost">local elite and authorities inactive</a>, the flag became something more than two pieces of blue and yellow material sewn together. It became a totem, a symbol that could protect society from violence. The flag could also be seen as a cry for help — from Kyiv or the international community.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">But what happened to this society and its sub-units after violence finally won out here?</p><h2>The “other” from the Donbas</h2><p dir="ltr">Three years on, Ukrainian society has changed a lot. Now, nobody remembers the story of the five people who protested in Donetsk in November 2013. The protesters who attended the April 2014 demonstration became internally displaced people, and they moved to different cities. For many, this move became a source of stress, and the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown">problems that arise in new cities</a> (accommodation, work, finances and so on) led to a feeling of being stuck in a hole. Meanwhile, for others, new circumstances gave way to positive changes and even career opportunities (many young people left to study at European universities or took jobs in good companies).</p><p dir="ltr">The subject of internally displaced people is one of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">most divisive</a> in the western and Ukrainian press. At the beginning of the conflict, displaced people encountered constant discrimination. In conditions of war, the power of stereotypes has only grown stronger. Despite the fact that many articles on tolerance appeared in the Ukrainian press, people displaced from the Donbas were still represented negatively in mass consciousness — poor, uneducated, politically naive and so on. On a personal level, I have encountered similar claims: “You’re an exception. But there are others, the majority. After all, it was your region that chose [Viktor] Yanukovych, and now we’re going through all of this.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/E-Ukraine-UNHCR4_0 (1)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Some people consider people displaced by the conflict in eastern Ukraine "traitors" or "separatists". СС: Yu. Gusev. / UNHCR / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Moreover, those people who stayed in Donetsk have on occasion experienced hostility from residents of other regions of the country:<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3Ug9QDN7fw"> “If you didn’t leave, you must’ve earned it”</a>. At the height of events in spring 2014, I rang a woman who worked at the Donetsk Metallurgical Factory — I’d made a small documentary film with her in the past. She asked me: “What are they saying about us in Kiev? What are they saying in general?” Of course, different things were being said. Maidan fostered the creation of many volunteer organisations (VostokSOS, DonbasSOS, New Mariupol, to name a few) that worked directly with people, helped them with food or money, and even repaired homes for them. Yet another section of society couldn’t understand the situation beyond the stereotypes: apparently, the people who remained in the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine don’t leave precisely because they support the regime there.</p><p dir="ltr">The historian Elena Styazhkina has<a href="http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/12/17/186084/"> said</a> many times that you shouldn’t call people living in the occupied territories separatists or supporters of the so-called People’s Republics. Indeed, according to Styazhkina, these people should be viewed as hostages — that way, your perception of the situation in the Donbas changes.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Leave and forget — this is all that a certain segment of Ukrainian society wanted people in the Donbas to do in 2014<span style="color: #333333; font-size: 13px; font-weight: normal;">&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">Back in 2013, before the war, Sergei Bratkov, a Ukrainian artist from Kharkiv, created the work<a href="http://pinchukartcentre.org/ru/photo_and_video/photo/22389#"> Leave, Forget</a>, which at the time bore no relation to the conflict. Visually, the work is very simple: a black and white photograph shows a man going down a metro escalator from behind, and on top of it, there’s a neon sign: “leaveforget”. Bratkov’s work was created as a reaction to the relationship between the individual and society, their desire to leave their hometown and move into a different social context. Today, this installation looks completely different: if originally, the man decided to leave due to the soft power of the big city, then today, he’s a resident of the occupied territories who has been physically expelled from his native environment.</p><p dir="ltr">Leave and forget — this is all that a certain segment of Ukrainian society wanted people in the Donbas to do in 2014. But in certain situations, it’s impossible to leave, let alone forget. I’ve been asked many times why my parents don’t just leave their region, and whether their reluctance to do so means that life there suits them. I rephrased Bratkov’s sentiment for myself: “Remain and survive”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/uexat_sabit (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Leaveforget" by Sergei Bratkov. Image use permitted by PinchukArtCentre (c) 2013. Photograph: Sergei Ilin.</span></span></span>Styazhkina<a href="http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2015/04/24/192952/"> notes</a>: “People in the Donbas call themselves peaceful. This isn’t a recognition that the future will be peaceful, but a denial of war. They don’t call themselves republicans or members of the Donetsk People’s Republic. This something of a step towards [peace], and it should be noted. People can move towards this image of the future.”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The emergence of a negative image of the Donbas is connected to the fact that no one outside the region knew much about it, its character, its life, or the people who lived there. People only remember the fact that the Donbas was the heart of Soviet industrialisation, and that people from across the Soviet Union (including some with a criminal past) traveled there to build and restore it after the Second World War. The myth about the down-at-heel Donbas was fed further by gang wars in the early 1990s, as well as the background of its political elite — the majority of them (for example, Viktor Yanukovych) had criminal backgrounds. The fact that the region remained conservative and nostalgic for the Soviet past didn’t help either.</p><p dir="ltr">The development of this myth, and the opposition between the Donbas and the rest of Ukraine, was useful for political elites who leveraged their influence to gain votes and mobilise the electorate in 1996-2012. Given that real reforms were not being carried out, populist methods were supposed to reorient voters into an emotional frame in which language and birthplace became markers of how Ukrainian society had fallen behind, a barrier to reform, and all responsibility of politicians was removed in favour of an amorphous “regional problem”.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02526688.LR_.ru__1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chelyuskintsev mine, Donetsk oblast. (с) Alexei Kudenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The “Sovietness” that the Donbas is often accused of is really the massive gap between the very rich and very poor, the lack of reforms to the education system, the absence of real trade unions, investment in healthcare, low wages, bad transport system and infrastructure, and inactive communities. Indeed, all of these problems unite Ukraine’s 24 regions and Crimea.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Realising that the problem of Ukrainian society today isn’t its eastern regions, but the substitution of reform with populism, will make everyone feel like a resident of the Donbas — a powerless minority that cannot defend itself. The fear of understanding that Ukrainian society isn’t defended by the state leads to the creation of a mythical Other. And this time, Ukraine’s Other doesn’t come from outer space, but the all-too real Donbas, the source of all the country’s ills.</p><h2>Everyone’s a comrade</h2><p dir="ltr">In spring 2014, before the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” was declared in the Donbas, there was an attempt to create a Committee of Patriotic Forces of Donbas in Donetsk. This was supposed to be a civic initiative that could defend the interests of residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions at all levels. Despite the fact that the Committee, which includes Donetsk intellectuals and civic activists, still exists today, issues concerning the region are decided mostly without its involvement.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Against the background of the conflict, displaced people could have formed a model of a working community capable of defending its own interests (and the interests of Donetsk and Luhansk) independently. But for the most part, this hasn’t happened. And the already fragile community has split up into small groups, which have begun to defend their own interests inside this (small) community, isolating one another and increasing the level of internal competition. This fight, this competition is often accompanied by discussion about which activist is the biggest patriot, who is the biggest activist, who has suffered most, and who has suffered least, and who supports human rights.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/2014_2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mariupol, 2014. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span>For example, when I <a href="https://realist.online/article/doneckij-rezhisser-o%20%20-tom-pochemu-nelzya-plakat-o-donbasse">spoke with Evgeny Nasadyuk in January 2017</a>, he made an offhand remark to the effect that he doesn’t want to associate himself with certain representatives of the Donetsk region, and that you should be sceptical about any public demonstrations they organise. Other activists and displaced persons have expressed similar opinions. I experience similar feelings to a certain extent myself. Perhaps this position comes from an unhealed trauma, or the fact that everyone is involved in a secret struggle for their place under the sun. People who refuse to participate in this struggle leave the community and either remain on their own or join another group.</p><p dir="ltr">In <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/dec/13/society-sennett-disorder-review">The Uses of Disorder</a>, the American sociologist Richard Sennett speaks about how “images of communal solidarity are forged in order that men can avoid dealing with each other… The ‘we’ feeling, which expresses the desire to be similar, is a way for men to avoid the necessity of looking deeper into each other.” Ukrainian society isn’t so far from this model: the concept of “us” isn’t formed on the basis of accepting different categories and groups of the population, and even excludes them.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Right now, the war justifies everything — aims, means, fictional solidarity, the lack of protection by the state and excessive public patriotism&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Our segmented society has stopped talking to one another, defining common aims, seeing allies, rather than enemies, in each other. Any discussion is reduced to “kitchen talk”, Facebook activism or posts on other social networks. Street protest doesn’t work anymore, it’s been compromised too many times by paid actions. Furthermore, the people behind Ukraine’s public polemics often come from the same small circle who have the same views and similar backgrounds. To go beyond this circle, you have to get out of your comfort zone, express solidarity with people you haven’t met before, and see problems in their true complexity, beyond personal interest. All of this seems utopian and fraught with problems.</p><p dir="ltr">Right now, the war <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">justifies everything</a> — aims, means, fictional solidarity, the lack of protection by the state and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">excessive public patriotism</a>. All of this only plays into the hands of those political forces which will try to retain their place at the next round of elections and once again appeal to the electorate, and not society.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">It’s impossible to even imagine that someone from Ukraine’s political leadership will make a special announcement on television (as president Poroshenko did with Ukraine’s visa-free regime), in which he’d announce that we should make our society more human, or, for instance, make a public example of tolerant behaviour towards residents of our country’s two easternmost regions. Or perhaps lobbyists, intellectuals, writers and philosophers from the Donbas could address Ukraine’s parliament.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Still, I’d like to believe that when the guns stop firing, we will be ready to accept peace and everyone without exception. After all, we’ll have to do it anyway.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Translated by Tom Rowley.</em></p> <fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/how-eastern-ukraine-was-lost">How ‘eastern Ukraine’ was lost</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">Ukraine’s ministry of internal hatred</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikita-pidgora/ukraine-s-displaced-universities">Ukraine’s displaced universities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/faded-glory-ukraines-miners">Undermined: how the state is selling out Ukraine’s coal workers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Kateryna Iakovlenko Migration matters Ukraine Mon, 26 Jun 2017 09:19:40 +0000 Kateryna Iakovlenko 111889 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Europa z second handu: Ukraińcy w Polsce https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kaja-puto/europa-z-second-handu <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukraińców pracujących w Polsce jest już ponad milion. Ich liczba ciągle rośnie mimo wzrostu ksenofobicznych nastrojów. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland" target="_blank"><em><strong>English</strong></em></a>, <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kaja-puto/ukrainskie-migranty-poland" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31198391_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31198391_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ksenofobiczne napisy w przejściach podziemnych w dzielnicy Prądnik Czerwony, Kraków. Foto (c): Artur Widak/SIPA USA/PA Images. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span><br />Kto rozpoczyna swoją podróż po Polsce od dworca Warszawa Centralna, może pomyśleć, że oto znalazł się w zachodnioeuropejskiej metropolii, której życie niczym nie różni się od Paryża czy Londynu. W modnym, modernistycznym budynku dworca można kupić sushi na wynos i bioshake’a z jarmużu – lunch w sam raz na piątkowy pociąg do Berlina, przed którym tłoczą się tłumnie hipsterzy. Na innym peronie pociągu wyglądają białe kołnierzyki – odkąd panika antysmogowa weszła do mainstreamu, przesiedli się ze swoich SUV-ów na komunikację publiczną.</p><p>Zaledwie kilka kilometrów dalej znajduje się dworzec autobusowy Warszawa Zachodnia, a na nim – inny świat. W brudnym, nieremontowanym od czasów komunizmu budynku trudno o jarmuż – można za to kupić kiełbasę z keczupem i niemodne ubrania. Ze zdezelowanych autokarów wysypują się zmęczone długą podróżą twarze. To tutaj przecinają się drogi warszawskich migrantów: Polacy wracają z Niemiec i Belgii, do Polski przyjeżdżają Ukraińcy. Dla wielu z nich Dworzec Zachodni to pierwsze spotkanie z wymarzoną „Europą”.</p><p>Ukraińców w 38-milionowej Polsce – stałych mieszkańców, ale i pracowników sezonowych – jest już łącznie ponad milion. Większość z nich zdecydowała się na emigrację po rozpoczęciu konfliktu zbrojnego na wschodzie Ukrainy w 2014 roku, kiedy wartość hrywny, ukraińskiej waluty gwałtownie spadła, a ceny poszły w górę.</p><p>Po dojściu do władzy PiS-u w 2015 roku stosunki polsko-ukraińskie uległy pogorszeniu, a badania opinii publicznej wykazują wzrost nastrojów ksenofobicznych. Mimo to Polska dzięki bliskości kulturowej i językowej wciąż jest dla Ukraińców atrakcyjnym celem emigracji.</p><h2>1000 dolarów za prawnika</h2><p>“Dworzec Zachodni to pierwszy szok dla wszystkich, którzy wyobrażają sobie Polskę jako europejski raj” mówi mi Anna, która mieszka w Polsce już prawie rok. “A właściwie drugi szok, bo wcześniej trzeba wystać kilka godzin w kolejce na granicy i wysłuchiwać krzyków pograniczników. Kto nie zna jeszcze polskiego, wychwytuje tylko słowo „kurwa”.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Maidan_Warsaw_4_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Maidan_Warsaw_4_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="164" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>”Na Majdan! Wybierz przyszłość dla swoich dzieci!” Warszawa, 2014. Fotografia (c): Maxim Edwards.</span></span></span></p><p>Anna jest dynamiczną, wesołą kobietą koło pięćdziesiątki. Z wykształcenia jest nauczycielką geografii, ale w Polsce pracuje jako opiekunka osoby starszej. Pensja ukraińskiego nauczyciela po krachu waluty to około 75$. W Polsce Anna zarabia jakieś 400$, ale ma też wikt i opierunek. Dlatego większość zarobionych pieniędzy może przesyłać do Lwowa, gdzie mieszkają jej mąż i dwie córki. Według <a href="https://www.nbp.pl/aktualnosci/wiadomosci_2016/20161212_obywatele_ukrainy_pracujacy_w_polsce_–_raport_z_badania.pdf" target="_blank">szacunków Narodowego Banku Polskiego</a> zaledwie niecałe 9% ukraińskich imigrantów w Polsce ma wykształcenie zawodowe lub niższe, ale aż 70,7% wykonuje prace fizyczne.</p><p>“Mówią, że Polka na moim stanowisku może zarobić dwa razy więcej” mówi Anna. “Ale ciężko się kłócić, kiedy w co drugim ogłoszeniu o pracę czytam: „Ukrainkom dziękujemy”. Ja na swoich pracodawców nie narzekam. Sami mają rodzinę za granicą i starają się mi pomóc.”</p><p>Mniej szczęścia miała znajoma Anny, Julia. Jeszcze na Ukrainie kupiła od nieuczciwych pośredników tzw. wakancję, czyli miejsce pracy wraz z potrzebnym do uzyskania wizy oświadczeniem pracodawcy. Była przekonana, że na Dworcu Zachodnim przywitają ją pracodawcy i zawiozą do obiecanego mieszkania. Tak się jednak nie stało.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Mówią, że Polka na moim stanowisku może zarobić dwa razy więcej” mówi Anna. “Ale ciężko się kłócić, kiedy w co drugim ogłoszeniu o pracę czytam: Ukrainkom dziękujemy”</p><p>“Jakiś mężczyzna podszedł do mnie i zaczął przekonywać, że aby zostać w Polsce legalnie, muszę zapłacić prawnikom 1000 dolarów” opowiada Julia. “Na początku nie chciałam mu wierzyć i wydzwaniałam na numer, który podali mi jeszcze na Ukrainie. Nikt nie odpowiadał. Po nocy spędzonej na dworcu zadzwoniłam do tego „prawnika” i zapytałam, czy ma jakąś pracę. Umówiliśmy się na dworcu w małym miasteczku pod Warszawą. Stamtąd zawieźli mnie do sadu z jabłkami, choć mówiłam, że szukam pracy jako babysitterka. Chciałam odmówić, bo mam kłopoty z kręgosłupem, ale mężczyzna powiedział, że poniósł koszty znalezienia mi tej pracy i muszę tu zostać co najmniej miesiąc. Na szczęście udało mi się stamtąd uciec, kiedy zatrzymaliśmy się na stacji benzynowej.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pracy_Ukraine_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pracy_Ukraine_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ukrainiec szuka pracy. Ujazdów, Warszawa. Fotografia CC-by-2.0: Slava Murava / Flickr. Pewne prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>“Handel fikcyjnymi miejscami pracy to jeden z największych problemów, z którymi przychodzą do nas klienci” mówi mi Sofija Usejnowa z działającej na rzecz Ukraińców fundacji <a href="http://pl.naszwybir.pl" target="_blank">Nasz Wybór</a>. “Wiele osób akceptuje te oferty, bo bez oświadczenia od pracodawcy nie da się otrzymać wizy pracowniczej. Kiedy orientują się, że zostali oszukani, zaczynają szukać innej pracy. Tymczasem procedura legalnego zatrudnienia pracownika trwa kilka tygodni. To dla wielu zbyt długo, dlatego trafiają na czarny rynek, gdzie nie sposób dochodzić swoich praw.”</p><p>Z raportów Centrum Pomocy Prawnej im. Haliny Nieć wynika, że liczba ofiar <a href="https://www.pomocprawna.org/handel-ludzmi" target="_blank">handlu ludźmi w Polsce sięga nawet kilkuset osób rocznie</a>, coraz więcej z nich to Ukraińcy. Trudno oszacować, ile przypadków współczesnego niewolnictwa (w tym pracy przymusowej) pozostaje niezgłoszonych.</p><h2>Repatriacja zamiast migracji</h2><p>Annę i Julię poznałam w legendarnej kolejce do Wydziału Cudzoziemców Urzędu Wojewódzkiego Warszawie. Ukraiński internet jest pełen memów na temat polskiej biurokracji. Kolejka ustawia się już o 6 rano, dwie godziny przed otwarciem urzędu. To jedyny sposób, by załatwić sprawy pobytu. Polskie urzędy nie były gotowe na gwałtowny wzrost liczby imigrantów, a antyimigrancki klimat w polityce nie sprzyja wdrażaniu rewolucyjnych ułatwień.</p><p>“Życie Ukraińca w Polsce dzieli się na dwie fazy: składanie dokumentów i oczekiwanie na decyzję”, ironizuje Switłana Owczarowa, młoda ukraińska dziennikarka i studentka Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. “Kartę pobytu teoretycznie powinnam otrzymać w dwa miesiące, ale w praktyce może to trwać nawet rok. W tym czasie nie mogę wyjechać z Polski”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Życie Ukraińca w Polsce dzieli się na dwie fazy: składanie dokumentów i oczekiwanie na decyzję”</p><p>Switłana jest przedstawicielką młodej ukraińskiej inteligencji, coraz silniej widocznej w warszawskim życiu kulturalnym. Przez rok pracowała w rosyjskojęzycznym oddziale Polskiego Radia. Jednak po zmianie władzy „Polskie Radio dla Zagranicy” stało się medium propagandowym, w którym trudno o pluralizm. Podobnie jak w polskojęzycznych redakcjach, wielu dziennikarzy o liberalnych poglądach zostało zwolnionych lub zrezygnowało z pracy.</p><p>Młodzi, wykształceni Ukraińcy odnajdywali się wcześniej w instytucjach kulturalnych, think-tankach czy NGO-sach. Dziś instytucje państwowe ulegają silnemu upolitycznieniu, a promujące pomoc dla migrantów i dialog międzykulturowy NGO-sy coraz rzadziej mogą liczyć na wsparcie państwa. Środki przeznaczane wcześniej na inicjatywy dla migrantów <a href="http://www.rp.pl/Repatrianci/301249940-Sciagniemy-rodakow-do-Polski.html" target="_blank">wydawane są obecnie głównie na tzw. „repatriację”</a>, czyli przesiedlenia Polaków przymusowo wygnanych poza polską granicę (głównie w okresie stalinizmu).</p><h2>Czy Bandera był dobrym człowiekiem?</h2><p>Na sytuację Ukraińców w Polsce pod rządami partii Prawo i Sprawiedliwość wpływa nie tylko antymigracyjna, typowa dla populistycznej prawicy polityka „Poland first”, ale i napięcia w stosunkach polsko-ukraińskich. Jak to zwykle bywa na „krwawych ziemiach” Europy Środkowej, chodzi o konflikt polityk pamięci.</p><p>Sami Ukraińcy niechętnie komentują przemiany polityczne w Polsce. Robią dobrą minę do złej gry i zwracają uwagę przede wszystkim na bliskość kulturową i wzajemne zrozumienie. Julia – ta, która uciekła ze stacji benzynowej – zastrzega na początku rozmowy, że porozmawia ze mną tylko dlatego, że piszę do angielskiej gazety. Narzekać w polskich mediach wolałaby nie, bo znowu Polacy będą mówić o Ukraińcach, że są niewdzięczni i wrogo nastawieni. – A wiadomo – mówi mi – komu na rękę konflikt między naszymi narodami. Ma oczywiście na myśli rosyjską propagandę.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/c7cbaaecf0328e4e0a2c43ed835edc38_1467997400_extra_large_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/c7cbaaecf0328e4e0a2c43ed835edc38_1467997400_extra_large_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prezydent Ukrainy Petro Poroszenko klęka przed pomnikiem ofiar ludobójstwa wołyńskiego. Fotografia: Oficjalna strona Prezydenta Ukrainy. </span></span></span></p><p>Również Sofija z fundacji Nasz Wybór woli się skupiać na pozytywach. Zapytana wprost o zmiany po dojściu do władzy Prawa i Sprawiedliwości, posługuje się osobistym przykładem. – Niedawno byłam na rozmowie, żeby dostać kartę stałego pobytu – opowiada. – Kilka razy zapytano mnie o stosunek do rzezi wołyńskiej i Stepana Bandery. O ile wiem, już wcześniej padały pytania historyczne, np. o pierwszego króla Polski czy kim był Lech Wałęsa. Ale teraz trzeba jeszcze odpowiedzieć na pytanie, czy Bandera był dobrym człowiekiem.</p><p>Dla niektórych Ukraińców – zwłaszcza na zachodniej Ukrainie – Bandera to symbol partyzanckiej walki z sowieckim i polskim hegemonem, wzór dla żołnierzy walczących dziś w Donbasie. Z polskiej perspektywy Bandera to przede wszystkim symbol rzezi wołyńskiej, czyli masowych mordów Ukraińców na Polakach, które wydarzyły się w latach 1943–1944 pod okupacją niemiecką.</p><p>Kijów wykonał w sprawie Wołynia kilka gestów pojednawczych (hołd ofiarom złożył m.in. prezydent Petro Poroszenko). Polska domaga się jednak jednoznacznego potępienia organizacji takich jak Organizacja Ukraińskich Nacjonalistów czy Ukraińska Powstańcza Armia. Tymczasem dla Ukrainy, która znajduje się w stanie wojennej mobilizacji, nie jest to najlepszy czas na rozliczania z historią, tym bardziej że figura okrutnych „banderowców” odgrywa ogromną rolę w machinie rosyjskiej propagandy.</p><h2>Polska schizofrenia</h2><p>Polska polityka wschodnia dzieli się z grubsza na dwie tradycje wykształcone w okresie międzywojennym. Pierwsza (tzw. piłsudczykowska) zakłada wsparcie dla Ukrainy w obawie przed ekspansją rosyjskich wpływów bliżej granic Polski. Druga z kolei (tzw. endecka) traktuje Ukraińców jako odwiecznych wrogów, przeciwko którym sprzymierzyć się można nawet z Rosją. Od odzyskania przez Ukrainę niepodległości w 1991 roku na polskiej scenie politycznej panował konsensus „piłsudczykowski”. Dziś do głosu zaczęła dochodzić również ta tendencja „endecka”.</p><p>Samo Prawo i Sprawiedliwość z pewnością nie jest partią jednoznacznie antyukraińską. Oficjalnie popiera Ukrainę w jej konflikcie z Rosją (choć za deklaracjami nie idą konkretne działania), a poza sprawą Wołynia na linii Warszawa–Kijów nie dochodzi do większych spięć. Członkowie rządu Prawa i Sprawiedliwości zdają sobie również sprawę z korzyści, jakie ciągnie za sobą imigracja z Ukrainy, czego wyraz dają okazjonalnie w wypowiedziach medialnych. Według Związku Przedsiębiorców i Pracodawców Polska w przeciągu kolejnych 20 lat <a href="http://forsal.pl/artykuly/1025184,ukraincy-w-polsce-praca-dla-ukraincow-1-3-mln-ukraincow-to-za-malo.html" target="_blank">potrzebuje 5 dodatkowych milionów pracowników</a>, by utrzymać dotychczasowy poziom wzrostu gospodarczego.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-25098818_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-25098818_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Premier Beata Szydło, a ostatnio również Jarosław Kaczyński przekonują kraje UE, że nie mogą przyjąć uchodźców z Bliskiego Wschodu, ponieważ obciążeni są już uciekinierami z Ukrainy. Fotografia: (c) Alik Keplicz AP/Press Association Images. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone</span></span></span></p><p>Jednak w obawie przed radykalną częścią swojego elektoratu Prawo i Sprawiedliwość nie przesadza z entuzjazmem w stosunku do Ukrainy czy ukraińskich pracowników. W siłę rośnie również antyukraińska frakcja na łonie partii. Sytuacja przypomina nieco tę na Węgrzech, gdzie rządzący prawicowo-populistyczny Fidesz zmuszony był przejąć radykalne postulaty skrajnie prawicowej partii Jobbik, by uniknąć wzmacniania się opozycji po prawej stronie.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Prawo i Sprawiedliwość nie tyle więc wzbudza antyukraińskie sentymenty, ile przyzwala na ich podżeganie</p><p>Prawo i Sprawiedliwość nie tyle więc wzbudza antyukraińskie sentymenty, ile przyzwala na ich podżeganie. Głośne incydenty w rodzaju ksenofobicznych aktów napaści nie doczekują się potępienia ze strony członków partii rządzącej. A te, jak alarmuje Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich, zdarzają się coraz częściej, choć <a href="http://www.cbos.pl/SPISKOM.POL/2016/K_053_16.PDF" target="_blank">stosunek Polaków do Ukraińców</a> i tak jest dużo lepszy niż np. do Arabów lub do Romów.</p><p>“Czuję się raczej akceptowana, mam polskich przyjaciół, choć na wszelki wypadek staram się nie rozmawiać po ukraińsku w miejscach publicznych” mówi Anna, geografka ze Lwowa. “Najbardziej denerwuje mnie, kiedy ktoś wchodzi na tematy polityczne i zaczyna mi tłumaczyć, co Ukraina powinna zrobić, żeby stać się krajem demokratycznym jak Polska. Obserwując, co się teraz dzieje w Polsce, szczerze mówiąc, nie wiem, czy chciałabym dla Ukrainy takiej demokracji.”</p><p>“Polska wyższość wobec Ukraińców ma podłoże historyczne, co nie jest wyjątkowe na tle europejskim” komentuje wypowiedź Anny Marek Wojnar, historyk i ekspert w zakresie stosunków polsko-ukraińskich. “Z jednej strony wypływ na to miały czynniki ekonomiczne; ludność ukraińska dominowała na wsi, miasta, gdzie kształtowały się warstwy wyższe, były zdominowane przez Polaków i Żydów (na Ukrainie wschodniej przez Żydów i Rosjan). Dopiero za tym następował kontekst kulturowy: postrzeganie Ukraińców albo jak część narodu polskiego, albo jak prymitywną dzicz: Kozaków, Hajdamaków, „rezunów”.”</p><h2>Milion uchodźców z Ukrainy</h2><p>W polskiej debacie publcznej obecny jest również klasyczny dla krajów imigracyjnych argument „zabierania miejsc pracy”. Ostatnio w jednej z fabryk motoryzacyjnych na wschodzie Polski strajkujący pracownicy usłyszeli, że zostaną zwolnieni, a <a href="https://wcj24.pl/strajk-w-kolejnej-firmie-na-sse-na-wasze-miejsce-chetnie-przyjda-ukraincy/" target="_blank">na ich miejsce dyrekcja przyjmie Ukraińców</a>. </p><p>Choć bezrobocie w Polsce utrzymuje się obecnie na rekordowo niskim poziomie (ok. 8%), można spodziewać się, że wśród pracowników niewykwalifikowanych rosnąć będzie poczucie rywalizacji z migrantami. Nacjonalistyczni politycy i dziennikarze chętnie wykorzystają tę frustrację, podlewając je ksenofobicznym sosem i wykorzystując antyukraińskie sentymenty.</p><p>“Trudno się ludziom dziwić” ocenia ukraiński socjolog mieszkający w Warszawie, który woli zachować anonimowość. “Gdybym pracował za psie pieniądze w jedynej fabryce w okolicy i usłyszał coś takiego od pracodawcy, a wieczorami w telewizji oglądał filmy o Wołyniu, być może mnie również frustracja popchnęłaby do nienawiści.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/WarsawPoS_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/WarsawPoS_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pierwsze spotkanie z wymarzoną „Europą”. Pałac Kultury i Nauki w Warszawie, w otoczeniu nowoczesnych wieżowców. Fotografia CC-by-SA-2.0: Monika / Flickr. Pewne prawa zastrzeżone.</span></span></span></p><p>Ukraińców w Polsce irytują też powtarzane na arenie międzynarodowej przez przedstawicieli polskiego rządu słowa o „milionie uchodźców z Ukrainy”. Premier Beata Szydło, a ostatnio również Jarosław Kaczyński przekonują kraje UE, że nie mogą przyjąć uchodźców z Bliskiego Wschodu, ponieważ obciążeni są już uciekinierami z Ukrainy.</p><p>“Czujemy się, mówiąc kolokwialnie, jakby ktoś sobie nami wycierał dupę” komentuje cytowany już socjolog. &nbsp;“W Polsce od Majdanu status uchodźcy otrzymało 20 Ukraińców, z czego 18 z odwołania. Choć wielu Ukraińców przyjechało do Polski pośrednio lub bezpośrednio z powodu wojny, otrzymanie ochrony międzynarodowej jest dla nich prawie niemożliwe. Ukraińcy nie korzystają z polskiego systemu opieki społecznej, przyczyniają się do rozwoju gospodarczego i płacą w Polsce podatki. Jeśli polski rząd nie da Ukraińcom jasnego sygnału, że są tutaj mile widziani i bezpieczni, Ukraińcy stąd wyjadą, kiedy tylko Niemcy otworzą dla nich rynek pracy. A Polacy zostaną sami w swojej „Europie”.”</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Poland Kaja Puto Migration matters Ukraine Mon, 12 Jun 2017 07:54:55 +0000 Kaja Puto 111533 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Terms and conditions apply: Georgia and Ukraine’s visa-free victory https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The EU’s extension of visa-free regimes eastwards is more about managing migration flows than European values. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory-deutsch" target="_blank">Deutsch</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31476696.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31476696.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Without visas!” reads this poster in Kyiv, celebrating Ukraine’s visa-free regime with the European Union, which comes into force this month. Photo (c) Serg Glovny/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After a rollercoaster ride of seemingly endless delays, foot-dragging and dashed hopes, visa-free travel to the EU has finally become a reality for Georgian and Ukrainian citizens.&nbsp;</p><p>A political climate hostile to immigration among EU states turned the rather technical procedure of lifting restrictions on short-term visas into a highly politicised ordeal. Concerns over the supposed threat of increased irregular migration and <a href="http://www.tagesspiegel.de/weltspiegel/georgische-diebesbanden-in-deutschland-sippenhaft-fuer-ein-ganzes-land/13799998.html" target="_blank">organised crime</a> based largely on anecdotal evidence were used as an excuse by certain EU member states to stall the process and push through a much harsher visa suspension mechanism for all third countries that enjoy visa-free travel to the EU. As part of its strategy of externalising migration controls to third countries, the EU can now swiftly reinstate visa requirements if third countries fail to, for example, accept rejected asylum seekers or effectively prevent the transit of irregular migrants.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A political climate hostile to immigration among EU states turned the rather technical procedure of lifting restrictions on short-term visas into a highly politicised ordeal</p><p>Despite these concessions, Georgia and Ukraine have undoubtedly scored a significant symbolic victory. After all, it was Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement that acted as the initial catalyst for the Euromaidan protests. While the visa waiver for citizens of these post-Soviet states represents a welcome opening in Europe’s “soft” paper curtain with its eastern neighbours, there is little impetus for states in the region to continue European integration or uphold human rights given the EU’s preoccupation with protecting its external borders from migrants and asylum seekers.&nbsp;</p><p>Delivering on visa liberalisation may be a short-term win for the current governments in Georgia and Ukraine. But this new relationship can neither ensure public support for the EU, nor prevent democratic backsliding in the future.&nbsp;</p><h2>Visa as humiliation&nbsp;</h2><p>Visas are the subject of endless online and offline discussions for citizens of post-Soviet countries that happen to be beyond the EU’s pale of free movement. Although there is officially a common visa policy among Schengen states, there are also discrepancies between these formal rules and informal practices at various EU embassies. This has generated much confusion and uncertainty among applicants.</p><p>Obtaining that coveted multi-entry Schengen visa became a competitive sport for many independent travellers, with people posting tips and exchanging advice on how to deal with different EU embassies on social media and dedicated travel forums. From Belarus to Kazakhstan, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/%25D1%2588%25D0%25B5%25D0%25BD%25D0%25B3%25D0%25B5%25D0%25BD/" target="_blank">young people posting grinning selfies of themselves next to Schengen visas in their passports</a> is a testament to the extent to which visas have become fetishised objects in their own right.&nbsp;</p><p>To add insult to injury, Ukrainians in particular were subject to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/international/2011/07/110721_ukraine_eu_visas.shtml" target="_blank">regulations</a> that required them to check-in in person at EU embassies and get their passports stamped upon returning from their trip abroad. Back in 2011, there were multiple reports of consulates forcing Ukrainian citizens to <a href="http://dengi.ua/news/84505_Posolstva_stran_ES_trebuyut_u_ukraincev_ostavlyat_zalog_i_otmechatsya_posle_priezda_.html" target="_blank">leave behind deposits</a> (in the form of personal documents or money) to ensure they would not overstay their visas. These measures, which were <a href="http://dengi.ua/news/84505_Posolstva_stran_ES_trebuyut_u_ukraincev_ostavlyat_zalog_i_otmechatsya_posle_priezda_.html" target="_blank">condemned</a> by Ukrainian civil society organisations such as Europe Without Barriers, made obtaining a Schengen visa a thoroughly humiliating, time-consuming and frustrating procedure, particularly for young, independent travellers and those with limited financial means.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RT_Ukraine_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RT_Ukraine_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“The Old World at the end of the tunnel: what the visa-free regime with the EU will give Ukraine." RT Russian article on Ukraine’s new visa regime. Source: RT.</span></span></span>As hard as Kremlin-sponsored media are trying to <a href="https://russian.rt.com/ussr/article/375889-ukraina-es-bezvizovyi-rezhim" target="_blank">downplay visa liberalisation</a> as a minor accomplishment that will supposedly only benefit the country’s wealthy, globalised elites, the mere fact that an entire restrictive and complex bureaucracy will practically disappear is by itself a momentous occasion for Ukrainians and Georgians. While EU border guards will retain the right to refuse entry to visa-free travelers who fail to present evidence of an intent to return, experience shows that these regulations are only sporadically enforced.</p><p>Since the entry into force of the Moldova-EU visa-free travel agreement, for example, less than two percent of Moldovan travellers were <a href="https://republic.ru/posts/83200?utm_source=slon.ru&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=morning" target="_blank">denied entry to the EU</a> and just 0.23% of Georgian visitors were <a href="https://republic.ru/posts/83200?utm_source=slon.ru&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=morning" target="_blank">turned around at the border</a> since visa liberalisation became a reality for Georgia. The Russian government, which itself has engaged in visa liberalisation talks with the EU in the past, is very much aware of how coveted visa-free travel is for many of its citizens. The lifting of visa restrictions is undoubtedly a PR victory for pro-European forces in Georgia and Ukraine — at least in the short term.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Visa liberalisation is undoubtedly a cause for celebration for regular Georgians and Ukrainians. But their respective governments should not expect to indefinitely ride on the coattails of this success&nbsp;</p><p>The road to visa liberalisation for Georgia and Ukraine was arduous and plagued by delays as the EU appeared to shift the goalposts for finalising the deal on multiple occasions. Whereas Moldova was granted visa liberalisation on schedule based on broad support at the EU level, visa liberalisation negotiations with Georgia and Ukraine were hampered by hardening stances on immigration and mobility on the part of many EU member states in the context of the so-called refugee crisis.&nbsp;</p><p>In fact, resistance on the part of some of the most influential EU member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands <a href="http://www.intellinews.com/colchis-visa-myopia-and-the-death-of-euro-atlantic-conditionality-99769/" target="_blank">threatened to sabotage the entire process</a>, sapping the patience of Georgian and Ukrainian officials and weakening public trust in the prospect of imminent visa liberalisation. Unsubstantiated arguments about the dangers of an influx of irregular migration and criminality was used as justification for stalling negotiations in the same way as France, Germany and Netherlands had stalled visa liberalisation for the Western Balkans several years prior on the basis of the high number of asylum claims emanating from the region.</p><h2>The limits of conditionality&nbsp;</h2><p>As with Western Balkan countries, the EU developed detailed visa liberalisation road maps for Ukraine and Georgia. These required the implementation of a broad package of reforms on external security, migration governance, defence of fundamental rights and the fight against corruption. These prerequisites for visa free-travel fit into a broader logic of conditionality whereby the prospect of the lifting of visas should be used as an incentive for upholding democratic norms and the rule of law.</p><p>While at least rhetorically, the EU has tied visa liberalisation to respect for democracy and human rights, the main emphasis of the required reforms is harmonisation with the EU on security and migration control. Thus, as part of the EU’s push to externalise immigration control to neighboring countries, Georgia and Ukraine were <a href="http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/GA/TXT/?uri=uriserv:l14163" target="_blank">forced to sign readmission agreements</a>. These agreements oblige them to readmit not only their own citizens, but also third-country nationals — a potential burden in the case of an uptick in the irregular transit of persons across their territories.&nbsp;</p><p>The EU also used the opportunity of visa liberalisation negotiations with Georgia and Ukraine to revise existing regulations by pushing through a much stricter visa waiver suspension mechanism that now applies to all existing visa liberalisation agreements. This would allow for visa-free travel to be <a href="http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/02/27-revision-visa-waiver-suspension-mechanism/" target="_blank">frozen on short notice</a> upon the recommendation of the Commission or an EU member state. This threat acts as a negative incentive for Georgia and Ukraine to stringently police irregular migration and uphold strict border controls. The negotiation procedures have clearly demonstrated that for the EU conditionality is first and foremost about cooperation on migration enforcement and border protection.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02521366.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02521366.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A resident of Luhansk presents a Ukrainian passport at a polling station during elections for members of the People’s Council of the self-declared republic in November 2014. Photo (c): Valery Melnikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The symbolic value of visa liberalisation as a tangible benefit of European integration has meant that Georgian and Ukrainian officials were extremely motivated to fulfill the technical requirements for joining the visa-free club. Once the goal has been reached, however, governments have little incentive to actively pursue reforms and further integration.</p><p>As the first Eastern Partnership country to successfully obtain visa-free travel to Europe, Moldova is both a poster child and a warning for visa-free candidates. For Georgia and Ukraine, Moldova acts as an example of the extent to which the prospect of visa-free travel can act as an incentive for people living in breakaway republics and occupied territories to apply for passports of the respective internationally recognised governments. Indeed, Tbilisi had hoped that visa liberalisation could make Georgian passports a more attractive prospect for residents of breakaway Abkhazia (officials in Sukhumi <a href="http://dfwatch.net/abkhazia-suspicious-of-georgias-offer-of-visa-free-travel-to-europe-47535" target="_blank">turned up their noses</a>). </p><p>There are precedents, however. Throughout the year after Moldova’s visa-free regime with the EU entered force, some 27,000 citizens of Transnistria applied for new biometric Moldovan passports. Time will tell whether residents of Russian-occupied Crimea are also as enthusiastic (unless they have officially renounced their Ukrainian citizenship, they are also free to apply).</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Visa liberalisation is neither a guarantee of further European integration, nor a vaccine against authoritarianism</p><p>But while both Georgia and Ukraine have reaffirmed their commitment to allow people living in breakaway regions to obtain biometric passports, it is questionable to what degree the utilitarian benefit of visa-free travel to Europe will lead to a change in allegiances among populations living in unrecognised republics. Set against the background of a smoothly functioning visa-free agreement with the EU, Moldova has concurrently witnessed a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandr-voronovici/moldova%2527s-ambiguous-european-integration" target="_blank">rise in Euroscepticism</a> and anti-western attitudes amid democratic backsliding in the country. Visa liberalisation is therefore neither a guarantee of further European integration, nor a vaccine against authoritarianism.</p><p>Ukraine and Georgia may have successfully fulfilled all the technical requirements for visa liberalisation. But concerns remain about the extent to which these reforms will be structural rather than superficial. In Ukraine, for example, it took several attempts and strong pressure from civil society, the EU and President Poroshenko for the parliament to finally pass (albeit through gritted teeth) a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach/that-obscure-object-of-desire-reforms-labour-code-and-progressive-agenda-in-" target="_blank">watered down anti-discrimination amendment</a> to the country’s Labour Code explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1gDtqHlK-7A" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>December 2015: Buildings across Georgia are lit up with the European Union flag as the government pushes for visa-free. Source: Youtube.</em></p><p>While these perfunctory changes to legislation were enough for the EU to give Ukraine the final green light for visa liberalisation, they will do little to actually protect LGBT rights. In fact, ever since it became clear that the visa-free liberalisation was irreversible, rumours have been circulating that these amendments <a href="https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-politycs/2200472-skandalnye-popravki-v-trudovoj-kodeks-ne-budut-progolosovany-gerasenko.html" target="_blank">could be reversed</a>. Anti-corruption campaigners and human rights activists in Ukraine are <a href="http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/ukraine-is-in-the-middle-of-counterrevolution-again-is-anyone-paying-attention" target="_blank">already raising their voices</a> about an ongoing effort by some members of the Ukrainian government to undo or sabotage ongoing reforms with the passing of a <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/controversial-new-amendment-puts-corruption-fighters-under-pressure-in-ukraine/a-38245936" target="_blank">new amendment imposing a heavy administrative burden</a> on NGOs combined with attempts to undermine the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU).</p><p>After delivering on the promise of visa-free travel, Ukrainian and Georgian governments lose an important incentive to deepen reforms, uphold the rule of law and protect human rights. Indeed, we have seen this pattern in the Western Balkans. Here, governments have backpedalled on promises to uphold democratic values with recent <a href="http://balkanist.net/op-ed-europe-should-brace-itself-new-autocracy/" target="_blank">crackdowns on the media in Serbia</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/27/macedonia-protesters-storm-parliament-and-attack-mps" target="_blank">violence erupting in the Macedonian parliament</a> to impede the peaceful transition of power.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Embroiled in its own political crisis, the EU remains dangerously aloof and has failed to forcefully condemn anti-democratic developments in partner states</p><p>Embroiled in its own political crisis, the EU remains dangerously aloof and has failed to forcefully condemn anti-democratic developments in partner states. Instead, the EU appears to be primarily preoccupied with cracking down on irregular migration, keeping the number of asylum applicants low and the rate of return high — all with the help of neighbouring countries. In its drive to limit migration at all costs, the EU has recently signed an agreement with Belarus to “manage migration flows” (a thinly veiled euphemism for keeping out migrants and refugees). This is despite the Lukashenka regime’s abysmal human rights record and its policy of cooperating with repressive regimes in the post-Soviet space on the extradition of political dissidents and asylum seekers.</p><p>As long as countries like Georgia and Ukraine cooperate on migration, the EU will likely look the other way when it comes to democratic norms and human rights. The recent <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">illegal extradition of an Azeri dissident from Georgia to Azerbaijan</a>, allegedly by Azerbaijan's security services, is a worrying example of the type of human rights abuses that could increase in number in the absence of diplomatic pressure from the EU.</p><p>Moreover, the flagrant violations of international law with regards to asylum seekers on the part of EU member states such as Poland and Hungary further erodes the credibility of the EU’s willingness to protect fundamental human rights — both internally and abroad.&nbsp;</p><h2>Workers need not apply?</h2><p>While the current euphoria over visa-free travel to the EU will continue into the summer, the question of labour migration to the EU remains the awkward elephant in the room.</p><p>Indeed, the EU remains unwilling to expand legal migration channels to the EU, but access to the European labour market remains a priority of job-seekers from Georgia and Ukraine. A former member of Saakashvili’s government has already called on Ukrainian and Georgian officials to actively push for <a href="http://projects.platfor.ma/kapanadze-sergi/" target="_blank">privileged access to the European labour market</a>. Poland, for example, already has simplified employment procedures for citizens from Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. With over 1.3 million Ukrainian citizens currently working on its territory, <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-06/million-migrants-fleeing-putin-score-a-policy-jackpot-for-poland" target="_blank">Poland is increasingly dependent on migrant labour from the east</a> despite the current government’s xenophobic hostility towards refugees and non-white migrants. It is possible that other EU states, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, will follow suit and provide bilateral access to their labour markets in the future.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center" style="font-size: 1.2em;">Given the lack of opportunities in Georgia and Ukraine, pushing for access to the EU labour market will remain an uphill battle in a Europe less interested in promoting labour mobility</span></p><p>Visa liberalisation is undoubtedly a cause for celebration for regular Georgians and Ukrainians. But their respective governments should not expect to <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/03/28/georgia-eu-visa-liberalisation-albania/" target="_blank">indefinitely ride on the coattails of this success</a>. Governments should aim to keep citizens updated about the nature of visa-free programmes; data last year revealed that <a href="http://crrc-caucasus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/the-georgian-publics-awareness-of-visa.html" target="_blank">many Georgians remained poorly informed</a>. </p><p>Given the continued lack of economic opportunities in Georgia and Ukraine, pushing for access to the European labour market will remain an uphill battle in the context of an EU that is increasingly less interested in promoting labour mobility. Furthermore, when migration control objectives take precedence over human rights considerations and democratic values (as is currently the case when looking at the EU’s external policies), there is a real danger of post-Soviet states walking back on their commitments to meaningful democratic reforms.&nbsp;</p><p>Ultimately, using Georgia and Ukraine as buffer zones against irregular migration not only jeopardises these countries’ futures, but undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the EU as a political actor.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/christina-lomidze/georgian-migrant-mothers-never-to-return-home">Georgian migrant mothers: never to return home?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Yan Matusevich Migration matters Ukraine Georgia Fri, 02 Jun 2017 14:47:19 +0000 Yan Matusevich 111343 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There are already over a million Ukrainians working in Poland. Despite a rise in xenophobic attitudes, their number could grow. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kaja-puto/ukrainskie-migranty-poland" target="_blank">Русский</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kaja-puto/europa-z-second-handu" target="_blank">Polski</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31198391.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31198391.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“UA [Ukrainians] out!” reads this graffiti in a pedestrian underpass in Czerwony Pradnik, Krakow, Poland. Photo (c): Artur Widak/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>If you begin your visit to Poland from Warsaw Central Station, you may think you’ve found yourself in a western European metropolis, no different from Paris or London. Here, you can buy sushi rolls and a kale bioshake — a lunch fitting for the ride to Berlin on the hipster-filled Friday train. On the platforms, white-collar workers await their trains. When panic over air pollution gripped the city, they switched from SUVs to public transport.</p><p>A few kilometres away lies Warsaw West bus station, and here it’s a different world. You can’t find any kale in this dirty pavilion that saw its last renovation under communism — instead there’s sausage with ketchup and second hand clothes. Tired faces descend from ramshackle buses: Poles coming home from Germany, Austria and Belgium; Ukrainians arriving in Poland. For many of the latter, Warsaw West is their first encounter with the “Europe” of which they dreamt.</p><p>Poland, a country of 38 million (counting citizens without guest workers), is already home to over one million Ukrainians. Most of them decided to emigrate after military conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine in 2014, when the currency value of the Ukrainian hryvnia plummeted and prices rose.</p><p>After the populist right party Prawo i Sprawiedliwości (Law and Justice) came to power in 2015, the Polish-Ukrainian relationship deteriorated and public opinion polls show a rise in xenophobic attitudes. Despite this, Poland, due to its migration policy’s preferences for nationals from the former USSR and its cultural and linguistic similarity, is still an attractive destination for Ukrainians.</p><h2>1,000 dollars for a lawyer</h2><p>“Warsaw West is a first shock for everyone who imagines Poland as a European paradise,” explains Anna, who arrived in Poland almost a year ago. “In fact, it's the second shock, because first you have to stand for several hours at the border and endure the shouting from border guards. If someone does not know any Polish yet, the only thing they understand is <em>kurwa.</em>” [Polish: whore]</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Maidan_Warsaw_4.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Maidan_Warsaw_4.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="164" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Choose your children’s future: come to the Maidan!” reads this sticker near Warsaw’s Old Town in 2014. Photo (c): Maxim Edwards.</span></span></span></p><p>Anna is an energetic cheerful woman in her fifties. In Ukraine, she worked as a geography teacher, but after the currency crash, the monthly paycheck of a Ukrainian teacher averages about $75. </p><p>In Poland, Anna earns around $400 and has also room and board. Thanks to this she is able to transfer most of her earnings to Lviv, where she left her husband and two daughters. According to <a href="https://www.nbp.pl/aktualnosci/wiadomosci_2016/20161212_obywatele_ukrainy_pracujacy_w_polsce_%E2%80%93_raport_z_badania.pdf" target="_blank">estimates of the National Bank of Poland</a>, only nine percent of Ukrainian migrants in Poland have no secondary or higher education, but as many as 70.7% perform physical labour.</p><p>“They say a Polish woman earns twice as much in my position,” estimates Anna. “But it’s difficult to negotiate if in half of the job offers you read ‘No Ukrainians’. Though I don't complain about my employers. They themselves have family abroad whom they are trying to help.”</p><p>Anna's friend Yulia was less lucky. Back in Ukraine, Yulia bought a “vacancy”, a declaration from an employer needed to acquire a visa, from dishonest agents. She was convinced that once she arrived at Warsaw West she would be greeted by employers and transferred to the promised apartment. This isn’t what happened.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“They say a Polish woman earns twice as much in my position, but it’s difficult to negotiate if in half of the job offers you read ‘No Ukrainians’”</p><p>“A man approached me and started convincing me that, in order to legally stay in Poland, I had to pay a $1,000 fee for a lawyer,” Yulia tells me. “In the beginning, I did not believe him and called the number they gave me in Ukraine over and over. Nobody answered. After a night spent at the bus station I called this ‘lawyer’ and asked if he had work for me. We arranged to meet in a small town next to Warsaw. From there they took me to an orchard with apples, even though I told them I was looking for work as a babysitter. I wanted to refuse because I have problems with my back, but the man told me that it had cost him to find me this job and I had to stay there at least a month. Luckily I was able to escape when we stopped at a gas station.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pracy_Ukraine.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pracy_Ukraine.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Looking for work” reads this Ukrainian-language flyer in Ujazdów, Warsaw. Photo CC-by-2.0: Slava Murava / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Selling fictional jobs is one of the largest problems with which clients come to us,” explains Sofiya Useynova from the foundation <a href="http://pl.naszwybir.pl/" target="_blank">Nasz Wybór</a> (Our Choice), which helps Ukrainian citizens in Poland. “Many people accept these offers, because without an employer's declaration they cannot obtain a work visa. When they realise they were cheated, they start looking for a different job. But the procedure for [obtaining] legal employment lasts a few weeks. For many this is too long, so they land in the black market, where it's impossible to protect labour rights.”</p><p>According to reports of the Halina Nieć Legal Aid Center, the number of victims of human trafficking in Poland <a href="https://www.pomocprawna.org/handel-ludzmi" target="_blank">reaches several hundred every year</a> and includes a growing number of Ukrainians. It is difficult to estimate how many cases of modern-day slavery (including forced labour trafficking) remain unreported.</p><h2>Repatriation instead of migration</h2><p>I met Anna and Yulia in the infamous queue at the Department of Foreigners of the Provincial Office. The Ukrainian internet is filled with memes about Polish bureaucracy, and one can see why: the queue forms at six am, two hours before the office opens. This is the only way to regulate issues connected with migrants’ stay in Poland. The Polish administration was not prepared for a sudden rise in the number of immigrants, and the anti-immigrant political climate does not favour implementing revolutionary improvements to ease their burden.</p><p>“The life of a Ukrainian in Poland has two phases: submitting documents and waiting for the administrative decision,” says Svitlana Ovcharova, a Ukrainian journalist and student at the University of Warsaw. “In theory, it was supposed to take two months for me to receive my residency card, but in practice it can even take a year. During this time I cannot leave Poland.”</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">“A Ukrainian’s life in Poland has two phases: submitting documents and waiting for the administrative decision”&nbsp;</span></p><p>Svitlana is a representative of the young Ukrainian intelligentsia that is starting to make its presence known in the cultural life of Warsaw. She worked for a year in the Russian-language branch of Polish Radio. But with the advent of the new Law and Justice government, the Polish Radio External Service has become a propaganda channel, with little tolerance for pluralism. Just like the Polish-language editorial teams, many journalists with liberal views have been fired or resigned.</p><p>Previously, young educated Ukrainians found their place in Polish cultural institutions, think tanks or NGOs. Today, state institutions are becoming strongly political, and NGOs that support migrants or intercultural dialogue have fewer chances of receiving government support. Funds that were previously directed to initiatives for migrants <a href="http://www.rp.pl/Repatrianci/301249940-Sciagniemy-rodakow-do-Polski.html" target="_blank">are now spent mostly on “repatriation”</a> — the resettlement of Poles deported to the Soviet Union, particularly those under Stalinism.</p><h2>Was Stepan Bandera a good person?</h2><p>The situation of Ukrainians in Poland under the PiS government has been impacted not only by anti-immigration policies and the “Poland first” approach typical of the populist right, but also by tensions in Polish-Ukrainian relations. Typically for the bloodlands of Central Europe, this is about memory conflicts.</p><p>Ukrainians themselves are not eager to comment on the political changes in Poland. They try to be good sports, talking about cultural similarities and mutual understanding. Yulia, the woman who escaped from the gas station, underlines at the beginning of our conversation that she will talk with me only because I am writing for an English-language publication. She would prefer not to complain in Polish media — she doesn’t want Poles complaining about ungrateful and hostile Ukrainians. “And it needs no explaining,” Yulia says “who benefits from conflict between our nations.” She means, of course, Russian propaganda.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/c7cbaaecf0328e4e0a2c43ed835edc38_1467997400_extra_large_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2016: President Petro Poroshenko kneels before Poland's monument to the victims of the Volhynia tragedy. Source: President of Ukraine.</span></span></span>Sofiya from the Nasz Wybór foundation also prefers to focus on the positive. When asked about the changes after Prawo i Sprawiedliwość came to power, she uses a personal example. “Recently I had an interview for the residency card application,” she recalls. “They asked me a few times about the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-portnov/clash-of-victimhood-1943-volhynian-massacre-in-polish-and-ukrainian-culture" target="_blank">Volhynia massacre</a> and Stepan Bandera. There always were also questions about history, for instance about the first king of Poland or who Lech Wałęsa was. But now, you also have to say whether Bandera was a good person.”</p><p>Stepan Bandera, one of the leaders of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists during the Second World War, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-portnov/clash-of-victimhood-1943-volhynian-massacre-in-polish-and-ukrainian-culture" target="_blank">is a contentious figure for Polish and Ukrainian historical politics</a>. For some Ukrainians, particularly in western Ukraine, Bandera is a symbol of guerrilla warfare against Soviet and Polish hegemony, an example for some soldiers fighting today in Donbas. From the Polish perspective, Bandera is above all a symbol of the Volhynia massacre, the mass killings of Poles by Ukrainians (and, on a smaller scale, Polish retaliation), which took place in 1943–1944 under German occupation.</p><p>Kiev has made a few gestures of reconciliation relating to Volhynia — for instance, in July 2016 president Petro Poroshenko paid homage to the victims of the massacres. But Poland demands unequivocal condemnation of organisations like the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Meanwhile, for Ukraine, now in a period of war mobilisation, this is not the best time for dealing with difficult history, even more so given the fact that the figure of the cruel “Banderites” plays a prominent role in the Russian propaganda machine.</p><h2>Polish traditions</h2><p>Poland’s “eastern policy” has two broad traditions that crystallised in the interwar period. </p><p>The first (called <em>piłsudczykowska</em>, after Piłsudski, the leader of the independent left) assumes supporting Ukraine to counter the risk of expansion of Russian influence closer to Polish territory. The other one (called <em>endecka</em>, from the nationalist movement of National Democracy) treats Ukrainians as eternal historical enemies against whom even alliance with Russia is acceptable. Since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, the Polish political scene has been dominated by a Piłsudski-school consensus. But today, Poland’s “National Democracy” tendency is also making itself heard.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-25098818_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, have claimed they cannot accept refugees from the Middle East because the country is already burdened by people migrating from Ukraine. (c) Alik Keplicz AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Prawo i Sprawiedliwość party itself is not decidedly anti-Ukrainian. Officially, it supports Ukraine in its conflict with Russia (although declarations are not followed by concrete action), and there are no significant clashes on the subject of Volhynia between Warsaw and Kiev. Members of the PiS government are also aware of the benefits of the immigration from Ukraine, which they sporadically express in the media. According to the Polish Union of Entrepreneurs, over the next 20 years Poland will need <a href="http://forsal.pl/artykuly/1025184,ukraincy-w-polsce-praca-dla-ukraincow-1-3-mln-ukraincow-to-za-malo.html" target="_blank">an additional five million people</a> in order to maintain the current level of economic growth.</p><p>However, fearing its most radical voters, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość does not want to appear enthusiastic towards Ukraine or Ukrainian workers. The anti-Ukrainian fraction in the party is also growing stronger. The situation is slightly similar to that in Hungary, where the ruling right-populist party Fidesz was forced to adopt the agenda of the far-right Jobbik party in order to prevent the strengthening of the opposition from the right.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Poland’s ruling PiS party doesn’t inflame anti-Ukrainian sentiments itself, but turns a blind eye to xenophobic attacks. This creates conditions for hatred to thrive.</p><p>In this sense, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość does not inflame anti-Ukrainian sentiments itself, but turns a blind eye. As xenophobic attacks are not condemned by the members of the ruling party, it creates conditions under which such hatred can thrive. And such incidents, as the Polish Ombudsman alarms, occur growingly often, even though Poles' attitude towards Ukrainians is, on the whole,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cbos.pl/SPISKOM.POL/2016/K_053_16.PDF" target="_blank">much better</a> than their sentiments towards Arabs or Roma people.</p><p>“I feel rather accepted, I have Polish friends, though, just in case, I try not to speak Ukrainian in public,” explains Anna, the geography teacher from Lviv. “What gets me the most is when someone starts talking politics and explaining to me what Ukraine should do in order to become a democracy like Poland. Observing what is happening in Poland today, to be frank, I am not sure I would want this kind of democracy for Ukraine.”</p><p>“The Polish sentiment of superiority towards Ukrainians has a historical background, which is not unique in the European context,” Marek Wojnar, a historian and expert in Polish-Ukrainian relations, comments. “On the one hand, this situation in the interwar period was conditioned by economic factors, Ukrainians dominated in the countryside, while the cities, where the higher classes formed, were dominated by Poles and Jews (in Eastern Ukraine by Jews and Russians). This was followed by cultural context: perceiving Ukrainians either as a branch of the Polish nation or as primitives: Cossacks, <em>Haidamaks</em>, <em>rezuns</em>.” [ed. Haidamak: a Cossack paramilitary band from the 18th century. Rezun: an archaic Polish word meaning both a murderer and somebody of Ukrainian origin]</p><h2>“A million refugees from Ukraine”</h2><p>The “stealing jobs” argument typical for immigration countries can also be found in the Polish debate. Recently, in one of eastern Poland’s car factories, employees on strike were <a href="https://wcj24.pl/strajk-w-kolejnej-firmie-na-sse-na-wasze-miejsce-chetnie-przyjda-ukraincy/" target="_blank">informed that they would be fired and replaced by Ukrainians</a>. </p><p>Despite the fact that, in Poland, unemployment is currently at a record low (around eight percent), it can be expected that feelings of rivalry with immigrants will grow among low-qualified workers. Nationalist politicians and journalists are eager to use this frustration, spicing it up with xenophobic undertones and playing on anti-Ukrainian sentiments.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/WarsawPoS_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/WarsawPoS_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“The Europe they dreamed of” - the Palace of Culture and Science, flanked by modern high-rises, in Central Warsaw. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: Monika / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“You can understand these people,” explains a Ukrainian sociologist in Warsaw, who prefers to remain anonymous. “If I worked for meagre pay at the only factory in the area and heard something like that from my employer, and in the evening I watched <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/simon-lewis/wolyn-towards-memory-dialogue-poland-ukraine">movies about Volhynia</a>, maybe I too would be pushed into hate by frustration.”</p><p>Ukrainians in Poland are also irritated by the slogan about “one million Ukrainian refugees”, which is often repeated on the international scene by representatives of the Polish government. Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, have been trying to convince EU states that they cannot accept refugees from the Middle East because they are already burdened by those from Ukraine.</p><p>“We feel, to put it colloquially, as if someone wiped their arse with us,” the Ukrainian sociologist concludes. Since the events of EuroMaidan, just 20 Ukrainians have received refugee status (and 18 of them only after appeal). Even though many Ukrainians came to Poland directly or indirectly because of the war, being granted international protection verges on the impossible. Ukrainians do not benefit from Poland’s social care system, even though they contribute to the country’s economic development and pay their taxes. If the Polish government does not give Ukrainians a clear sign that they are safe and welcome here, they will leave as soon as Germany opens its labour market. And Poles will be left alone in their “Europe”.</p><p><em>Translated from Polish by Aleksandra Małecka.</em></p><p><em><span><em>Europe’s refugee crisis has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">affected Russia and Ukraine in different ways</a> — solidifying local hatreds, local hierarchies and varying views of European identity.</em></span></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/clash-of-victimhood-1943-volhynian-massacre-in-polish-and-ukrainian-culture">Clash of victimhoods: the Volhynia Massacre in Polish and Ukrainian memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/g-m-tam%C3%A1s/meaning-of-refugee-crisis">The meaning of the refugee crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/maxim-edwards/rethinking-eastern-european-racism">Rethinking “eastern European racism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/michal-kozlowski/youngsters-and-refugees-or-how-exile-changes-eastern-europe"> Youngsters and refugees, or how exile changes eastern Europe</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Kaja Puto Migration matters Ukraine Wed, 31 May 2017 18:05:32 +0000 Kaja Puto 111281 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Georgia has long been an oasis for dissidents from neighbouring Azerbaijan. But with Baku investing in its western neighbour at record levels, are they still safe?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Jamal_Ali_5.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Jamal_Ali_5.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jamal Ali, Azerbaijani rapper and journalist. Photo/Image Still via MeydanTV / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“I felt like trash,” says Jamal Ali. Last month Ali, a rapper and producer for Azerbaijani independent media outlet <a href="http://meydan.tv/en" target="_blank">MeydanTV</a>, was denied entry to Georgia. He flew back to Berlin, perplexed.&nbsp;</p><p>MeydanTV has few friends in authoritarian Azerbaijan, where many of its writers and editors have been harassed and imprisoned by the authorities. Ali is just one example: after performing at an opposition rally in 2012, he was sent to prison for ten days, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/18/tortured-singer-flees-azerbaijan-eurovision" target="_blank">where he was tortured</a>. Upon release, Ali fled to Germany. He’s lived there ever since, while his family remain in Azerbaijan, where they face <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81886" target="_blank">reprisals from the authorities</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Ali’s experience at the Georgian border was unexpected — several of his colleagues live and work in the Georgian capital. In fact, over the past two decades, Tbilisi has become something of an oasis for Azerbaijani activists and independent journalists seeking safety. And after Ali’s run-in with the Georgian authorities, they’ve started to wonder whether the stakes are getting higher.&nbsp;</p><h2>An oasis no more?&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijani dissidents suspect that Ali’s detention at Tbilisi airport was orchestrated by the Azerbaijani authorities, though they probably expected a little more from their Georgian partners. </p><p>In an <a href="https://haqqin.az/news/99120" target="_blank">article published recently by pro-regime website Haqqin.az</a>, Eynulla Fatullayev, a former prisoner of conscience turned pro-government journalist, criticised the Georgian authorities for not extraditing Ali back to Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Fatullayev also condemned Georgia for creating the conditions for an “anti-Azerbaijani nucleus" to flourish in the heart of Tbilisi. Azerbaijani oppositionists, he concluded, were uniting in Georgia to overthrow his country’s ruling government.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 13.50.09.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Eynulla Fatullaev's accusatory text identifies leading exiles as members of a shadowy "anti-Azerbaijani cell" abroad. Source: Haqqin.az. </span></span></span>Given Azerbaijan’s autocratic neighbourhood — the country borders Iran, Russia and Armenia (with which Baku is still technically at war) — Georgia is the obvious destination for people in Ali’s situation. Azerbaijanis enjoy visa-free travel to Georgia. They’re even able to stay there for 12 months. Economic and cultural links between the two South Caucasus states are booming, and the journey between Baku and Tbilisi isn’t so arduous.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Georgia has a long history of openness towards Azerbaijanis who are unwelcome at home. It was in Tbilisi, not Baku, where Azerbaijani dissident intellectuals declared the independence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic on 28 May 1918.&nbsp;</p><p>After the Soviet Union collapsed and the Caucasus region descended into conflict, Tbilisi again became an oasis for Azerbaijani dissidents, who fled to Georgia in two waves as an authoritarian regime took power in Baku. The first came after October 2003, when Ilham Aliyev followed his late father Heydar in becoming president, following an election <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/azerbaijan/13467" target="_blank">widely regarded as fraudulent</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014_Tbilisi,_Popiersie_Heydəra_Əliyeva_(01).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014_Tbilisi,_Popiersie_Heydəra_Əliyeva_(01).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A bust of Heydar Aliyev, former leader of Azerbaijan (and father of ruling president Ilham Aliyev) near Old Tbilisi. Photo CC-by-SA-4.0: Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The aftermath of this sham vote saw a wave of politically-motivated arrests, further prompting Azerbaijanis to flee west — they assumed they could breathe more easily in a place like Georgia. This coincided with Georgia’s democratic reforms after the Rose Revolution of 2003, which saw pro-western, reformist president Mikheil Saakashvili come to power. Saakashvili’s rebranding of Georgia appealed to desperate Azerbaijani dissidents, and young intellectuals such as novelist Seymur Baycan, journalist Gunel Movlud and composer Elmir Mirzoyev packed their bags and relocated there.</p><p>The second wave started in March 2013, a month which saw an intense crackdown on dissent in Azerbaijan. Repressions began after the non-parliamentary opposition held rallies in January and March under the slogan “Stop Killing Our Soldiers”, in reference to the non-combat deaths of Azerbaijani conscripts. The rally reflected the pent-up rage of ordinary people, and grew into the largest such event since 2005, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest rigged parliamentary elections. After these scenes, the authorities soon banned all opposition rallies.&nbsp;</p><p>In response, Azerbaijan’s authorities detained dozens of young activists, including members of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">N!DA movement</a>. Again, some of them headed to Georgia, and to safety.</p><h2>Freedom is back in fashion</h2><p>Most agree that the unprecedented pressure from the Azerbaijani government on dissidents in Georgia began in late 2014. This was likely the result of an influx of oil money, prompting the overconfident authorities in Azerbaijan to behave more boldly. Efgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist who has taken refuge in Georgia, points to the close strategic relationship developed between Ilham Aliyev and Mikheil Saakashvili.</p><p>During the last six months of Saakashvili’s presidency, Azerbaijan’s Milli Shura (National Council of Democratic Forces) called for a summit in Tbilisi, which Saakashvili later banned, with the cryptic <a href="http://az.azvision.az/Milli_Shura_ermeni_otelinde_-9444-xeber.html" target="_blank">justification</a> that “political stability in Azerbaijan necessitates the political stability of Georgia.”</p><p>After Saakashvili’s defeat in 2012, the opposition Georgian Dream (GD) formed a coalition government. Azerbaijani dissidents felt more secure in moving to Georgia, given that some of GD’s coalition partners were sympathetic to the plight of activists from Azerbaijan’s beleaguered opposition.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18396229 (1)_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan's oil and gas fields are powering the country's authoritarian regime — and its reach abroad. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These hopes, however, were unfounded. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire mastermind behind the Georgian Dream coalition (and accused by some of a pro-Russian orientation), pushed reform plans to one side. Although ahead of its neighbours, the state of democracy and human rights deteriorated under Ivanishvili, and the flourishing economy came first. Naturally, Azerbaijan, with its extensive oil and gas resources, became Georgia’s most important partner.</p><h2>Neither out of sight, nor out of mind</h2><p>Ali isn’t the only Azerbaijani dissident who has faced difficulties in Georgia. Gulnur Kazimova, a former journalist for Radio Liberty (which was blocked by court order in Azerbaijan earlier this month), <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/06/exiled-from-azerbaijan-just-for-being-a-journalist/" target="_blank">had to flee the city of Ganja with her husband and children</a> in December 2014 after receiving a tip-off that the police were coming to arrest her.</p><p>It’s now three years since Gulnur relocated to Tbilisi, over which time she’s changed flats 11 times after warnings from Tbilisi’s Human Rights House that she and her family were under threat. “After each and every move, we would run into the same security concerns. We were mostly worried for our children,” Kazimova tells me. “Though we later understood that running away was not a solution and that we have to try and not live in fear.” Kazimova has returned to journalism, and now writes about the problems ethnic Azerbaijanis face in Georgia.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Embassy_Tbilisi.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Embassy_Tbilisi.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Embassy of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi, Georgia. Image still via AZERTAC / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Even in Tbilisi, she faces problems. But here it’s the Georgian police who won’t leave Kazimova alone. The most disturbing incident came last May, when a black Toyota car followed Kazimova along a street in Old Tbilisi. Its occupant was photographing Kazimova and her husband.&nbsp;</p><p>“The surveillance was so obvious that my husband and I took a photo of the car and went straight to the police,” Kazimova says, adding that she knows the Azerbaijani authorities will not relent in their pursuit. The Georgian police launched an investigation into the incident, which lasted for three months.&nbsp;</p><p>Although the results of the investigation did not confirm targeted surveillance of Kazimova and her family, she did mention that a policeman at Tbilisi’s Ortachala police station told her that she wasn’t being followed by SOCAR employees or the Azerbaijani authorities, but “by Georgia’s intelligence service.”&nbsp;</p><h2>The pipelines that bind us</h2><p>Baku has one major lever of influence over Georgia. It’s called SOCAR, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic.</p><p>Last year, SOCAR increased natural gas supplies to Georgia by 50m cubic metres, in order to further “mutually beneficial cooperation in the future." This April, a new agreement was signed between Tbilisi and Baku that will allow for a supply of 2,347 billion cubic metres of Azeri gas to Georgia. This figure constitutes almost 90% of the 2,457 billion cubic metres of natural gas imported to Georgia in total.</p><p>This new agreement automatically precludes any potential deal with Gazprom, which is considered by the Georgian opposition and civil society as a threat to the nation’s energy security in the region. According to Georgia’s minister of energy Kakha Kaladze, much of the country’s electricity demand from April onwards is to be provided for with Azerbaijani gas.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgia needs Azerbaijani gas, and Azerbaijan needs Georgia as a conduit for exporting fossil fuels to the west</p><p>SOCAR first came to the Georgian market as SOCAR Georgian Petroleum in 2006. From 2007 onwards, SOCAR started to import gas to Georgia and dealt with Georgia’s gas distribution networks by establishing another subsidiary, called SOCAR Georgia Gas. It later constructed a Black Sea terminal and in May 2008 opened a new export terminal on the coast at Kulevi. In other words, SOCAR has established its business in three separate areas and in recent years, SOCAR has even become the largest single taxpayer in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia needs Azerbaijani gas, and Azerbaijan needs Georgia as a conduit for exporting fossil fuels to the west. Georgia is Azerbaijan’s closest link to international markets, such as Turkey and the EU. As economist Ilham Shaban puts it: “Azerbaijan is very interested in gaining a strategic foothold in Georgia, for its own economic well-being.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-3806582.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-3806582.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Workers lay a section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline in 2006. Photo (c): ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>But SOCAR is more than an energy giant, it’s also a philanthropist, increasing the country’s prestige among the country’s ethnic Azerbaijanis, one of the country’s major minority groups, and Georgians alike. “All of these processes are controlled by the Georgian government," says Zohrab Ismail, an Azerbaijani economist, adding that Tbilisi is eager to win the good graces of foreign investors.&nbsp;</p><p>This seems to be having a chilling effect on the welcome Georgia has extended to Azerbaijani dissidents in the past. For instance, though the Georgian state did not offer any explanation on the refusal to admit Jamal Ali, it is assumed that his entrance to Georgia was denied due to his professional activities — particularly his latest critical report on how Azerbaijan’s national oil company SOCAR supplied free gas to the churches of Tbilisi.&nbsp;</p><h2>Gas and hot air</h2><p>Dashgin Agalarli is sure that the Georgian authorities are in close collaboration with Azerbaijan’s intelligence services. An opposition activist and member of Azerbaijan’s Musavat party, Agalarli is wanted at home and was jailed in Georgia for six months (although the Georgian Dream coalition government never extradited him back to Baku.)</p><p>Agalarli was arrested by Interpol while crossing the border from Turkey to Georgia, after an Azerbaijani court found him guilty of tax evasion and issued a call for his arrest on 31 October. Apart from a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Georgia was the only country Agalarli could reach without needing a visa.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgian authorities have refused to grant Agalarli residency, and on 21 March <a href="https://www.meydantv.org/en/site/politics/22827/" target="_blank">told him to leave the country within a month</a>. Although Agalarli is challenging the ruling and still remains in Tbilisi, the outlook remains uncertain. “Unless something changes, he’ll most probably be deported,” says Efgan Mukhtarli, another Azeri journalist who has taken shelter in Georgia. The court decision, Mukhtarli adds, was clearly “politically rather than legally motivated.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">So far, no Georgian government official has explained exactly what danger Agalarli and Mustafayeva pose to the country’s national security</span></p><p>Mukhtarli suggests that if Agalarli is extradited to Baku, he could face the same fate as Mehman Qalandarov, an Azerbaijani blogger who was <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22657/" target="_blank">found dead in his prison cell</a> on 28 April. Qalandarov, who was in a pre-trial detention in Baku, had fled to Tbilisi in the summer of 2016 and helped organise various protests in Georgia against the Aliyev regime. He returned to Baku because of financial difficulties. “One political dissident who had a Tbilisi past is already dead,” Mukhtarli warns, worrying that anybody listed in the Haqqin.az article written by Fatullayev could be in the same boat.&nbsp;</p><p>The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has <a href="https://haqqin.az/news/99162" target="_blank">commented</a> on the claims made in the Haqqin.az article, promising to “study the issue closely” and stressing the close strategic partnership between Baku and Tbilisi. “This is the first time the Georgian government has officially expressed their views about our presence here,” says Mukhtarli. He adds that in previous years, Tbilisi was cautious and preferred communicating with the Azerbaijani dissident community via various non-governmental organisations.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Agalarli_Meydan_TV.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Agalarli_Meydan_TV.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dashgin Agalarli, an Azerbaijani oppositionist who has been threatened with expulsion from Georgia. Photo courtesy of MeydanTV. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Natia Tavberidze, the coordinator of Human Rights House in Tbilisi, doesn’t believe that the situation is “critical”. She says her organisation continues to support Azerbaijani activists in exile, and has had no run-ins with Georgian officialdom so far.&nbsp;</p><p>Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, a journalist, is also “alarmed”. In September 2016, Mustafayeva’s application for residence in Georgia was turned down. She told me that five days before the official rejection, she was called in to the Georgian interior ministry’s department of terrorism and anti-corruption for questioning. “My residence permission request lay on the table with some handwritten notes in Georgian added to it. I was asked about the reason of my arrival and my activities in Georgia,” recalls Mustafayeva, adding that her official rejection letter stated that she “pose[d] a danger to the state security and public safety of Georgia.”&nbsp;</p><p>“The way my spouse was recently questioned in Azerbaijan once again confirmed my suspicions that personal information about human rights activists and journalists is being transferred to the Azerbaijani authorities,” Agalarli says.&nbsp;</p><p>So far, no Georgian government official has explained exactly what danger Agalarli and Mustafayeva pose to the country’s national security. Both deny carrying out any terrorist activities or attempting to topple any government. “For the second time in our lives, we’re under government pressure. I just can’t understand it,” sighs Agalarli, adding that he regrets seeing Georgia as a safe haven. In Mustafayeva’s words, it feels worse than being jailed.&nbsp;</p><h2>Awkward guests&nbsp;</h2><p>Although Georgia has a visa-free regime with Azerbaijan, administrative registration and residency potentially pose hurdles for those seeking to put down roots in Tbilisi. Enrolling children into a Georgian school, or applying for a visa for a third country, require a residence permit. But some are able to settle, if not always thrive, in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani lawyer Emin Aslan, it’s usually not too difficult to get an official residence permit. “Though those who publicly oppose the Azerbaijani government in opposition rallies outside the embassy might run into some problems on Baku’s request,” says Aslan, adding that harassment of activists likely increases as a result of such campaigns.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If things heat up in Tbilisi, Azerbaijani dissidents could pack their bags again, using Georgia as a transit point to move to a third country</p><p>Indeed, the Azerbaijani government does not want to see its neighbour to the west become a hub for its critics. Likewise, the Georgian Dream government wants to keep the good graces of its regional partner and key energy supplier. And perhaps the Georgian authorities, dealing with their own problems of inequality and poverty, want to avoid having more residents to provide for — especially those who may prove a political nuisance.</p><p>If things heat up in Tbilisi, Azerbaijani dissidents could pack their bags again, using Georgia as a transit point to move to a third country — most likely the Czech Republic or Germany, which both host established communities of Azerbaijani dissidents.&nbsp;</p><p>Sergey Rumyantsev, a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/author/sergey-rumyantsev" target="_blank">sociologist and expert on Azerbaijani politics</a> based in Berlin, is sure that Baku will keep putting pressure on the Georgian government in the months to come. “Georgian efforts to get rid of their annoying new visitors could be undertaken very delicately, but they’ll still serve the purpose of decreasing the opposition to the Aliyev regime in Georgia,” he concludes. However, Rumyantsev adds that the US embassy and EU probably play a role here, mitigating pressure on Azerbaijani dissidents by calling on Tbilisi to honour its lofty democratic values.&nbsp;</p><p>After his close shave, Jamal Ali worries that Tbilisi may be betraying those values. As each year passes, the Aliyev regime becomes more vicious in its crackdown on dissidents in Azerbaijan. And given the geopolitical realities of the South Caucasus, there’s no way out for them except via Georgia.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline">Principles down the pipeline</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lamiya Adilgizi Migration matters Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Wed, 24 May 2017 11:25:15 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 111119 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Azerbaijan is losing its brains https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Educated young people in Azerbaijan see few prospects for work at home&nbsp;<span style="color: #222222; font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">–</span>&nbsp;and even fewer if they’re critically-minded. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/utechka-umov-azerbaidzhan" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_University_Medical.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_University_Medical.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="230" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Students attend a lecture at Azerbaijan Medical University in Baku. Photo CC: Mohammed Sadegmo / ATU-AMU / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Azerbaijan is losing its educated young people. I know from personal experience; my late father, an academic, insisted on sending me to study abroad. He encouraged my application to universities in Turkey and shortly after I left to study International Relations in Ankara, my dad gathered his documents and in a sign of protest left our native Azerbaijan to teach in Turkey as well. He was frustrated with corruption and the falling quality of education&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;and when the former minister of education openly forced him into taking bribes.&nbsp;</p><p>That’s just how things worked, but he decided he’d had enough. Threats from the ministry that he would lose his position as university rector, were the final straw. He resigned and transferred himself to Suleyman Demirel University in Isparta, Turkey, where he continued teaching economics and civil engineering until his death in 2012. “Connections” and “gifts” didn’t have the same weight there.&nbsp;</p><p>My father graduated high school in his small village with a gold medal, aced university and went on to pursue his graduate studies in Moscow. His was a Soviet education. By the time I was halfway through primary school, Azerbaijan became an independent state, and we watched how quickly my teachers of Russian and Jewish descent were replaced by Azerbaijani teachers who barely knew neither Russian nor the subject they were supposed to teach. In 6th grade, I was transferred to a Turkish lyceum from where I went to pursue my studies in Turkey and the United Kingdom.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">When entrenched corruption and nepotism are business as usual, does hard work and hard study count for anything?</span></p><p>Things weren’t ideal, but I didn’t experience corruption, and my teachers seemed more driven by teaching classes than taking bribes. But I always considered myself among the lucky ones, certainly compared to my friend Aynur Jafar. Despite being accepted to the prestigious Baku State University to study law, her hopes were quickly crushed. Students were often humiliated by their professors and corruption was rampant. Aynur realised that the next six years she would spend there were a waste of time.&nbsp;</p><p>Aynur recalls how some of the professors teaching at the law faculty even threatened students with raising the final price for passing exams unless their students started behaving in class. Jafar and a handful of other students refused to pay bribes for grades. The average price tag for an “A” was around $300 while Jafar was an undergraduate student between 2000 and 2004.&nbsp;</p><h2>Letting go broadens the mind</h2><p>Azerbaijan is undergoing a protracted economic crisis, which its authoritarian Aliyev regime is having difficulty tackling. When entrenched cronyism, corruption and nepotism are business as usual, does hard work and hard study count for anything? Under these circumstances, many citizens would happily seek a better life elsewhere, and the educated ones are no exception.&nbsp;</p><p>The journalist Emin Milli was 26 when he came up with the “Gelecek Ozu Gelmeyecek” [Azerbaijani: The future won’t come by itself] campaign, calling on universities in Baku to send 5,000 Azerbaijani students every year to study abroad. That was in 2005. A year later, President Ilham Aliyev signed a presidential decree on an overseas scholarship programme for 5,000 students. It would be funded through Azerbaijan’s State Oil Fund (SOFAZ) and managed by the ministry of education together with State Committee for Student Exams. Unlike Milli’s proposal, the government programme planned to spread the 5,000 scholarships over several years.</p><p>At the time, Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government believed the programme would win over the loyalty of students sent abroad. However, as one Azerbaijani scholar told me, on condition of anonymity, this was a short-lived expectation. “In fact, students pursuing degrees abroad in the social and political sciences even started viewing government policies critically!”</p><p>The same year also saw a <a href="http://www.socar.az/socar/en/careers/scholarship-programs/study-abroad-program" target="_blank">scholarship programme launched by SOCAR</a>, the state oil giant, which offered financial support for students interested in engineering, human resources or law. SOCAR aimed at sending 50 students a year, but last year sent 100. Of course, there were strings attached&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;students had to agree to come back home and spend five years working in Azerbaijan after graduation.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-7915657.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-7915657.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Young people take a stroll by the statue of poet Mirza Sabir near the old city walls in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo (c): Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>While the government had taken up Emin’s proposal, it was just about the only idea which pleased the authorities. In 2009, Milli was arrested with his friend Adnan Hajizade and sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment on bogus charges of hooliganism. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-emin-milli/odr-speaks-to-meydantv-s-emin-milli" target="_blank">Milli, who went on to found the independent outlet <em>MeydanTV</em></a> in 2013, was already known for his critical views of the Azerbaijani government, while Hajizade was founder of a popular youth network called OL! [Azeri: “to be”].&nbsp;</p><p>Though they didn’t receive government scholarships, Emin and Adnan were both Western-educated and the traction the two young men were accumulating through their youth networks scared the authorities. In the aftermath of the rigged 2008 presidential elections and referendum in 2009, it became clear that dissent was not to be tolerated.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Whatever subjects they study, rarely do qualified western-educated alumni receive high ranking or decision making positions in Azerbaijan’s government</p><p>So high was the fear of the authorities’ fear of social-media fuelled unrest, given what was happening in neighboring Iran, and later during the Arab Spring, that the state scholarship program changed its priorities. Out went economics, law and political science; the focus was now on physics, chemistry and anthropology. Some of the scholars saw this shift as missing the point behind the idea of sending students abroad in the first place. Whatever subjects they study, rarely do qualified western-educated alumni receive high ranking or decision making positions in Azerbaijan’s government.</p><p>We may as well ask whether Azerbaijan’s government cares about the problem at all. I’m not convinced that they do; those who leave, whether with a scholarship or not, often don’t want to be associated with the regime. Those who leave for reasons other than education may do so out of a deeper frustration, so the powers that be certainly won’t miss them.</p><h2>Who is leaving?&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijan’s State Statistical Office does not keep statistics (at least not public ones) about Azerbaijani emigres and asylum seekers. But it does provide some limited data on foreigners who have moved to Azerbaijan compared to Azerbaijanis who have left the country for good. The most recent data is from 2015, which indicates a number of 2,700 foreigners whomoved to Azerbaijan versus 1,600 Azerbaijanis who have left the country permanently. The <a href="http://popstats.unhcr.org/en/overview#_ga=1.81441685.305714192.1491400034" target="_blank">UN Refugee Council paints a more drastic picture</a>. As of June 30, 2016 there were 5,959 Azerbaijani citizens with pending asylum applications elsewhere and 11,160 refugees and people in refugee-like status. In 2015 these numbers were 5,230 and 9,712 respectively. Of course, politically-motivated emigration is only a small part of brain drain, and the majority of Azerbaijanis who leave do not request asylum - but even the growth in this category should give us pause.&nbsp;</p><p>Let’s return to my friend Aynur, a human rights lawyer who’s now based in the USA. She left Azerbaijan in 2014, during that year’s <a href="http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Azerbaijan/2014-The-great-Azerbaijani-crackdown" target="_blank">crackdown against prominent civil society activists, journalists and human rights defenders</a> including her former teachers, mentors and colleagues. It became impossible to work as a human rights lawyer, even for international organisations.&nbsp;</p><p>Authorities introduced draconian amendments to the law on NGOs, and a wave of criminal cases launched against them in April 2014. Work carried out by both international NGOs but also their local partner stalled. The Open Society Foundation, IREX, and NDI were among the international organisations eventually forced out of Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p>One journalist who spoke to me on condition of anonymity told me that, “in a country where there’s no democracy, we can’t do our job. So I personally looked elsewhere. It’s more than a brain drain [...] it’s physically draining too, because even though I’m not there, I’m still writing about Azerbaijan.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-EC-university.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-EC-university.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="252" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan State Economic University, Baku. Photo CC-by-2.0: Niyaz Bakili / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In a recent interview with <em>Radio Azadliq</em>, the Azerbaijani service of RFE/RL, former political prisoner and veteran journalist Rauf Mirkadirov said that the <a href="https://www.azadliq.org/a/azerbaycani-gelecekden-mehrum-edirler/28346833.html" target="_blank">current waves of migration were wholly predictable</a>. Speaking about political exiles like himself (he’s reunited with his family and is now in Switzerland), Mirkardirov added that sooner or later, everybody wants to live a comfortable life, free from harassment. At least, that explained why his generation are leaving. His concern was that young people are choosing to leave, which does not bode well for Azerbaijan’s future.&nbsp;</p><p>Kamal [a pseudonym] is just one such example. Unlike Aynur and Rauf, Kamal’s motivation to leave was less political. He had a well paying job, a high-level position at a company, but he couldn’t put up with life in Azerbaijan for much longer. “I’d say that 60% of my decision to leave was to find a better quality of life with better prospects and medical insurance. A justice system which works, and without this stifling atmosphere where everybody is afraid. The inequality is also depressing… I simply could not longer stand seeing the injustice”, he concludes.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For working class families, the choice of destination is much narrower&nbsp;–&nbsp;usually Russia</p><p>There are many other Azerbaijanis like Kamal: middle class, educated people in their mid-30s and early 40s who plan to leave or have left already in search for better opportunities for their families and children. For working class families where knowledge of foreign languages or specialist higher education is non-existent, the choice of destination is much narrower. It’s usually Russia, where several hundred thousand (if not millions) of Azerbaijanis already live&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;as another post-Soviet state, it’s easier to adjust to life there, and many people have family connections. But this in no way means that Russia is only a destination for Azerbaijan’s unskilled workers. After an Azerbaijani member of parliament recently called emigres in Russia the “scum of Azerbaijan,” an outraged social media campaign against him revealed how diverse this community really is.&nbsp;</p><p>Most Azerbaijanis speak at least rudimentary Russian&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;but for those who want to move outside the former Soviet Union, the language barrier is a big hurdle. Kamal believes that had Azerbaijanis grown up speaking English as opposed to Russian as their second language, there would certainly be more people seeking a better future in the EU, US, or Canada.</p><h2>No troublemakers, please</h2><p>The state scholarship program refused to open doors for students like Jafar. Clearly, the ministry of education valued loyalty over capability. She was one of many applicants turned down because of her political views. There were some exceptions, but mostly for the pretence of keeping a balance.</p><p>In 2013, Mikayil Jabbarov, a charismatic 40-year old, replaced 70-year old Misir Mardanov as Azerbaijan’s minister of education. Mardanov had occupied the position since 1998 (it was he who sacked my father), but his replacement did not change much. Corruption and an outdated teaching style continue to plague Azerbaijan’s education system.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilham Aliyev, the current president of Azerbaijan, contemplates a portrait of his father Heydar, the country’s former president and Soviet-era leader. Photo (c): Vladimir Fedorenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The poor quality and lack of independence of higher education in Azerbaijan is beginning to make it unattractive for the country’s young people. At least, that’s is how Nijat Mammadbayli put it. Nijat, who is currently studying for his master’s degree in Germany, was also turned down by the ministry for his political and social activism and because law, his chosen field of study, was not seen as a priority.</p><p>In fact, none of the political or social science fields are listed as priority areas today on the website of the State Program for Azerbaijani students to Study Abroad. Instead, the ministry is offering scholarships for students interested in <a href="http://xaricdetehsil.edu.gov.az/c-dphaqqinda/prioritet-istiqametler/" target="_blank">studying in practical and vocational fields</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The state now prioritises vocational fields in scholarships for students to study abroad&nbsp;<span>–</span><span>&nbsp;</span>&nbsp;political and social sciences are out of fashion</p><p>Leila Aliyeva [unrelated to the ruling family], a political analyst and academic based in Oxford laughs when I tell her this: “political and social sciences are exactly the areas most in need of reform in Azerbaijan!” Aliyeva isn’t surprised that the ministry of education has also fallen under the control of the ruling regime. “From the early 2000s, political control over higher education intensified. The authorities wanted to influence young people at an early age. Open-minded people were sacked in many state universities.”&nbsp;</p><p>A big factor in Azerbaijan’s brain drain is nepotism, says Aliyeva. “As it’s at the very core of the system, there are very few opportunities left for young people. Instead of educated state officials with a vision, Azerbaijan ended up with ranks of technocrats whose sole job was to ensure autocrats at the top stay in power.”&nbsp;</p><p>“There’s not much vision. The state still doesn’t have a training blueprint for teachers, its law on education still isn’t fully developed and despite numerous programmes announced since 1999, none have been fully implemented. We’ve only seen cosmetic changes” explains Malahat Murshudlu, head of the Azerbaijan Free Teachers’ Union.&nbsp;</p><p>After 20 years, even SOCAR has realised that it could have easily afforded to found an entire university itself. As one scholar told me on condition of anonymity, doing so will ensure that it has professional and “reliable” cadres to with with in future.&nbsp;</p><h2>A place to breathe freely&nbsp;</h2><p>After the rigged referendum last September, some <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">29 amendments were made to the Azerbaijani constitution</a>, which included extending presidential term limits and creating a vice presidency. In late February, president Ilham Aliyev appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva to the position of first vice president making her the country’s second highest ranking official with full immunity. In case Ilham Aliyev steps down, his wife is now in a position to replace her husband.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Instead of educated state officials with a vision, Azerbaijan ended up with ranks of technocrats whose sole job was to ensure autocrats at the top stay in power”</p><p>On 3 March, a court in Baku sentenced the popular video blogger Mehman Hüseynov to two years in prison on charges of slander, in the first open sentencing of a journalist for such a crime. Azerbaijan now has at least 7 bloggers and journalists behind bars while one of the managers of an independent online television channel Kanal 13 was detained on May 2, and <a href="https://mappingmediafreedom.org/?k=Azerbaijan#/4015" target="_blank">sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention</a>. Another regional reporter is <a href="https://mappingmediafreedom.org/?k=Azerbaijan#/4031" target="_blank">facing possible hooliganism charges</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Azerbaijan’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">old social contract</a>, in which the state promised rising living standards in exchange for citizens staying out of politics, is looking quite brittle. The regime is tightening the screws, and living conditions are proving more challenging than ever before in the aftermath of two currency devaluations. A number of MPs have even suggested that <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81831" target="_blank">Azerbaijanis literally tighten their belts</a> by eating less and staying in shape. </p><p>Azerbaijan’s monthly minimum wage is now 155 Manat (approximately £71); in 2016 it was 136 (£63). The average monthly salary is now 490 Manat (£223). And while Azerbaijan’s state budget for 2017 <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/azerbaijan-budget-idUSL5N1EB1KY" target="_blank">has been significantly cut</a>, the government intends to open its doors for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anar-valiyev-natalie-koch/sochi-syndrome" target="_blank">yet more expensive international events</a>, such as the Islamic Solidarity Games and Formula 1 Grand Prix.&nbsp;</p><p>A brain drain, a colony of emigres&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;call it what you will. The reality is that Azerbaijanis who know about foreign languages and foreign opportunities, who are tired of paying bribes and keeping their mouths shut are leaving in search of a better life. Giving up on one’s country is never an easy feat, but for educated young Azerbaijanis, there are few other options.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Migration matters Caucasus Azerbaijan Thu, 18 May 2017 20:02:02 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 111027 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora! https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Baku is going to great lengths to mobilise, or even create, an international Azerbaijani diaspora. To what end? <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantzev/vezde-diaspora" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Moscow_Azerbaijan_Celebration_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Moscow_Azerbaijan_Celebration_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of the Azerbaijani diaspora in Moscow celebrate international Azerbaijani solidarity day. 23 December 2014. Photo CC: Kaspiy.AZ. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Despite the economic crisis of the past two years, it’s still fashionable in Azerbaijan to take trips to “western” countries. A funny incident happened recently when a group of mid-rank government officials from Azerbaijan visited Berlin and Paris. Accompanied by an Azerbaijani who had lived for many years in the German capital, they took a stroll through the streets — and incessantly complained to their companion about the poor street lighting.&nbsp;</p><p>In their opinion, things weren’t much better in Paris. As they took a walk through the city centre in the evening, they could only find one brightly-lit building. They were proud to discover that it was the Azerbaijani cultural centre. 

Like many others founded across the EU and US, this cultural institute was a result of Azerbaijan’s official policy of diaspora-building. It’s a policy born of Azerbaijan’s decades-long struggle with Armenia for control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which remains unresolved to this day.

The Armenian diaspora is well-rooted and well-known in Europe and North America. In Azerbaijan, it’s seen as immensely influential and strongly united in solidarity. No surprise, then, that it became something of a case study for Azerbaijan’s own diaspora project.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev regime, a diaspora is synonymous with an overseas political lobby</p><p>In Azerbaijan today, it’s easy to believe that the Armenian lobby alone guaranteed strong international support for Armenia throughout the course of the conflict in Karabakh. The depth of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby" target="_blank">Azerbaijanis’ belief in the omnipotence of the Armenian lobby</a> has become even clearer in recent days, following the supreme court of Russia’s decision to <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/5919caa69a79476c5ef60f80?from=newsfeed" target="_blank">annul the registration of the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress</a> on 15 May (link in Russian). Many commentators rushed to conclusions about Armenian plots and intrigues.&nbsp;</p><p>As such, the luminaries of this project are convinced that a diaspora’s size directly determines its influence. Therefore, the Azerbaijani diaspora is portrayed as a trans-national community of solidarity numbering some ten million people, living outside the “historical homeland” and spread throughout 70 countries. 

</p><p>For Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev regime, a diaspora is synonymous with an overseas political lobby. Indeed, it’s been declared that the most important element of this policy is officially that a strong and unified Azerbaijani lobby in the “west” and post-Soviet space will be able to successfully resist the power of the Armenian lobby. 

Since the early 2000s, the Azerbaijani authorities have invested large sums of financial and symbolic capital into this project. They’ve tried to conjure up a diaspora to their liking as quickly as possible. How has that worked out for them?</p><h2>

The “great national leader” and the birth of a diaspora&nbsp;</h2><p>With the dissolution of the USSR, Azerbaijanis living in the Republic of Azerbaijan could once again contact their ethnic kin from the other side of the iron curtain. At that moment, the young state was economically devastated and locked into a fierce war with neighbouring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. A handful of Azerbaijani emigres, then known as “foreign Azerbaijanis”, made some efforts to send humanitarian aid. Their best efforts came to naught. Azerbaijan’s economy soon stabilised as the Karabakh conflict froze. 

</p><p>When <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">Heydar Aliyev, former head of Azerbaijan’s communist party and father of the current president Ilham</a>, came to power in 1993, he soon recognised that ethnic Azerbaijanis living in “the west” and other post-Soviet countries could be political resource. And the behest of the “great leader”, as he’s known in Azerbaijan to this day, plans for a diaspora were born.

</p><p>In his numerous speeches before Azerbaijanis living in several different countries, the former president laid out the objectives of this diaspora-building project. One of the first was in <a href="http://lib.aliyevheritage.org/ru/9389127.html" target="_blank">Bern in 1995</a>, where Heydar Aliyev told his “compatriots” about a conversation he had with the Irish president Mary Robinson, who told him about Ireland’s potato famine, as a result of which millions of people had to leave the country (1995 marked the 150th anniversary of the tragedy).

</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03096120.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03096120.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="330" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman walks past the Azerbaijani embassy in Moscow. Photo (c): Evgeny Odinokov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>Heydar Aliyev responded that while he didn’t know how Irish people commemorated the date, he was sure that “while it may have been a tragedy 150 years ago, it must be a great source of joy for your nation today. Because as a result, Irish people can be found across the whole world, particularly in the USA and in several European countries. Such a small country as Ireland now has a big lobby overseas.”&nbsp;</p><p>But Aliyev senior didn’t finish there. He added that he used his position as head of Soviet Azerbaijan to found a large internal lobby for his quasi-independent state. Yet unlike the Irish experience, history did not give Azerbaijanis the opportunity (or “great joy”) to found a diaspora of victims. “In those days [the 1970s-80s], I wanted to settle Azerbaijanis across the entire Soviet Union” he said. “Not through tragedy, of course, but through other means. This would create a great source of support for Azerbaijan […] The more Azerbaijanis live in each country, the better it is for us. The only condition is that they don’t forget their nation, their religion, and their motherland.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Heydar Aliyev succeeded in constantly increasing quotas for Azerbaijani students in the most USSR’s most prestigious universities</p><p>

From the 1920s, Azerbaijani students were sent to study in Moscow, Leningrad, and other large cities thanks to Soviet educational and nationalities policies. Heydar Aliyev succeeded in constantly increasing quotas for Azerbaijani students in the most USSR’s most prestigious universities. </p><p>“Aliyev sent us” recalls a participant of the programme in 1976, “There was a ceremony. He shook everybody’s hands, and kissed the girls on the cheek. And we lucky few, ‘Heydar’s kids”, were sent to conquer Moscow and Leningrad. Many returned home; those who didn’t went on to build the Azerbaijani diaspora in the 1990s.”&nbsp;</p><h2>A historical homeland and spurious statistics

</h2><p>The circle of emigres mobilised to build this diaspora was a lot wider than university graduates. Azerbaijani Turks (as they were then known) and the migrations they underwent in the 20th century were defined by the policies of several empires, from the Ottoman, Persian and Russian to the Soviet, and the absence of their own nation-state. In the post-Soviet context, where ethno-nationalist ideas predominate, myths of “historical territories” are in fashion — accordingly, members of this diaspora can include citizens of several states, whose ancestors may never have lived in the territories which came to form today’s Republic of Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Oldtown_carpets_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Oldtown_carpets_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At the intersection of the Soviet and Turkic worlds. Carpets on sale in Old Baku. Photo CC-by-NC-2.0: Ken Smith / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>These people are now considered to be ethnic Azerbaijanis who have somehow ended up outside their “historic homeland”, whose borders should encompass not only the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan but, according to some historians and politicians, all of Armenia, parts of the Russian region of Dagestan, large parts of north-western Iran and areas of eastern Georgia. In this manner the Azerbaijanis of Georgia, Turkey and Iran, whose exact numbers are unclear, are all counted among the Azerbaijani diaspora.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">According to some historians and politicians, “historic Azerbaijan” encompasses all of Armenia, parts of the Russian region of Dagestan, large parts of north-western Iran and areas of eastern Georgia</p><p>This provided big opportunities for conjuring up statistics. In preparation for the second World Congress of Azerbaijanis, held on 16 March 2006, the state committee for working with Azerbaijanis abroad produced a documentary film with the telling title “<a href="http://www.diaspora.gov.az/index.php?options=news&amp;id=357&amp;news_id=1070" target="_blank">we’re a nation of 50 million</a>.” By their arithmetic, this includes ten million Azerbaijanis living in around 70 countries. As for the rest — they must be living “at home”. But the entire population of modern Azerbaijan barely approaches this figure [ed.&nbsp;<span>—</span><span>&nbsp;it’s estimated at 9.7 million].&nbsp;</span></p><p>As is true of many other cases, solidarity between this supposed ten million strong trans-national Azerbaijani community exists only in the context of official diaspora discourse. In the absence of traditional community structures which would provide a degree of cohesion (such as political parties or religious institutions), diaspora activism is generally limited to quite a small circle of ethnic Azerbaijani businessmen and their family members.</p><h2>A constitution for a diaspora</h2><p>

In fact, when people from Azerbaijan emigrate and have the opportunity to get to know ethnic Azerbaijanis from, say, Iran or Turkey, they’re sometimes in for a shock. The true extent of behavioural and cultural differences becomes all too clear. The everyday experience of communicating with Azerbaijanis from elsewhere forces even ethnic activists to doubt the possibility of any strong solidarity. “I’ll tell you this much” begins one, “even if, one day, the southern [Iranian] Azerbaijanis get independence, we’ll be two separate nations in two separate states.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Heydar_Aliyev_77_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Heydar_Aliyev_77_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Heydar Aliyev, former president of Azerbaijan and father of the current president Ilham Aliyev. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Begemot / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This intra-group diversity was supposed to be reflected in the “Charter of Solidarity of the World’s Azerbaijanis.” This document, and the programmes surrounding it, was drafted by Azerbaijani academics on the initiative and under the patronage of the authorities in Baku. The charter largely reiterates the ideas set forth in the law “on state policy concerning Azerbaijanis living abroad”, which was passed on 27 December 2002. Following the spirit of this law, the charter defines Azerbaijanis living abroad as former citizens of either independent or Soviet Azerbaijan “who consider themselves to be Azerbaijani.” It also includes “persons and their children who do not belong to the above categories, but consider themselves to be Azerbaijani due to ethnic, cultural, linguistic or historical ties.”&nbsp;</p><p>The only reason why the diaspora’s being dispersed across 70 countries is not a hindrance to its unity is stated to be, of course, the existence of an independent Azerbaijan. Among other factors are “the historical homeland’s deep roots in the ethnic memory of the nation,” the existence of shared traditions, a shared language and religion, a “particular ethno-social worldview and system of values” and the ideology of “Azerbaijanism”, or contemporary Azerbaijani nationalism. Finally, there’s the presence of a “shared national leader” in the personage of Heydar Aliyev. The charter repeats his motto: “I have always been proud and I am proud today that I am Azerbaijani!” and calls on “dear compatriots” to “be proud that you are a child and descendant of this ancient land, that you represent a nation with a glorious history! BE PROUD THAT YOU ARE AZERBAIJANI!</p><h2>”

Bureaucrats of the diaspora, unite!”

</h2><p>This political project had acquired a distinct form by the early 2000s. In November 2001, Baku held the inaugural World Congress of Azerbaijanis at the initiative of Heydar Aliyev. The following year saw the foundation of the state committee for working with Azerbaijanis abroad — Nazim Ibragimov was appointed its permanent leader. Its first convention led to the creation of yet another body, the “Coordinating Council of World Azerbaijanis”, led by, of course, pan-Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev. The success of diaspora-building henceforth came to be measured in how many organisations existed, and how to unify them into one structure.</p><p>When Ilham Aliyev, the current president of Azerbaijan, came to power in 2003, he inherited all these institutions and a style of diaspora-building along with them. The only major change was a symbolic one; renaming the aforementioned state committee for working with Azerbaijanis abroad to the “committee for working with the diaspora.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Moscow_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Moscow_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="156" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Baku to Moscow: a popular journey. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis live and work in Russia. Photo CC: Müsavat. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>At the base of this massive bureaucratic pyramid of Azerbaijani diaspora organisations are various city and regional-level bodies. Above that are coordinators for individual countries, such as the Coordination Centre for Azerbaijanis in Germany or the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress. Next come organisations which claim the leadership of Azerbaijani communities across several countries, and finally the World Congress of Azerbaijanis. The ministry of foreign affairs and state committee then coordinate and direct the activities of these diaspora organisations however the authorities in Baku see fit.</p><p>President Aliyev himself praised the success of this diaspora-building project in the penultimate World Congress of Azerbaijanis, pointing out that “if we had 336 diaspora organisations five years ago, now we have 416.” At the fourth congress last year, delegates stated that there are now 462 such organisations. 

The congress can’t count

Earlier this month, Baku suffered its first disappointment in the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress after its registration was annulled by Russia’s supreme court. This was a particular blow, since its foundation in 2001 had been personally supported by Heydar Aliyev and Vladimir Putin. The Azerbaijani parliament, state committee and of course the Russian community in Azerbaijan protested. Azerbaijan’s ministry of foreign affairs also voiced concern.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Azerbaijan, it’s normal to believe that all diaspora organisations are (or should be) controlled and financed by the government of the “homeland state”</p><p>

It’s difficult to know if there were any reasons for the closure of the congress apart from the legal justifications as officially declared. Given how politics functions in Azerbaijan and Russia, particularly in regard to ethnic minorities, it’s clear that such issues are usually resolved on the very highest levels, allowing leaders to turn a blind eye to formalities. It’s possible that the Russian government decided it would rather support the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Azerbaijanis in Russia, created on their own initiative. Soyun Sadykov, the honorary president and former head of this organisation, is known to be close to the Russian authorities. Or perhaps the fiasco was provoked by internal rifts in the Azerbaijani community and competition for subsidies from Baku.&nbsp;</p><p>The reaction of Azerbaijani mass media to the closure was very illustrative. Of course, there was much speculation about the Armenian lobby in Russia — supposedly so powerful that it could shut down the congress on its whim. Moreover, the annulment of the congress’s registration was presented as the destruction of country’s entire Azerbaijani diaspora. That is to say, the authorities have successfully taught Azerbaijani society than a diaspora is the sum of its formal organisations and bureaucratic structures — hence it’s perfectly normal to believe that all diaspora organisations are (or should be) controlled, directed, and financed by the government of the “homeland state.” Because how else could it be? In any case, the resources allocated to the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress would have been enough for several diaspora organisations. 
</p><p>Essentially, the congress was a community of influential businessmen who attempted to use the social capital of an “ethnic community” to curry favour with both the Azerbaijani and the Russian authorities. It also enlisted the support of intellectuals to create a positive image of Azerbaijanis in Russia. The congress was something like a branch of the embassy, foreign ministry, and state committee for the diaspora. There’s a multitude of organisations like this in Russia today, for various ethnic groups. However, the overwhelming majority of Azerbaijanis in Russia were indifferent to the congress and its work — unless you count the occasional free concert for National Salvation Day, of course [ed — Heydar Aliyev came to power on 15 June 1993, which is celebrated as a national holiday in Azerbaijan].</p><p>The goals of the regime in power “at home” dictate those of Azerbaijan’s diaspora organisations. Baku is eager that Azerbaijanis abroad tell the world “the truth” about Azerbaijan, about the “great successes” of the Aliyev regime. Azerbaijan, it’s believed, can not afford to be a terra incognita in public consciousness abroad. In order to inform the world about Azerbaijan’s existence (and its achievements), these diaspora groups organise concerts, exhibitions, days of Azerbaijani culture — as well as demonstrations and protests.&nbsp;</p><p>Only a few diaspora activists take part in political protests, though their impact on public awareness in the EU or USA seems to be negligible. On the other hand, when these demonstrations appear on newsreels back home, Azerbaijanis feel that they have the support of a significant diaspora community around the world — which also happens to support the regime in Baku. In this manner, the activities and very presence of a trans-national, pan-Azerbaijani diaspora entrenches the cult and legitimacy of Heydar Aliyev and the regime he founded.&nbsp;</p><h2>Exporting conflict</h2><p>One goal of Baku’s diaspora-building stands head and shoulders above the others — resolving the Karabakh conflict to Azerbaijan’s favour. As the USSR disintegrated, the conflict was the catalyst for Azerbaijanis living across the Soviet republics, the EU and in the USA to start mobilising in solidarity with Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Diaspora_Berlin_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Diaspora_Berlin_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Mr President - you have the support of Azerbaijanis across the world!” Members of the Azerbaijani diaspora in Germany take part in a protest against Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Berlin, 2016. Photo CC: 1News / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Convinced that the Armenian lobby had brought international support for the Karabakh Armenian cause, the regime in Baku realised the urgent need to have a strong voice in the “west” which could put forward its side of the story. Existing emigre communities weren’t up to the task. So when the organised Azerbaijani diaspora was founded in the 2000s, the stage was set for a confrontation with Armenian communities overseas.&nbsp;</p><p>The Azerbaijani government openly attempts to mobilise Azerbaijanis living abroad into confrontations with diaspora Armenians — even in circumstances when members of both communities hold citizenship of a third country (for example, in Russia or Ukraine). The regime in Baku is relentless in its attempt to export the Karabakh conflict in this manner — though admittedly it is not alone in doing so.

</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Azerbaijani government openly attempts to mobilise Azerbaijanis abroad into confrontations with diaspora Armenians — even when members of both communities hold citizenship of a third country</p><p>State propaganda has convinced many Azerbaijanis that their ethnic kin in other countries should be motivated solely by the interests of the Republic of Azerbaijan — or rather, its government. For example, Azerbaijanis in Paris shouldn’t vote for Le Pen, not because she’s a wholly unsuitable candidate for France, but because she holds an “incorrect” position on Karabakh. Ethno-nationalist loyalty is perceived as the overarching priority — a natural law of sorts. Azerbaijanis who return to their country of origin on holiday are often asked what they’ve done recently to resolve the conflict.</p><h2>The measure of a diaspora
</h2><p>Over the two decades which passed since Heydar Aliyev’s speech in Bern, an Azerbaijani diaspora has appeared practically everywhere. Or at least in those “western countries” the president intended. But despite it all, it’s worth asking whether this diaspora actually exists.</p><p>The American sociologist Rogers Brubaker once noted that if every group of migrants were to be called a diaspora, then none of them are. Clearly, the Azerbaijani diaspora is radically different from any of the well-rooted “classical diasporas”, such as the Armenian, Jewish or Greek. Some researchers believe that a diaspora must emerge from a historic trauma, which is inapplicable in this case. Robin Cohen, for example, <a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/Global_Diasporas.html?id=SFuJhqpJa64C&amp;redir_esc=y" target="_blank">identified three types of diasporas</a> — labour, trade, and imperial. None of them would fully apply to the Azerbaijani diaspora.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Martyrs&#039;_Lane_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Martyrs&#039;_Lane_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Alley of Martyrs in Baku, resting place of Azerbaijanis killed during the Karabakh war. Photo CC-4.0: Ilgar Jafarov / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The brainchild of Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet rulers and developed by politically mobilised ethnic activists, this Azerbaijani diaspora appears to us in several forms. It’s a mythical, trans-national solidarity of ten million people. It’s a bureaucratic simulacrum; a vertical structure of 462 separate organisations, many of which exist only on paper. It also exists on the level of discourse, or to paraphrase <a href="http://yanko.lib.ru/books/cultur/sadomirskaya-rodina.htm" target="_blank">Irina Sandomirskaja</a>, only when it’s spoken about.</p><p>With that in mind, the Azerbaijani diaspora will certainly be with us for the foreseeable future, as a key talking point in the halls of power in Baku. 
</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby">Searching for the ‘Armenian Lobby’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergey Rumyantsev Migration matters Caucasus Azerbaijan Thu, 18 May 2017 19:57:43 +0000 Sergey Rumyantsev 111026 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We have nothing else to sell but our teeth https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yulia-gorbunova/we-have-nothing-else-to-sell-but-our-teeth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Fleeing repression under the Kadyrov regime, many Chechens are seeking asylum in Poland. The reception by the Polish authorities is far from welcoming.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/img_1482_edited_002.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Train station, Brest, Belarus, December 7, 2016. (c) Yulia Gorbunova, Human Rights Watch.</span></span></span>While Europe has been focusing its attention on refugee flows across the Mediterranean, another refugee situation has been building on the Belarus-Poland border. Since late 2015, thousands of asylum seekers, mostly from Russia’s North Caucasus republics of Ingushetia, Dagestan and especially Chechnya, have arrived here, hoping to cross the border into Poland and seek safety.</p> <p>With the Kremlin’s blessing, Ramzan Kadyrov has been running Chechnya for close to a decade as his own fiefdom, eradicating all forms of dissent. Abduction-style detentions, enforced disappearances and torture are rampant. Russian law and human rights protections exist only on paper; Kadyrov’s orders determine the rules applicable to Chechnya’s daily life. </p> <p>At the Brest train station in December we spoke to “Tamara”, a Chechen woman in her late forties. She had arrived in Brest, a historic Belarusian city on the Polish border, four months earlier. She had been trying unsuccessfully to cross into Poland ever since, and when her money ran out, she and her three sons slept at the train station for several nights. </p> <p>Tamara said she fled Chechnya with her family because local “security people” took her oldest son in for questioning when he turned 19, beat him, threatened to send him to fight in Ukraine, and threatened the rest of the family. She understood that the threats were real. Tamara said her brother, who had fought in the first Chechen war in the early 1990s, disappeared in 2006. His body was found in a nearby forest.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">With the exception of a handful of people apparently selected at random, Poland has been summarily rejecting the majority of asylum seekers and returning them to Belarus</p> <p>Last August, Tamara decided to go to Poland with her children and seek asylum. She had heard people say it was possible, but by the time they arrived at the border, that no longer seemed to be the case. When we spoke to her in December, she had made 24 attempts to cross the border and was sent back to Belarus every time. But they don’t feel safe in Belarus, where Chechen security forces are known to be lurking.&nbsp; </p> <p>“They don’t listen to us at the border,” she told us. “I say, ‘We are afraid to go back, afraid for our lives. We want asylum.’ The [Polish] border guards just stare and say nothing, then tell us to go and wait. Once a border guard said to us: ‘Go to Kyrgyzstan, go to Turkey. Poland doesn’t want you.’ Another time a man just said, ‘No visa – no entry.’” </p> <p>During the summer months of 2016, <a href="http://www.hfhr.pl/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/A-road-to-nowhere.-The-account-of-a-monitoring-visit-at-the-Brze%C5%9B%C4%87-Terespol-border-crossing-point-FINAL.pdf">between 400 and 800 asylum seekers a day</a>, most from Chechnya, were trying to cross Belarus-Poland border on the train from Brest to Terespol, the first station in Poland. Numbers decreased in the fall of 2016, due to the weather getting chillier, but also due to Poland cooling off its hospitality. <a href="http://programy.hfhr.pl/uchodzcy/files/2016/10/%D0%9D%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BC%D1%8B%D0%B5-%D0%B1%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%86%D1%8B-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B5-%D0%91%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%83%D1%81%D0%B8-%D0%B8-%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8C%D1%88%D0%B8_16-09-2016_web.pdf">According to the Belarusian rights group Human Constanta</a>, with the exception of a handful of people apparently selected at random, Poland has been summarily rejecting the majority of asylum seekers and returning them to Belarus.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>8:28 a.m. train carrying asylum seekers to Terespol, Poland. Brest, Belarus, December 7, 2016.(c) 2016 Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch.</span></span></span>Brest in early December was bleak: grey skies and very cold. After interviewing dozens of families and individuals who have been trying over and over to cross into Poland, my colleague and I decided to get on the train, sit in the carriage assigned to asylum seekers, and see for ourselves what these people went through every day.</p> <p>Purchasing a ticket was a challenge. “Carriage four?” The stern Belarusian lady behind the glass asked.&nbsp;“What do you need to sit there for? Carriage four is where THEY travel.” </p> <p>After we convinced her that we were in our right minds, we got the tickets and boarded the train. I spent the journey talking to an anxious-looking white-haired man from Chechnya, who said his 22-year-old son was in trouble with “Kadyrov’s men”. When I asked for details, he glanced at the other migrants nearby and chose not to answer. Instead he said it was his fiftieth attempt to cross.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Every Chechen we interviewed in Brest said they feared for their lives and safety if they were forced back to Russia.</p> <p>Like most people we spoke to, the man was upset about how Polish officials treated him. “I don’t expect to be met with flowers,” he said, “But we are not criminals. They treat us like we are animals. I told this woman [a Polish official], my story and said I wanted asylum in Poland. She said, ‘You will not cross the border to Poland. Your case is hopeless. Don’t come again.’” </p> <p>Yet, the man was hopeful. “This is my last chance. My three-month stay in Belarus expires today. Today the Poles will let me through. I think they will.”</p> <p>The Polish authorities are under no obligation to give refugee status to everyone who crosses its borders. But under EU and international law, they have the duty to allow people the opportunity to apply for asylum, to consider carefully the merits of their claims, and not to send them back to places where they face a risk of persecution or torture. </p> <p>In September, Kadyrov expressed doubt that Chechens stuck in Brest are legitimate refugees. He mused on <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BK37RW6AFYL/">Instagram</a>: “What could be the reason for it if Chechnya is the most stable and most developing region; when such care and social support for those in need does not exist anywhere, including in Europe?” The Polish interior minister <a href="http://visegradpost.com/en/2016/08/31/poland-denied-entry-to-chechens-in-order-to-protect-europe-from-terrorism/">made similar statements</a> in August, saying that since there is no war in Chechnya, there are no Chechen refugees.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“If anyone in Chechnya knew how we come to this train station every day, like homeless beggars, they would think it’s so humiliating. But what can we do?”</p> <p>Belarus has open borders with Russia and in practice does not grant refugee status to Chechens and <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/01/poland-asylum-seekers-blocked-border">has in the past detained</a> at least one asylum seeker with a view to deportation. </p> <p>Every Chechen we interviewed in Brest said they feared for their lives and safety if they were forced back to Russia. </p> <p>Most of them, especially people in their 50s and 60s, told us they had not wanted to leave home, but felt they had no choice. Many said they had sold everything to make the trip. One woman with gold crowns on her teeth said, “If anyone in Chechnya knew how we come to this train station every day, like homeless beggars, they would think it’s so humiliating. But what can we do? My husband is in danger and my children are in danger. And we have no money left; we sold everything to come here. We have nothing else to sell but our teeth.” </p> <p>On our way back, at the train station on the Polish side the guards wouldn’t let us board the “refugee carriage”. We argued with them, standing on the cold windy platform. We saw the white-haired man we talked to earlier that morning, inside the carriage of the train going back to Brest. He waved to us through the window, smiled and signalled that the carriage door was locked from the outside.&nbsp;We could only smile and wave in response, before we went to board the carriage with those of us lucky enough to have the choice of whether to return to Brest or not. </p><p> <em>Read Human Rights Watch's report on the situation at the Poland-Belarus border <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/01/poland-asylum-seekers-blocked-border">here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/crossing">The crossing</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia">A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">Warped mirror: how Russian media covers Europe’s refugee crisis </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Yulia Gorbunova Migration matters Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:43:36 +0000 Yulia Gorbunova 109288 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Europe’s refugee crisis has affected Russia and Ukraine in different ways — solidifying local hatreds, local hierarchies and varying views of European identity. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/mechty-o-evrope" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-30004563.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>People walk through the centre of Lesbos, Greece. (c) Owen Humphreys PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The refugee crisis has profoundly influenced the politics of the European Union at both the supranational level and the level of individual member states. Its repercussions have been strongly felt in the border countries of the south-east, such as Hungary or Greece, and in the west European “core”.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">For eastern Europe, the “crisis” is less relevant in terms of practical policy implications, but is important in the symbolic domain. It has provided right-wing populist forces with a convenient rallying point against “loafers” and “failed multiculturalist policies”. Across these countries, right-wing movements have gained considerable ground by promoting their anti-migrant agendas. The range of outcomes varies from the partial closure of national borders to the election of nationalist governments or voting to leave the EU.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The crisis in the EU developed simultaneously with another — the war in Ukraine, with the ensuing IDPs and refugees from the war-torn Donbas</p> <p class="normal">But what about the European far East, the former Soviet states? The refugee crisis has not affected these states formally or directly, but it has still come to shape their politics in important, albeit indirect ways. The most visible impact has been the outburst of long-distance racism in countries like Ukraine and Russia. For different reasons, people from diverse political camps have united in the defence of “Europe” against “aliens”.</p> <p class="normal">Perhaps paradoxically, these speakers don't count themselves among the latter. Instead, they assert their right to speak in the name of a political entity to which they do not belong (Europe), encouraging it to be more exclusive towards outsiders.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Beyond the wall&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">The mass influx of workforce from the Middle East, south and south-east Asia, Africa and the Caribbean into Europe has been directly connected to European post-war economic boom. Thus, not only is this process intimately tied to the dynamics of the global capitalist economy, but it is also associated with a certain historical period — incidentally, the same period when Soviet citizens’ access to information on real social developments in western Europe was restricted.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Under Brezhnev, the Soviet cultural industry introduced some canonic images of “Europe” into the popular imagination — only they were largely built on the works of authors like Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle or Jerome K. Jerome. “Soviet Europe” was very different from actual post-war European societies. One of the important things overlooked by Soviet people was the (literally) changing face of west European societies due to demographic processes untouched even by official <em>agitprop</em>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The very concept of mass labour migration from abroad was foreign to the Soviet population, with the state’s closed borders and constant deficit of labour</p> <p class="normal">Indeed, the very concept of mass labour migration from abroad was foreign to the Soviet population, with the state’s closed borders and constant deficit of labour. Here, the structural niche of underpaid immigrant labour was occupied by a rural and “ethnic” (Central Asian and Caucasian) workforce in in the more economically developed Soviet European core. These internal migrants faced stereotypes and discrimination, but even so, the scale was relatively modest due to tight administrative controls imposed on the movement of people.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">At the same time, the 1970s witnessed the “right turn” of the Soviet intelligentsia. Frustrated with the inability to convert their cultural capital into material wealth, most dissidents in the Brezhnev era grew interested in reviving ethnic (Russian or “local”) culture, religion, “meritocratic” social inequality and economic liberalism. With these views becoming dominant in Soviet society, it is small wonder that later, upon discovering the ethnic diversity of “the west”, former Soviet citizens readily accepted conservative clichés about workshy foreigners destroying the harmonious, white and prosperous “Europe” that had existed only in their imagination.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Ukraine: Nationalism in hearts and minds</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">In post-war Soviet Ukraine, ethnic stereotypes were historically directed against rural migrants (who happened to be Ukrainian-speaking) to the Russophone cities. </p><p class="normal">Apart from that, there were and still are “traditional” minorities discriminated against in Ukraine, such as Roma, but no significant immigration from abroad. In Ukraine, however, Roma are not nearly as numerous as in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia or Czech Republic, and therefore did not come to fulfil the role of the main subaltern object. Likewise, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the flow of students to Ukraine from Asia and Africa subsided, though they still come to the big cities. It is mostly these students, as well as “traditional” non-white inhabitants of Ukraine — from Roma to people with Caucasian background — who were destined to feel the wrath of xenophobic movements in the new Ukraine.</p> <p class="normal">These movements have attempted to borrow the agenda of their more successful European colleagues. Andriy Parubiy, current speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and erstwhile member of the leadership of Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine (later rebranded into Svoboda party), has maintained regular contacts with Jean-Mari Le Pen since 1998, regularly visiting him in France and <a href="http://gazeta.zn.ua/POLITICS/skromnoe_obayanie_frantsuzskogo_natsionalista.html">arranging visits of Front National activists to Ukraine</a>. The two lessons Ukrainian nationalists learned from their French comrades were, first, the need to emphasise socio-economic inequality and, second, to develop a principled stance against migration.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/parubiy-4.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="251" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andriy Parubiy and Jean-Marie Le Pen, 1999. <a href=https://www.les-crises.fr/>Source</a>. </span></span></span>But in the post-independence era, where there was little migration to speak of, Svoboda's ubiquitous graffiti “Stop migration” looked outlandish to most passers-by. In other words, Ukrainian nationalists found it difficult to conceal racism under the guise of “legitimate demands of white working class”, as is usually done in western Europe. </p><p class="normal">When four Nazis set off bombs at Kyiv’s Troieshchyna market in 2004, several citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam were injured by the blast, but the only victim who died was actually a Ukrainian cleaner. That is, even in Ukraine’s worst-paid jobs, there was no concentration of “ethnic” workers. No wonder that the most successful neo-Nazi organisation in Ukraine today, the Social Nationalist Assembly, was active first and foremost in Kharkiv, the one Ukrainian city with relatively large immigrant population.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">It is typical that the Social Nationalist Assembly closely collaborated with Prosvita – an organisation of older harmless patriotic intelligentsia whose main concerns lie in reviving Ukrainian language and folk customs. Ukraine’s “national democrats” (a weird term per se), who were responsible for humanitarian policies of the state and for cultural production, completely lacked the political sensitivity that would prevent them from doing and saying things otherwise unacceptable by the standards of Europe’s liberal mainstream.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Thanks to this “anti-imperialist” legacy, Ukraine’s genuine Nazis have been able to pose as “mere patriots who love their country”</p><p class="normal">Thus, during the 1990s and 2000s, Ukraine’s school syllabi disseminated exclusive nativist visions of history, literature and even geography. Ukraine’s leaders of opinion and respected patriots have actively promoted the need to “save the gene pool of the nation”, to protect the interests of the “autochthonous population” and ensure the priority of the “titular nation”, or even to provide ethnic Ukrainians with sufficient “life space” (<em>Lebensraum</em>). These people were hardly Nazis themselves, but they saw nothing wrong in such language and ideas and normalised them in the society.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Thanks to this “anti-imperialist” legacy, Ukraine’s genuine Nazis have been able to pose as “mere patriots who love their country”, and liberal leaders of opinion have turned a blind eye to their xenophobic antics. A side product of this process is the cult of Stepan Bandera and wartime nationalist organisations like UPA, OUN and even the 14th SS-Volunteer Division Galizien. During the last decade, the red and black OUN flag and Bandera’s portrait have evolved from attributes of a fringe political subculture to widely accepted innocent symbols of patriotism.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In short, Ukraine entered the migration crisis with a hegemonic political bloc between liberals and nationalists, a widespread set of abstract nationalist beliefs posing as a common sense and little actual migrants or minorities which could serve as objects for the mass practical application of these beliefs.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Russia: Xenophobia applied</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">The situation with migrants has been very different in post-Soviet Russia. On the one hand, historically, Russian liberals have always maintained political distance from nationalists. On the other hand, xenophobia is more deeply rooted in Russian society.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">According to <a href="http://eajc.org/data//file/Xenophobia_in_Ukraine_2015.pdf">data gathered by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress</a>, there were 19 victims of racist and xenophobic attacks on territories controlled by the Ukrainian government in 2015. Of these 19 victims, one was murdered. Meanwhile, in Russia over the same period, at least <a href="http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/publications/2016/02/d33886/">11 people were killed and 82 wounded</a> or beaten up by racists and Neo-Nazis. Russia’s Sova Human Rights Center, which <a href="http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/publications/2016/02/d33886/">produced these numbers</a>, does not include the North Caucasus or Crimea, as well as mass brawls, in its reports.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The reason for this difference between Russia and Ukraine is a much larger concentration of labour migrants in Russia’s big cities. Mostly they arrive from Central Asian countries, but also from the South Caucasus, Ukraine, Moldova and Vietnam. Apart from the actual immigrants, there are large “non-Slavic” ethnic minorities, especially from the North Caucasus. Being Russian citizens, they are often perceived as foreigners, and a telling example is the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2006/oct/06/guardianweekly.guardianweekly11">2006 ethnic pogrom in Kondopoga, Karelia</a>. A spontaneous escalation of a conflict between “locals” and Chechens, two days after the riot began, the leadership of the far-right Movement Against Illegal Immigration arrived to formulate demands against the “immigrants”.</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 12.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>August 2006: the murder of two Russian men in a restaurant in Kondopoga by a group of Chechen men sets off days of rioting. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut1YD8HVc6A>Youtube</a>. </span></span></span>Indeed, grassroots xenophobic attitudes against migrants have been persistently high in Russia over the past decade. The potential of these feelings for political mobilisation is important and evident to all political camps —&nbsp;pro-government forces, radical nationalists and liberals. </p><p class="normal">During the 2000s, anti-migrant xenophobia was the main resource of Russia’s nationalist opposition. Here, the dominant strategy lay in supporting or directly organising “people's gatherings” and local pogroms wherever an ethnic conflict flared up — from the 2006 riot in Kondopoga to the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-rioting-idUSBRE99C0BD20131014">2013 Birulevo incident in Moscow</a>. Each time, Russian nationalists posed as the voice of the public, the mouthpiece of the legitimate concerns of the ethnic majority, angry at the government and big business, whose selfish interests prompt them to encourage the influx of migrants.&nbsp;</p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 10.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2013: riots break out in the suburb of Biryulyovo, Moscow, after the murder of a young man allegedly by a Central Asian migrant. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX4APsJDppU&spfreload=10>YouTube</a>. </span></span></span>This is precisely the strategy that Azov and other Ukrainian far right groups have tried to realise in Ukraine during two significant incidents in 2016 — the anti-refugee mobilisation in Yahotyn (March) and pogrom in Loshchynivka (August). </p><p>In the Yahotyn incident, which involved a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">protest against the construction of a refugee accommodation centre</a> outside Kyiv, the far right were present virtually from the very beginning of the demonstration, actively supplying people with organisational and media resources. In Loshchynivka, which involved an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-tucker/old-hatreds-rekindled-in-ukraine">attack on Roma homes in a village outside Odesa</a>, the violence broke out without any “help” from nationalist organisations. Upon learning of the unfolding conflict, Azov quickly dispatched “help”, organising “patrols” in the village, but they arrived post festum.</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/yagotyn - azov_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2016: members of Azov's civilian wing protest against the housing of Syrian refugees in Yagotyn, Kyiv region. Source: vk.com/batalion.azov.</span></span></span>For its part, the Russian government has mostly acted according to the classical algorithm of Soviet bureaucracy. Every “destabilising” incident, such as Biriulevo or Kondopoga, was a nuisance to it. Officials try to put down the conflict as soon as possible, unleashing repressions against the far-right activists involved and pacifying the population with selective deportations and xenophobic rhetoric.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In 2013, migration became the key topic of the Moscow mayoral elections. In an unusual conjuncture, all the candidates actively employed anti-immigrant rhetoric — Sergei Sobyanin, the incumbent mayor, who enjoyed support from the government; darling of the liberal opposition Alexey Navalny; and Communist Party candidate Ivan Melnikov. This rhetorical contest was ultimately won by Sobyanin as he was the only one able to put his words into action. On the eve of the elections, Sobyanin authorised the roundups of illegal migrants en masse, and ordered the construction of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/06/russia-immigrants-concentration-camps">“concentration camp”</a> for people about to be deported on the outskirts of Moscow.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Russia, xenophobia has long ago become an efficient tool of manipulating the public in the hands of the government</p><p class="normal">Russian liberals, traditionally paying lip service to cosmopolitan values, have long realised the political potential of xenophobia. One section of the liberal camp, such as Alexey Navalny and his Party of Progress or Vladimir Milov's Democratic Choice, are trying to use this potential by “rationalising” anti-immigrant sentiments and making them look more respectable. Instead of directly inciting racial hatred against people “who look different”, they speak about the “really existing problems” of cultural incompatibility, rising crime and cheap precarious labour. The most widespread recipe suggested by this “rational” xenophobia is introducing visa barriers for citizens of Central Asian countries.</p> <p class="normal">Generally, anti-migrant xenophobia remains at a high level in Russian society, but does not rise to the surface without the government's approval. These sentiments are controlled by the state, and their expansions and contractions are subject to efficient regulation by the media. This is where the European refugee crisis has played into the hands of the Kremlin (although obviously one should not buy the conspiracy theories according to which the whole crisis is actually part of Putin’s plot to destabilise Europe!).&nbsp;</p> <h2>Enter the EU crisis</h2> <p class="normal">The crisis unfolding in Europe has helped Russia’s state-controlled media to silence xenophobic discussions relating to the situation in the country through spatial “transference” — racial hatred towards migrants in Russia is transferred onto the European crisis. Pro-Kremlin media <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">are full of sensational, often fictional </a><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">stories</a> about refugees raping German women or French “libtards” capitulating to radical Islam, while actual migration in Russia has been relatively absent from mainstream discourse over the last two years.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Keeping Russian society complacent and non-politicised is a greater priority to the Kremlin than the situational benefits of manipulating household xenophobic sentiments. But this situation can be easily changed whenever Russian elites feel the need to rekindle racial hatred inside the country. Until this happens, the European refugee crisis provides a convenient tool of keeping it on a low heat.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/how-russia-is-coping-with-its-ukrainian-refugees-rostov-UNHCR">refugee wave from eastern Ukraine</a>, starting from summer 2014, is important example of the Russian state’s “effective management” of xenophobic sentiments from above. Despite the total number of refugees (unofficially more than a million after the most intensive battles in 2014 and early 2015), only a few people actually received refugee status. After the Minsk Agreements in February 2015, the Russian authorities <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/dmitry-okrest/ukrainian-refugees-in-moscow-face-uncertain-fate">refused to grant refugee status to the majority of Ukrainian applicants</a>, citing “normalisation” in their home territories. The very topic of Ukrainian refugees has disappeared from the mainstream media in order not to provoke conflicts, while on the domestic level there have been tensions between locals and Ukrainian immigrants.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-20390761_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leaving Donetsk, July 2014. (c) Dmitry Lovetsky / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In Ukraine, the refugee crisis has become another episode in the unfolding national drama of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">chasing after the ghostly figure of “Europe”</a>. Sensational media coverage predictably ignites hatred towards imaginary “Syrian Islamist terrorists ready to rape and plunder” even when there are no “Muslims” in Ukraine to speak of at all, thereby strengthening the far right. A year ago, these kind of tales provoked <a href="http://en.hromadske.ua/articles/show/Battle_Of_Yahotyn_Right_Wing_Activists_Against_Refugees%20">a riot in the town of Yagotyn</a>, while at the beginning of January 2017, similar conditions <a href="http://politicalcritique.org/cee/poland/2017/polish-racism-in-a-mazurian-kebab-shop/">resulted in a wave of xenophobic pogroms in Poland</a>. Meanwhile, the crisis has dealt another blow to the political bloc of Ukrainian liberals and nationalists.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">At the end of November 2016, Ukraine's deputy minister of justice Sergiy Pietukhov <a href="https://www.facebook.com/sergiy.petukhov/posts/1814962525446045?pnref=story">published</a> a blog post in which he suggested that Ukraine join the Dublin Agreement and voluntarily commit itself to a refugee settling quota. This move, according to Pietukhov, would convince the EU to lift visa barriers for Ukraine. This is not an isolated argument: previously it has been voiced by various liberal leaders of opinion, who have suggested that Ukraine can prove its commitment to “European values” by taking refugees. Ten years ago, voicing such an idea on an influential public platform would have been unthinkable. In 2008, most of Ukraine’s “liberal” media criticised the government for signing a <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/world/agreements/prepareCreateTreatiesWorkspace/treatiesGeneralData.do?step=0&amp;redirect=true&amp;treatyId=6461">readmission treaty</a> with the EU, lamenting that Ukraine would soon be flooded with “criminals carrying exotic diseases”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">While the issues of refugees arriving in the EU hold little practical relevance for Ukraine, the country is in&nbsp;the middle of its own refugee crisis</p> <p class="normal">Of course, in 2016, this kind of proposal also met with an uproar. Oleh Liashko, leader of the populist Radical Party, immediately condemned <a href="https://www.facebook.com/O.Liashko/posts/1151444024924193">“our </a><a href="https://www.facebook.com/O.Liashko/posts/1151444024924193">&nbsp;idiots” who want refugees to </a><a href="https://www.facebook.com/O.Liashko/posts/1151444024924193">“commit daily terror acts and rape our women”</a>. Naturally, proposals such as Pietukhov’s to radicalise the government’s “Europeanisation” agenda strengthen the case of Eurosceptic national populists like Liashko, Svoboda, Right Sector or Azov. Ukraine’s justice ministry officially distanced itself from the official's private position, but Svoboda still <a href="http://svoboda.org.ua/news/events/00111950/">picketed the ministry’s </a><a href="http://svoboda.org.ua/news/events/00111950/">building</a>. </p><p class="normal">In the days after, aside from the usual nationalist suspects, the anti-migrant hysteria was hyped up by the oligarch Vadym Rabinovych, who leads a political party called For Life. Rabinovich’s proverbially Jewish last name did not prevent him from voicing xenophobic populism: he registered <a href="http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?id=&amp;pf3511=60662">a </a><a href="http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?id=&amp;pf3511=60662">draft law</a> forbidding the prime minister to accept any migrants without parliament's approval (the bill brings to mind the recent referendum in Hungary).&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">While liberals appeal to “European” values of tolerance and equality, their opponents conjure up the image of White Christian Europe succumbing to the barbarian hordes from the outside and degenerate traitors from the inside. What is common here is the figure of Europe as the Big Other: Ukrainians should either join liberal Europe or protect conservative Europe, but in every case the primary motivation is to prove our worth as true Europeans.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Dialectics of IDPs</h2> <p class="normal">While the issues of refugees arriving in the EU hold little practical relevance for Ukraine, the country is in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown">the middle of its own refugee crisis</a>. The official number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing the war in the east is more than 1.7 million. This number does not include those who chose to flee abroad (mostly to Russia); the aggregate figure is most likely higher than the number of IDPs and refugees from the Bosnian war (two million).&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">This should be put into the economic context (a drastic fall in living standards) and the political: the pre-Maidan <em>modus vivendi </em>was based on balancing between two competing national populisms, and used to ensure “pluralism by default”. Today, this compromise has been shattered by the political victory of the pro-Ukrainian brand of nationalism over its Russophone rival. In practice, this means that people facing deterioration of their social status are finally able to put all the blame on an even less privileged group, and justify their hostility using the dominant discourse.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The beauty of using Ukraine’s IDPs as a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">collective scapegoat</a> is that their “guilt” is more “evident” than in the case of the Roma or Jews. Nationalist politicians and intellectuals routinely lay the blame for the war on the population of the Donbas who “invited Putin's troops”. Under this presumption of guilt, individual IDPs constantly have to prove their political loyalty to Ukraine. Even a “loyal” displaced man can be regularly accused of cowardice: he has to join the army and fight for his home, instead of hiding behind the backs of soldiers from other regions, who are <em>definitely</em> not to blame. It is hard to say whether this discourse was borrowed from nationalists in the EU, arguing in the same way about Syrian refugees, or whether Europeans learnt this argumentation from Ukraine.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Our own people in need” serves as a rhetorical counterweight to calls for universal solidarity, but is forgotten immediately afterwards</p> <p class="normal">This ideological justification (“they hate our country”) crowns a host of accusations typical of discriminated minorities. According to <a href="http://nbnews.com.ua/ru/news/182495/">polls conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology</a>, IDPs are believed to be especially prone to crime (a thesis later developed in a <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://gazeta.dt.ua/internal/viyna-na-kriminalnomu-fronti-_.html&amp;sa=D&amp;ust=1485941002339000&amp;usg=AFQjCNEaLH1lx5RcBQOoccaRDIVLpmLTjw">newspaper article </a>by the acting head of Ukraine’s police Vadym Troyan); they are less trustworthy; they are rich and arrogant, driving up local prices, and at the same time they are so poor that they steal jobs and undercut wages; they receive undeserved welfare from the state; they even speak differently! Easterners are indiscriminately associated with the “Donetsk mafia”, having to bear the the burden of collective guilt for its wrongdoings, and simultaneously slandered as an ill-mannered underclass. </p><p class="normal">While in the regions adjacent to the war zone, these attitudes are less pronounced, they are strongest in Kyiv and the western regions. A recent workers’ protest at a power plant in Burshtyn in western Ukraine,which belongs to the Eastern oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, was <a href="http://briz.if.ua/41499.htm">instrumentalised by a right-wing NGO</a>. It targeted workers from Akhmetov’s plants in the east, who were allegedly coming to take away locals’ jobs.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">At the same time, IDPs are celebrated as a more deserving case against actual refugees from other countries — as it was in Yagotyn. “Our own people in need” serves as a rhetorical counterweight to calls for universal solidarity, but is forgotten immediately afterwards. Much like other examples in the region of cherished “ethnic kin” (Hungary’s relationship to Hungarians living beyond its borders, for example), this is the fate in store for Ukrainian IDPs — an object of brotherly love when contrasted to “Syrian terrorists” and a hated Cinderella in normal circumstances.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Both Russia and Ukraine have been influenced by the EU refugee crisis indirectly. In Russia, xenophobia has long ago become an efficient tool of manipulating the public in the hands of the government. News from the EU allowed the Kremlin to “transfer” Russia’s xenophobic prejudices onto European soil. This transference dampened public outbursts of xenophobia directed against “local” minorities for the time being and, of course, ensured Russia’s image as a bastion of “order”. In Ukraine, the crisis has helped to deepen the cleavage between the still marginal pro-European liberals (who publicly call for the “European values” of solidarity and compassion) and populist nationalist forces capitalising on the news of the “decline of the west”.</p> <p class="normal">The crisis in the EU developed simultaneously with another — the war in Ukraine, with the ensuing IDPs and refugees from the war-torn Donbas. It is these people who can occupy the structural niche of a discriminated minority in Ukraine, and join the ranks of existing subalterns in Russia. Ultimately, public hate-mongering against “Syrian terrorists” in distant Euroland is preparing the ground for a more tangible discrimination, against neighbours and fellow citizens.</p><p class="normal">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">Ukraine’s ministry of internal hatred</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/knocking-back-russia%E2%80%99s-nationalists">Knocking back Russia’s nationalists</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/maxim-edwards/rethinking-eastern-european-racism">Rethinking “eastern European racism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-tucker/old-hatreds-rekindled-in-ukraine">Old hatreds rekindled in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ilya Budraitskis Denys Gorbach Migration matters Ukraine Russia Fri, 10 Feb 2017 06:14:59 +0000 Denys Gorbach and Ilya Budraitskis 108684 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The women of Brest Station https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">These Chechen women are falling foul of changing attitudes on the EU’s eastern border, but they have made the railway station in Brest an unlikely piece of home in Belarus. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/agneshka-pikulicka/zhenshiny-so-stanzii-brest">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The waiting hall at Brest station, Belarus.</span></span></span></p><div>The waiting hall of the train station in the Belarusian city of Brest looks monumental, even grandiose&nbsp;— and yet startlingly cosy. Built in a Stalinist classical style, with arches, rosettes and salmon pink walls covered by marble-imitating claret-coloured material, this station used to be a showcase of the Soviet Union, its western door at the border with Poland.&nbsp;</div> <p class="normal">Since the summer of 2016, the station has come to perform another role: a meeting space for dozens of Chechens trying to seek asylum in neighbouring Poland. Over the past several months, Poland has been denying refugees from Belarus entry and the right to claim asylum. The practice is a clear violation of EU asylum law and Poland's international obligations, but the country's authorities have made it clear that, in the current political climate, migrants are no longer welcome. Only randomly selected individuals make it into the country.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">While making numerous attempts to enter the country, these Chechen refugees are struggling to survive the limbo in Brest. Numbers may be consistently decreasing (from around 3,000 in August), as every day only two or three families are let into Poland, but the crisis is far from over. Among these people, single women and children are particularly vulnerable. Gripped by fear, trauma and faced with an unknown future, they have nevertheless managed to organise a substitute for a community life at the train station, their temporary home.</p> <p class="normal">I visited the station on 2 December and spent three days there, talking to Chechen asylum seekers and their families.&nbsp;</p> <h2>A rare corner of home</h2> <p class="normal">Marina is a middle-aged widow with dark blonde hair and bags under her eyes. Since making the first of her 47 attempts to claim asylum in Poland in late August, Marina has barely slept. She used to rent a place in the city with another single woman, but when the money ran out she moved to the station.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The conditions are far from rosy. Her sleep is usually disturbed by the station security guards — most of whom jab her with their keys as soon as she falls asleep. She is not allowed to lie down on the benches, as it would not “look good” in front of other passengers. Thus, over the past three months she has been forced to sleep sitting up, sometimes during the day, when the guards are not watching.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/91.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/91.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="315" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Locals and asylum seekers anxiously gather for the departure of the 8:28 train to the Polish town of Terespol, just over the border.</span></span></span></p> <p class="normal">Marina usually starts her day around five or six am. As the shower and bathroom at the train station are not free of charge, Marina uses the facilities at the accommodation rented by other Chechen women. Chechens seeking asylum help one another and make sure that no one is left behind.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Raisa has been in Brest since November, but she only stayed at the station for a couple of days. The station being a public building with no prayer rooms, it was impossible for Raisa to carry out any religious rituals there. The station guards said: “We have different rules here,” suggesting that praying is not advised. The guards also forbade her from performing ablutions in the waiting hall. Raisa shows me the area where she used to pray, in the far right corner of the hall, behind a wall, hidden from travelers’ sight.</p> <p class="normal">She decided to rent private accommodation, and is now staying with six other Chechen women, all of whom are single. Ever since Raisa left the station, however, she has been back several times a day to look after <em>babushka, </em>an elderly disabled woman she befriended.</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">Many of the women have nowhere to go. Their main purpose is to claim asylum in Poland&nbsp;</span></p><p class="normal">Raisa suggested to her that they should move in together, but <em>babushka</em> refused as she would find it hard to walk to the station every morning to catch the 8:28 train to Poland. Thus, Raisa would go there every day around midnight to check if her friend managed to fall asleep. “At the train station they wake you up every half an hour”, she tells me.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The second day we met, however, <em>babushka</em> was let into Poland. When we talk, Raisa has not heard from her friend yet. She discusses the news with the other women in the far right corner of the train station, where they meet every day to exchange information, gossip and try to live their lives. This is the only place where they feel secure. They keep it clean and tidy, a rare corner of home abroad.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>A climate of fear</strong></h2> <p class="normal">Watched by the vigilant Chechen men, most women do not venture into town. They don’t mind this, though. In fact, they say that the men’s presence gives them a sense of security and limit their activities to contacting relatives via the Internet (available for a small fee at the station), shopping for necessities and commuting between the station and their temporary accommodation.</p> <p class="normal">Most women stick together, it will take a while before they are let into Poland. Between January and October 2016, 68,255 people were denied entry, while in the same period the year before, the number was 12,630.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">One of the reasons for the situation, as officially explained by the Border Guard Service, is that Chechens and other nationals who are trying to enter Poland do not ask for asylum and are refused entry because they do not possess valid visas. However, according to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights’<a href="http://www.hfhr.pl/en/publication/a-road-to-nowhere/"> </a><a href="http://www.hfhr.pl/en/publication/a-road-to-nowhere/">report</a> on the situation at the Brest-Terespol border, officers often take no notice of people’s intention to claim asylum or else conduct the conversation in a way to reveal the economic motives behind the migration.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/92.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/92.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="337" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Boarding the train at Brest. The last several carriages are reserved for asylum seekers.</span></span></span></p><p class="normal">As explained by Marta Szczepanik from HFHR, many asylum seekers report that when they say that they have fled their country and cannot go back home, the guards often ask if they are planning to claim any benefits in Poland. If the person answers that they want to work, support themselves and their families, this is immediately interpreted by the border guards as an economic motive for migration, rather than politically motivated asylum seeking, which would be the only legal reason for admittance into the EU.</p> <p class="normal">Ekaterina Sokirianskaya, the Crisis Group's Project Director for Russia and North Caucasus, claims the reason why Chechen migration into Poland has been portrayed by the authorities as mainly financially driven is that there is little information available about the nature of Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime and the level of human rights abuses in Chechnya. This is partially because of the overwhelming <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/karena-avedissian/film-review-%E2%80%98grozny-blues%E2%80%99-dir-nicola-bellucci">climate of fear</a> within the republic.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Moreover, according to Sokirianskaya, the timing of the mass flow out of the region is not accidental: “Chechnya is becoming even more repressive and a new deterioration happened exactly at this time, between 2015 and 2016, when the regime began an even more brutal harassment of any dissent or any attempt to leak information to the outside world.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">“You have very little chance to stay in Chechnya unless you are completely submissive”&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="normal">“There was a moment at the end of 2015 when Kadyrov felt really vulnerable because of the economic crisis in Russia, when there was a feeling that the regime in Moscow may shatter. For Kadyrov this has direct implications, because he knows very well that if there is no Putin in the Kremlin, there will be no Kadyrov in Grozny,” she adds.</p> <p class="normal">But this is only part of the problem because, as Sokirianskaya notes, “everyone can come into conflict with the ruling clan, and by clan I do not mean just the kinship group, but the loyal people appointed to power positions, down to local police chiefs. You have very little chance to stay in this republic unless you are completely submissive.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">What complicates the situation further is the simultaneous existence of three legal systems in Chechnya: Russian law, Islamic Sharia and <em>adat</em> (the customary law). Each of them is applied arbitrarily and twisted or instrumentalised for the benefit of the regime. Such legal pluralism adds to confusion in the federal centre when it comes to individual rights and freedom, and it contributes to the inability of Russian law to regulate the affairs of the republic.</p> <h2><strong>No country for young women</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">Since Kadyrov became president in 2007, women in Chechnya increasingly have to comply with rigid dress code rules and accept polygamy, as many men were encouraged to take second wives. In case of divorce, children usually stay with the father and are subsequently raised by his next wife, aunts or other female family members.<strong> </strong>Women face honour killings, involuntary marriages with members of the security services and have to comply with very strict rules of conduct, often denying them agency and freedom.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Russian officials are not interested in getting involved in the internal dealings of Kadyrov’s regime, even when it comes to women’s rights. As Sokirianskaya was told by a high level human rights official, “they have lived like that for centuries and we cannot change it.” For many women, this means years of humiliation and oppression.</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/9.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/9.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Chechen woman rests in the “women's corner” of the waiting hall at Brest station, Belarus.</span></span></span></p> <p class="normal">According to a 2014<a href="https://ru.boell.org/ru/2015/05/28/zhizn-i-polozhenie-zhenshchin-na-severnom-kavkaze-otchet-po-rezultatam-issledovaniya"> </a><a href="https://ru.boell.org/ru/2015/05/28/zhizn-i-polozhenie-zhenshchin-na-severnom-kavkaze-otchet-po-rezultatam-issledovaniya">report</a> by Irina Kosterina, a project coordinator in the Moscow office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, 78% of Chechen women think that life in the republic is more difficult for them than for men. When asked about the most common problems faced by women in Chechnya, 51% mentioned a lack of equality, 42% mentioned restrictions on women’s freedom, 45% said they think they are controlled by men, and 35% thought that there is a lack of protection from violence and injustice. To the question of whether they know of any women who are regularly beaten by their husbands, 43% answered yes.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The regime’s traditionalist and discriminative policies towards women and a rise in domestic violence have forced Chechen women to seek asylum elsewhere. Some of them have made it to the Brest train station. Kamisa, a 30-year old woman suffering from chronic panic attacks, is one of them. She ran away from an abusive husband, with whom she has three kids. Her mother Eliza, who has been living in France since 2007, has joined her in Brest to support her attempts to claim asylum in Poland. So far, no success.</p><p class="normal">Some women were left by their husbands. Kheda is one of them. People say that her husband went to Syria to join the Islamic State. As a result, Kheda was stigmatised in her community and often questioned by security services. One day, she took her two children and ran away.</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">According to its Ombudsman for Human Rights, Poland is failing to live up to its obligations derived from European and domestic refugee law&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="normal">Marina, who lives at the train station, fled because of the persecution she experienced at the hands of people she presumes to be connected to the regime. They took over her flat after the First Chechen War during the 1990s — when she and her husband tried to reclaim their property in court their tragedy began. He was killed and Marina was abducted from a city centre bus stop and then taken out to the outskirts of the city. Luckily her screams were heard by construction workers working close by and she was saved. But she had nowhere to go.</p> <p class="normal">Layla is an attractive divorcee in her forties with big blue eyes and a wide shiny simile. Her headscarf has a colourful floral pattern and she gives the impression of being an optimist. But her mood often sours. “In such moments I would like to recall some good times, but I do not have such memories,” Layla tells me. “I got married in 1993 and in 1994 the war started.” &nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">After getting divorced Layla wanted to start a new life in Chechnya, but the social pressure and stigma associated with divorce were so unbearable she decided to leave. “Now the situation in Chechnya is worse than during the war”, she adds. “At least back then you could run away, now you cannot.”&nbsp;</p> <h2>“We are all terrorists”&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">Indeed, as explained by Poland’s Minister of the Interior and Administration, Mariusz Błaszczak, Chechnya is no longer at war, and therefore there is no reason for Poland to open its doors to Chechens. In an autumn 2016 speech on the situation of people stranded at the border, Błaszczak stated: “In my view this is an attempt to create a new migration route for the inflow of Muslims to Europe […] As long as I am the Minister of the Interior and as long as the Law and Justice government is in power, we will not put Poland at risk of terrorism.”</p> <p class="normal">Since the Law and Justice party came to power in October 2015, xenophobic comments in the public domain have become more permissible and political correctness has been mocked as a left-wing propaganda. The current political climate in Poland allows for the use of untrue and highly stigmatising labels in relation to foreigners, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/kasia-narkowicz-konrad-pedziwiatr/why-are-polish-people-so-wrong-about-muslims-in" target="_blank">especially Muslims</a>. Chechens have fallen victim to this worrying trend. As the women at the train station told me, jokingly: “we are all terrorists”.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">People seeking refuge often have little knowledge of the rights they have, as well as the asylum law and procedures in place&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">According to lawyers, non-governmental organisations and Poland’s Ombudsman for Human Rights, by not permitting people at its eastern border to claim asylum, Poland is failing to live up to its obligations derived from European and domestic refugee law. The country has also violated the international rule of non-refoulement, which prevents refugees from being sent back to countries where their life or freedom could be threatened. (Chechens have made repeated claims about the presence and activities of <em>kadyrovtsy -</em> Kadyrov’s agents in Belarus, which, due to the level of infiltration by Chechnya’s special services, cannot be considered a safe place.)&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Poland’s Border Guard has also regularly acted outside of their area of competences, as the decisions in cases of asylum applications lie with Poland’s Office for Foreigners, whose representatives are not present at the border. The fact that many officers speak basic Russian and thus employ no extra translators often plays out to Chechens’ disadvantage: communication is limited, and there is no structured way of individual case recording and no appeal procedure in case of denial of entry. Moreover, people seeking refuge often have little knowledge of the rights they have, as well as the asylum law and procedures in place.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/94.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/94.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A reception centre in Biała Podlaska, where asylum seekers are placed after their arrival to Poland.</span></span></span></p> <p class="normal">According to experts I spoke to (who prefer to remain anonymous), the pressure not to allow people migrating into Poland may come from Germany and other European countries. Between January 2015 and October 2016, around 12,5000 asylum claims made by Chechens in Poland have been withdrawn, most probably because they left the country.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal">The situation in Brest has garnered attention from the EU authorities. Between 2017 and 2020, Minsk <a href="http://www.taz.de/!5371059/">will receive €7m</a> in order to build the so-called “migrant accommodation centres” on the Belarus-Poland border. The establishment of these centres will be financed from the <a href="http://www.enpi-info.eu/main.php?id_type=2&amp;id=402">European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI)</a> and will be carried out by the <a href="http://www.iom.int/">International Organization for Migration (IOM)</a>. The centres are meant to host refugees from Syria, Russia and Ukraine, fleeing poverty and armed conflicts. It is, however, most likely that the greatest proportion of migrants in this centres will be Chechens.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The structure and the services in these new migrant accommodation centres may have mixed effects on situation of those trying to enter Poland from Belarus. On the one hand, the conditions in the centres, each able to host 30 to 50 persons, are meant to comply with the EU hygiene and privacy standards. Also, psychological support and special for women, girls and families are planned. On the other hand, some of these centres will be “closed”, effectively functioning as detention facilities, and the moment the criteria for placing individuals there are not defined.</p> <p class="normal">Moreover, it is not yet clear, how high the proportion of “closed” facilities will be in contrast to “open” centres. It is, however, planned, that <a href="http://frontex.europa.eu/">FRONTEX</a>, the EU border agency, will receive access to data gathered in all centres.&nbsp;</p> <h2>“Magic cards” and guardian angels&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">The situation has put immense pressure on asylum seekers in Brest. As they can only stay in Belarus legally without registration for 90 days, the fear of being sent back home is widespread.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">However, people seeking asylum have not been left alone, as local and Polish volunteers have been supporting those in need. One such organisation has been the International Humanitarian Initiative Foundation, whose psychologists have made individual interventions with the Polish Border Guard, providing psychological support and assessment to those who have been victims of torture, persecution or honour killings. Such assessments often help individuals in their asylum application and they have gained the status of “magic cards” among the women at the station.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/4_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/4_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Brest railway station in western Belarus, a gathering point for Chechen asylum seekers seeking entry to Poland and the European Union.</span></span></span></p> <p class="normal">Referring to the situation of single Chechen women in Brest, Marina Hulia, a Polish volunteer who has set up a school for children at the train station, tells me that women, just like their kids, need a hug and mental support. Marina has tried to include the women in the organisation of the classes and school activities, as she believes that it is important to keep them occupied. As one woman told her, “others have a husband on whose shoulder they can cry. I have only children, who cannot see my tears.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Many of the women have nowhere to go. Their main purpose is to claim asylum in Poland. And they are not alone in their struggle: dozens of nationals from other post-Soviet states, most prominently <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan" target="_blank">Tajikistan</a>, have attempted to cross the border.</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">People seeking asylum have not been left alone, as local and Polish volunteers have been supporting those in need</span></p> <p class="normal">According to Hulia, however, the future which awaits them in Poland might be far from perfect. “At the beginning, when they are let into Poland, they are full of hope and happiness. But I am afraid that after some time, they will begin to miss the Brest train station, where we were one big community and had our goal — to get into Poland. I hope that Poland will not become a huge disappointment.”</p> <p class="normal"><em>Note from the author: Last September, Ramzan Kadyrov <a href="https://news.tut.by/society/513883.html" target="_blank">declared</a> that the people at Brest station should not be referred to as “refugees”, claiming that there were no valid reasons for them to have left Chechnya. Despite Kadyrov’s words, there are valid grounds for reconsidering our use of the term “refugee”. </em></p><p class="normal"><em>As the process of migration has become increasingly securitised since the beginning of the “refugee crisis”, journalists and analysts alike have faced new language-related dilemmas. The term “migrant” has become pejoratively loaded and the category, instead of encompassing all people are involved in the act of migration, became associated with a wrongful activity.</em></p> <p class="normal"><em>People who migrate were divided into refugees and asylum seekers, who move places for the right reasons, and migrants, or economic migrants, unworthy of the act, a growing problem. And a security issue. Many journalists have followed the trend and began to distinguish between worthy and unworthy migrants, thereby, often unintentionally, stigmatising economic migration. A natural process, which has existed since the beginning of time.</em>&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal"><em>The return to the use of the term "migrant" in its unbiased form is therefore necessary if we are to confront the growing nationalism and xenophobia in Europe.</em>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/islam-tekushev/unlikely-home">An unlikely home</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikayel-zolyan/refugees-or-repatriates-syrian-armenians-return-to-armenia">Refugees or repatriates? Syrian Armenians return to Armenia </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">Warped mirror: how Russian media covers Europe’s refugee crisis </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/circassians-come-home">The Circassians come home</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan">“What kind of terrorist am I?”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska Migration matters Chechnya Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:41:59 +0000 Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska 108115 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ukraine’s ministry of internal hatred https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/14680713_1341810105859774_6392757783503302157_n%20%281%29.jpg" alt="14680713_1341810105859774_6392757783503302157_n (1).jpg" width="80" />Ukrainian citizens displaced following the outbreak of conflict in the Donbas are still fighting for their rights — and public officials are using them as scapegoats. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukrainskoe-ministerstvo-vnutrenney-vrazhdy" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p><br /> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-20390761.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-20390761.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leaving Donetsk, July 2014. (c) Dmitry Lovetsky / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>A friend who moved to Kyiv from Luhansk showed me a photograph recently. She’d written a caption underneath it: “Spot the refugee”.</p><p>The photo showed six children — two of them holding yellow and blue balloons — at nursery on 1 September, the day children start back to school. One of the children was my friend’s son. It was a new nursery school for him, and it was next to their new apartment. This new home had not been easy to find. One of the reasons for this was the family’s status as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown" target="_blank">internally displaced persons</a> (IDPs).</p><p>Since the outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014, <a href="http://www.euronews.com/2015/04/22/ukraine-crisis-has-created-more-than-2-million-refugees-un-reports" target="_blank">more than two million people have been displaced from their homes</a>. Finding new homes, jobs, schools and generally making life continue has been hard for these people, and reception of them outside of the conflict zone has been mixed. In April, Kyiv’s International Institute of Sociology conducted <a href="http://unhcr.org.ua/uk/novini/novyny/1604-stavlennya-ukrajintsiv-do-pereselentsiv-ne-zminilos-za-dva-roki-z-pochatku-krizi-doslidzhennya-uvkb-oon" target="_blank">a poll of people’s attitudes to resettlers from Donbas and Crimea</a>. The results were relatively positive, ranging from 35% in the west of the country through 45% in the centre and south to 47% in the east. And 83% of respondents had not changed their views over the last two years.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Ukrainian society should resort less to judgements, stereotypes and their own prejudices when it comes to displaced persons</p><p>The poll produced some other interesting results confirming Ukrainian citizens’ support of IDPs. When asked whether internally displaced people are different from the local population and what forms the basis of opinion on IDPs, 40% those surveyed did not regard internally displaced people as any different, and 65% named mass media as their main influence.&nbsp;</p><p>These two responses — public attitudes to the IDPs and the factors that influence them — are important. Social science doesn’t have a scale to measure levels of discrimination against any group. The nearest equivalent, and the one most often used by researchers, is the Bogardus scale, which measures people's willingness to participate in social contact with members of diverse social groups.&nbsp;<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-21281509_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-21281509_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Humanitarian aid centre, Kyiv, October 2014. (c) Emilio Morenatti / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When locals tell the pollsters that they are happy to have IDPs as plumbers, tutors for their children or tenants (categories included in the poll above), this is the real measure of social distance between groups in Ukraine today. And we shouldn’t ask whether these people are as much Ukrainian citizens as members of the local population.</p><p>Coverage of the military conflict and policies relating to IDPs occupies a particular place in Ukraine’s media, as does the detailed examination of who is commenting on events (and how). So the picture the public gets of displaced people (and indeed the general political, social and economic situation in Ukraine) on TV and the internet depends on which interest groups control them.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The regional media frequently resort to hate speech, which promotes a stereotypical generalised image of the IDPs as thieves, criminals, swindlers and separatists</p><p>In this context, Ukraine’s regional media come out worst. They are often less professional and more inclined to generalise. Any mention of someone’s birthplace or family background inevitably means <a href="http://www.mv.org.ua/news/79417-pereselency_iz_donbassa_ograbili_lombard_v_zaporozhskoi_oblasti.html" target="_blank">a sensational headline about disorderly settlers</a> if it’s Donetsk, Luhansk or Crimea, guaranteeing thousands of hits on social media.</p><p>The regional media also frequently resort to hate speech, which promotes <a href="http://osvita.mediasapiens.ua/mediaprosvita/research/konfliktno_chutlive_visvitlennya_grup_dotichnikh_do_konfliktu_rezultati_monitoringu/" target="_blank">a stereotypical generalised image of the IDPs as thieves, criminals, swindlers and separatists</a>. This generic labelling is often based on a few incidents which are blown up out of all proportion.</p><p>What is significant, however, is that over the last month, officials at Ukraine’s interior ministry have also begun to use similarly negative images and judgements when referring to resettlers. They draw explicit parallels between the number of IDPs and a rise in crime in the regions. </p><p>This correlation of crime and numbers of IDPs is carelessly presented — interior ministry officials simply compare rising crime rates with an increase in resettlement in one or another region. The statistics do not relate to a specific number of charges brought against IDPs, but to reported crimes in general.</p><p>Thus, on 23 September, Ukraine’s interior minister Arsen Avakov made a speech in which he listed <a href="http://www.mvs.gov.ua/ua/news/2974_Arsen_Avakov_zaklikav_Radu_pidtrimati_zakonoproekt_pro_kriminalni_prostupki_FOTO_VIDEO.htm" target="_blank">the various reasons for the country’s rising crime rate</a>. These included the economic situation, migration patterns and the conflict in eastern regions. According to Avakov, the crime rate had risen in Kyiv because of an influx of 800,000 “migrant-refugees”. Later, the interior ministry website <a href="http://www.mvs.gov.ua/ua/news/2974_Arsen_Avakov_zaklikav_Radu_pidtrimati_zakonoproekt_pro_kriminalni_prostupki_FOTO_VIDEO.htm" target="_blank">claimed that these refugees were all from the Donbas</a>, that there were two or three million of them and that, according to the minister, they were creating problems.</p><p>Avakov’s statements <a href="http://vostok-sos.org/avakov_hate_speech/" target="_blank">were strongly criticised by NGOs involved with IDPs</a> and human rights in general. And indeed the minister’s claims were at odds with reality. According to Ukraine’s ministry for social policy, there were 1,703,932 internally displaced persons in the country in September, 138,566 of them in Kyiv. </p><p>It is also crucially important to distinguish between the terms “refugee” and “migrant” in relation to IDPs in Ukraine. The UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees states that the term refugee describes only those people who have left one country and moved to another because the first country was no longer offering them protection. In the context of IDPs from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the refugee definition hangs on whether or not a public official supports separatist activity in the occupied areas and recognises pseudo-governmental entities such as the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” — i.e. that the declared borders are, in fact, <em>borders</em>.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-26258419.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-26258419.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="346" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ukraine’s prime minister Volodymyr Groysman and minister of internal affairs Arsen Avakov inspect armoured personnel carriers, 6 May 2016. (c) Sergey Chuzavkov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 8 October, more than two weeks after Avakov’s speech, the deputy head of Ukraine’s national police Vadim Troyan also spoke out on the subject of the IDPs. In an article published online, the former member of Patriot of Ukraine, a neo-Nazi paramilitary organisation, was <a href="http://gazeta.dt.ua/internal/viyna-na-kriminalnomu-fronti-_.html" target="_blank">more precise with his figures and terms</a>, although his message differed little from that of Avakov, repeating the alleged correlation between the number of IDPs living in cities such as Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa and Kharkiv and rising crime in their regions.</p><p>Neither official mentioned that these IDPs were themselves frequent victims of swindlers and thieves (though later, on 13 October, <a href="http://www.5.ua/suspilstvo/pereselentsi-ne-ie-prychynoiu-zrostannia-zlochynnosti-avakov-128263.html" target="_blank">Avakov did refer to this situation</a>). </p><p>And the problems they face are not just a question of everyday matters such as finding a home in a new town, a school or nursery for their children and relations with employers, but also the capture and abduction of family members who have remained in separatist occupied areas, and whose release often involves the payment of ransoms. This is beside the fact that Ukrainian law lacks legislation regulating the status of missing persons and POWs.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Displaced persons’ constant battle for recognition as full, rather than second-class citizens of Ukraine leads them to return to occupied areas and towns</p><p>The state system that exists to deal with the IDP situation is extremely ineffective. There are problems with social security benefits and the implementation of Ukraine’s law on IDPs, which theoretically gives people who have come from territories outside Ukrainian government control the right to accommodation. IDPs also <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown" target="_blank">have no right to vote in local elections</a>.</p><p>Displaced persons’ constant battle for recognition as real, rather than fake citizens of Ukraine leads them to return to occupied areas and towns such as Stanitsa Luhanskaya and Avdiivka, where fighting continues despite the armistice.</p><p>Ukrainian society should resort less to judgements, stereotypes and their own prejudices when it comes to displaced persons. Instead, they should pay attention to the facts and the people who need their understanding. </p><p>Negative government pronouncements, including hate speech against displaced citizens, hampers this process and increases the gap between different social groups — hardly what is needed in the current situation.</p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown">Ukraine’s displaced people: status unknown

</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/islam-tekushev/unlikely-home">An unlikely home</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Migration matters Ukraine Fri, 14 Oct 2016 16:31:31 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 105973 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the shadow of conflicts past and present, Ossetians and Georgians have found ways to coexist. Twenty-five years after the collapse of the USSR, how do they fit into the post-Soviet story?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Tskhinvali 2009 - PA Sergey Ponomarev AP Press Association Images.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tskhinvali, South Ossetia: the anniversary of the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict is often a tense occasion. (c) Sergey Ponomarev / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></span><span>While some villagers in western Georgia&nbsp;<a href="http://dfwatch.net/stalin-monument-restored-in-georgia-58792-1492">restore statues to Stalin</a>, the people of Areshperani celebrate another prodigy. This small village of 150 in Kakheti, western Georgia, is a centre for the country's Ossetian community, and a home to an immense statue of Kosta Khetagurov, the Ossetian national poet.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Every year on 21 October, Ossetians come from across Georgia to Areshperani for the Kostaoba festival, paying homage to Khetagurov and his work. Not all are so appreciative. In 1995-1996, the monument was blown up with explosives by persons unknown, probably in an act of xenophobic vandalism. It was only reconstructed under Georgia’s reformist president Mikheil Saakashvili.</p><p>It was an important gesture. Relations between Georgians and Ossetians may be cordial, but they haven’t always been easy. In this month in 2008, war broke out between Georgia and Russia over the small, mountainous territory of South Ossetia.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Surviving the peace has proven difficult. Hard times, not hatred, has led many ethnic Ossetians to leave Georgia</span></p><p>The five-day conflict saw hundreds of civilian casualties. Hundreds of thousands of local residents, mostly ethnic Georgians, were displaced. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev then recognised South Ossetia as an independent state. Georgia, along with the vast majority of states, considers this region to be under Russian occupation.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>But surviving the peace has proven difficult. Hard times, not hatred, has led many ethnic Ossetians to leave Georgia, and those who remain are rapidly assimilating.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>To Vladik<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>We’re drinking coffee outside the house of Zeinab Khusoeva, 61, who well remembers the day when Saakashvili restored Areshperani’s statue to Khetagurov. “We stood there with our khachapuri [geo: cheese pie] and wine as Saakashvili arrived with his retinue to rededicate the statue,” she tells me. “They landed in the schoolyard... in two helicopters”.</p><p>A few dogs wander through the dust, a couple of local kids are watching with interest as Zeinab teaches me a few words in Ossetian. Judging by their curious faces, I can tell it’s a learning curve for them too.</p><p>“Buznyg — thank you”. “Booz-neg?” “Buznyg”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Zeinab estimates that today just ten percent of the local residents are Ossetians, adding that migrants from Ajara, western Georgia, resettled after landslides and floods, now live in their empty homes.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Areshperani is seen as a centre for Ossetian culture due to the Kostaoba festival. However, it took some searching to find local Ossetian residents.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_8233.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>This statue to Kosta Khetagurov, the Ossetian national poet, stands outside Areshpani's secondary school. (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Nino Margeeva, Zeinab’s neighbour, approaches us, squinting in the sunlight. She sits in the shade, and turns to squint at me instead. Margeeva’s story is common for many Ossetians in Georgia — she’s married to a Georgian, and has a Georgian grandmother too. Most people have a mixed heritage around here.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></p><p>Georgia is known for its ethnic diversity. Its largest minority groups, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia">Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the south</a>, are poorly integrated — <a href="http://dfwatch.net/ethnic-and-religious-minorities-affected-by-population-decline-census-42339">many don’t speak Georgian fluently</a>. In contrast, Ossetians are traditionally Orthodox Christians like the Georgian majority, and overwhelmingly speak fluent Georgian.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Since 2002, the Ossetian population in Georgia (excluding the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) has more than halved — from 38,028 in 2002 to 14,385 in 2014. A similarly sharp drop can be seen in two Georgian provinces with a traditionally high Ossetian population: the far eastern province of Kakheti and the government-controlled areas of Shida Kartli. Much of this central province is controlled by the breakaway South Ossetian government.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Walking the streets of Areshperani, it’s not difficult to see why people are leaving. Kakheti is rich in fertile land, vineyards and tourist attractions. But it’s not enough</span></p><p>The long-awaited census of 2014 confirmed grim suspicions. Georgia’s population had shrunk by 15% in just 12 years. Poor economic prospects in rural areas have led to depopulation — another 61 villages were abandoned in the same period. In fact, the capital Tbilisi was the only region of the country whose population grew at all.</p><p>Walking the streets of Areshperani, it’s not difficult to see why people are leaving. Kakheti is rich in fertile land, vineyards and tourist attractions. But it’s not enough.</p><p>Villagers are leaving, says Margeeva. According to <a href="http://www.ecmi.de/publications/detail/45-ossetians-in-georgia-in-the-wake-of-the-2008-war-151/">unofficial estimates</a>, some 40% of them have left since the 2008 war. The Ossetians are going over the mountains “to Vladik”, as she affectionately calls Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, which is an autonomous republic in Russia.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Speaking lessons</h2><p>The school at Areshperani is one of three left in Georgia where Ossetian remains a compulsory subject. According to the 2014 census, only 5,968 of Georgia's Ossetians can speak Ossetian, an Indo-Iranian language. This is part of a broader trend — local authorities in both North and South Ossetia are concerned about its fate. </p><p><span>In “Vladik”, they’re switching to Russian; in Tbilisi, to Georgian. There’s been an Ossetian language Sunday school in Georgia’s capital since 1907. A large proportion of Tbilisi’s Ossetians arrived here during Soviet-era industrialisation, settling in the new suburban districts adjacent to the main railway line. Some Ossetians still live here on Java Street, in the suburb of Nakhalovka.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>If you’re lucky, you’ll find Khabidzgina (Oss: ossetian cheese pie) in a few local restaurants. However, there are no Ossetian monuments to speak of, save for a small statue to Khetagurov in the centre, unveiled by Saakashvili in 2007.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The name of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-Soviet president, conjures up dark times for Georgia’s ethnic minorities</p><p>Mariam Dzagoeva, a Tbilisi-based Ossetian journalist, <a href="http://women-peace.net/gruzinskij-yazyk-v-osetii-i-osetinskij-v-gruzii-kak-obstayat-dela/">writes of one ambitious project in the city to rekindle the Ossetian language</a>. Founded in 2015, the Centre for Georgian-Ossetian relations at Tbilisi’s Javakhishvili State University offers courses for Ossetian language learners, and much more besides.</p><p>Nailia Bepieva, the centre’s director, and her colleagues have published Ossetian-Georgian dictionaries and phrasebooks, as well as the translated works of Ossetian poets in Georgian. Bepieva aims for the centre to be of practical use to the Ossetian community.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Despite census figures to the contrary, Bepieva told me that reports of the Ossetian language’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In any case, she adds, Ossetian is far from alone in UNESCO’s handbook of endangered languages. Despite Bepieva’s best efforts, it’s rarely heard on the streets of Tbilisi.</p><h2>“Guests”</h2><p>The name of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-Soviet president, conjures up dark times for Georgia’s ethnic minorities. A dissident-turned-demagogue, Gamsakhurdia promoted an extreme Georgian nationalist political programme in the early 1990s. In this view, Ossetians were guests on Georgian territory, and their political demands meant they had overstayed their welcome.</p><p>In 1990, Gamsakhurdia revoked the autonomy of South Ossetia. Enraged Ossetians then demanded an upgrade of their autonomous republic to a union republic, which would have eased their succession after the unravelling of the USSR. The writing was now on the wall.</p><p>By December, a military conflict was imminent — between 60 and 100 villages were burnt down and Georgian and Ossetian militias (the latter with some Russian military assistance) committed numerous human rights abuses.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In 1992, Georgia’s new president Shevardnadze brokered a ceasefire in Sochi. South Ossetia was to remain a confused patchwork of Georgian government and Ossetian militia-controlled enclaves and exclaves until 2008.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Gamsakhurdia.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A banner featuring a quote by Zviad Gamsakhurdia flickers in the wind at Tbilisi’s Dry Bridge market (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Some Ossetians fled Georgia for Russia, crossing the mountains to their compatriots in North Ossetia. By 1992, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/fatima-chumakova/five-bloody-days-in-north-ossetia">a brutal territorial conflict broke out between North Ossetians and their Ingush neighbours to the east</a>. The presence of between 70,000 and 100,000 Ossetian refugees from Georgia only fuelled the flames.</span></p><p>Ethnic solidarity proved a fickle thing. In troubled times, these Ossetian refugees were useful in keeping statistics favourable. Yet <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/valery-dzutsati">Valery Dzutsati</a>, a North Ossetian analyst, told me of several “layers of intolerance” towards the new arrivals. The more standard complaints against labour migrants and refugees (perceived competition for housing and jobs) soon emerged.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Not only are North Ossetians more Russified — they also speak a different dialect of Ossetian. The Digor and Iron dialects are distinct, and not entirely mutually intelligible</span></p><p>More than mountains divide Ossetians north and south of the Caucasus mountains. According to a 2013 estimate, up to 15% of North Ossetia’s population practice Islam. Some Muslim Ossetians, says Dzutsati, feared that the influx of Christian Ossetians would undermine their already precarious situation in the region.</p><p>Not only are North Ossetians more Russified — they also speak a different dialect of Ossetian. The Digor and Iron dialects are distinct, and not entirely mutually intelligible.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>“A couple of weeks ago, my cousin visited from North Ossetia,” Zarina Sanakoyeva, a&nbsp;<span>South Ossetia-based journalist,&nbsp;</span><span>told me in an online exchange. “We strolled around Tskhinvali [the de-facto capital]. When I mentioned to him that young people here regularly speak Ossetian, or when the waiter in a cafe addressed us in Ossetian, he laughed. He simply wasn’t used to it.”</span></p><h2>De-facto lives</h2><p>The central motorway connecting central and western Georgia passes just kilometres from the de-facto border of South Ossetia. </p><p>As you head to the regional capital of Gori from Tbilisi, a large green warning sign can be seen in the fields to the right. In recent years, the sign has crept closer as Russian soldiers and their South Ossetian colleagues <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/south-ossetia%27s-creeping-border">unroll the barbed wire deeper into Georgian territory</a>, cutting off fields, roads, and even individual villagers in the process.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Here in Shida Kartli region, this “borderisation” has dealt an economic blow to the locals. Times past had seen small-scale commerce and the personal contact it brings. Observers lauded the nearby Ergneti market on the de-facto border as an example of local co-operation — others slated it as a conduit for corruption (Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili closed it down in 2004).<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>While up to 23,000 ethnic Georgians may have fled South Ossetia in the 1991-1992 war, nearly 15,000 more did so in 2008. There are approximately around 125,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from South Ossetia in Georgia today. Together with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">IDPs from Abkhazia</a>, they number 265,000.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Shavshvebi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The IDP camp where Galina Kelekhsayeva lives, lies just off the main road between central and western Georgia. (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Displaced people are poorly integrated and await an ever-receding return home. Georgian politicians <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">may nurture these grievances in public</a>, but IDPs say that they rarely — if ever — make good on their promises.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>A small IDP camp on this road, between the villages of Natsreti and Shavshvebi, is but one example. A couple of hundred IDP families live here, in small concrete huts capped with red metal roofs. It’s spartan, efficient enough. Some IDPs have made ends meet; vegetable gardens are in bloom, South Ossetia is (technically) just down the road.</p><p>“It’s not about raising awareness,” sighs Galina Kelekhsayeva, “everybody’s aware. It’s about resources”. Galina should know. Born in South Ossetia in 1959, she’s seen her own successes. She’s worked on a number of projects empowering refugee women, and has received grants from international donors. On the side, Galina sews bedsheets to sell at the market in Gori.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Galina is an ethnic Ossetian, a fact which — in the grand scheme of things — only came to matter not so long ago. Her husband, who sits here with us in her living room, is Georgian. In the 1990s, she tells me, Ossetians were harassed by Georgian militias and many of their villages burnt. “In 2008, it was the Georgians’ turn to leave.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">The story of Galina’s flight from South Ossetia begins with the same tragic words of many refugee histories, particularly in the South Caucasus: “We thought we’d only be gone for a few days”</p><p>For nationalists, mixed families could mean mixed loyalties. Galina’s roots lie in the Java region of South Ossetia, a mountainous, mostly Ossetian-populated area. As was common for many minority groups, Galina studied in a Russian-language school. After graduation in 1981, she soon found work as a teacher of German and Ossetian.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>She can even write her grant applications in Georgian now. There’s little need for Ossetian anymore — her three grandchildren can’t speak it.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The story of Galina’s flight from South Ossetia begins with the same tragic words of many refugee histories, particularly in the South Caucasus. “We thought we’d only be gone for a few days”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>By 2008, Galina and her family were living near the mostly Georgian village of Kurta, where she worked as a teacher.</p><p>On the eve of the war that August, Georgian villagers fled Kurta. Galina, her husband and her children followed suit, running through the forest.</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Shavshvebi 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Galina Kelekhsayeva was resettled to this IDP camp outside Shavshvebi in December 2008. (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The following month, Galina managed to visit her old house outside Kurta. South Ossetian militias had looted and torched the village. “I found two of my dogs alive, and a few chickens. Otherwise, nobody and nothing was left. I wasn’t there long”.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>At the time of writing, Kurta remains a ghost town.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>For three months, the family lived in a converted kindergarten in Tbilisi. In December 2015, the state resettled them here, a stone’s throw from the de-facto border. The conditions were pretty de-facto too, although over the years she has been able to make a home of this concrete hut.</p><p>Galina left family in South Ossetia — her infirm mother stayed behind in the hamlet of Kemerti. For several months, the family knew nothing about her fate. One day, a phone call came from the Red Cross. They’d found Galina’s mother alive, if not so well, in Vladikavkaz, where she died six years later.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the story of Georgia’s Ossetians sheds light on the scramble for Soviet spoils</p><p>Occasional incidents aside, her ethnicity is of no concern. She has good relations with her Georgian IDP neighbours. The nearby villages here are poor places, whose Georgian and Ossetian residents have bigger problems to tend to than old wounds. Gamsakhurdia is dead and buried, though perhaps not deep enough. Shortly after her arrival, a local official asked Galina why she hadn’t changed her surname.</p><p>Galina suggests that I visit her daughter in the nearby village of Tsitelubani. I’ll have to get permission from the local police headquarters in Gori. Their house is a couple of hundred metres from the de-facto border. Last year, South Ossetian border guards annexed the village cemetery, and a sizeable piece of the family’s land.</p><p>Ethnic Ossetians are among those Georgian citizens <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/south-ossetia%27s-creeping-border">who have suffered from the creeping border</a>. It is a raw tragedy they too must share.</p><h2>Modern passions</h2><p>Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the story of Georgia’s Ossetians sheds light on the scramble for Soviet spoils.</p><p>Looking back at the South Caucasus in those years demands that we think again about “ethnic conflict”. Many writers on the region describe the insurgencies and wars which erupted in the 1990s as the result of ancient hatreds. As the USSR fractured, the argument goes, these thawed and ran amok.</p><p>Yet the bloodshed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was an all too modern tragedy. The USSR was built as a multi-ethnic federation; those ethnic groups provided with autonomous regions and republics gained the institutions of (mini)-statehood.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">The bloodshed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was an all too modern tragedy</span></p><p>In Georgia, conflict didn’t break out among the most numerous or even least integrated minorities. It began with those who feared the loss of their autonomy and institutions with the rise of a Georgian nationalist government.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Ossetians spoke Georgian, worshipped alongside Georgians and married Georgians. That they took up arms in the 1990s does not reflect the “narcissism of small differences”, but a failure to compromise after these small differences had been institutionalised by the Soviet state. Weak states could not prevent the escalation to war.</p><p>That many Ossetians leave their villages in search of a better life places them alongside their Georgian neighbours in a broader post-Soviet story of rural poverty and migration. A story which, for what it’s worth, treats all its characters — Georgian or Ossetian — with equal indignity.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fatima-chumakova/five-bloody-days-in-north-ossetia">Five bloody days in North Ossetia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/south-ossetia%27s-creeping-border">South Ossetia&#039;s creeping border</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia">Karabakh: the view from Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Edwards Migration matters 25 years of change South Ossetia Georgia Conflict Caucasus Tue, 30 Aug 2016 07:59:35 +0000 Maxim Edwards 105005 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ukraine’s displaced people: status unknown

 https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/E-Ukraine-UNHCR4_0.jpg" alt="E-Ukraine-UNHCR4_0.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Why are refugees in Ukraine second-class citizens? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitaly-atanasov/status-neopredelen">Русский</a></strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>Two years have passed since the first internally displaced people (IDPs) appeared in Ukraine. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, some residents of the peninsula fled to mainland Ukraine. These people feared repression from the new authorities, or simply did not want to remain among their fellow citizens who supported the “Russian spring”.</span></p><p><span>A much greater influx of refugees began later that summer, when the military conflict began in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. Thousands of people had already left Crimea, but now hundreds of thousands of people needed help. Government figures from spring 2016 </span><a href="http://www.ppu.gov.ua/operatyvna-informatsiya-3/">refer to nearly 1.8 million refugees</a><span>, including </span><a href="http://www.mlsp.gov.ua/labour/control/uk/publish/article?art_id=187230&amp;cat_id=107177">roughly 20,000 people from Crimea</a><span>.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Ukraine’s refugees have become something of an underclass. Deprived of their rights, they face bias and discrimination</p><p>Government bodies were slow to react, and when they did, their efforts were disproportionate to the scale of the crisis. If wasn’t for the humanitarian relief organised by NGOs and volunteer groups, then Ukraine’s IDPs would have faced this situation by themselves.
 In fact, the only thing Ukraine’s bureaucracy managed was to infringe refugees’ basic rights — electoral and social. In turn, politicians who blamed the conflict entirely on residents of the Donbas played this response up.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Ukrainian media frequently cast IDPs in a poor light, especially at the start of the conflict, whereas now they choose to avoid the topic entirely.
 As a result, Ukraine’s refugees have become something of an underclass. Deprived of their rights, they face bias and discrimination.</p><h2>Standing in for the government
<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>At the very beginning of the conflict, those fleeing the east found shelter wherever they could — in derelict children’s camps, sanatoriums or dormitories. Food, medicine and other urgent supplies were usually provided by volunteers and NGOs, which relied on private donations or grants from international funds.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>A couple of steps away from Andriyivskiy descent in central Kyiv is the Humanitarian Aid Centre for refugees on Frolovskaya street — one of the best known aid centres in Kyiv. It’s located on the premises of a former textile factory, and people work from makeshift offices in old wagons and desks inside tents. There’s a warehouse for humanitarian aid, a playground, a computer class and much more besides. The whole operation is run by volunteers, many of whom are refugees themselves.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSC_0066_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Humanitarian Aid Centre for Refugees on Frolovskaya street, Kyiv. (c) Vitalii Atanasov.</span></span></span><span>The centre opened in August 2014 and has since been able to help over 25,000 people. “At the start, endless queues would build up and we worried that we couldn’t help everybody who approached us,” says Alena Lebed, a volunteer. “We provided them with food and urgent necessities, gave them a hot meal and helped them find accommodation and work.”</span></span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Refugees still need housing. Many are still living in temporary camps, old sanatoriums and in conditions unsuitable for normal life”&nbsp;</p><p>Alena says that the centre has survived on donations alone the entire time — the state helped only with the wagons. She believes that Ukraine’s government have hardly reacted to this crisis, adding that laws that should have regulated the status of refugees and state support for them don’t work.</p><p>“Refugees still need housing. Many are still living in temporary IDP camps, old sanatoriums and in conditions unsuitable for normal life,” continues Lebed.</p><p>Sooner or later, most IDPs have to find housing on their own. The government <a href="http://pomogalka.info/denezhnaya-pomoshh-pereselentsam-bezhentsam-s-vostoka-ukrainy-i-kryma/">has allocated a monthly payment of 440 hryvnia (16 euros) to each refugee</a>, supposing that this would be enough for renting accommodation. Of course, that turned out to be insufficient. Moreover, for people of working age, this payment is restricted to a period up to six months. Pensioners also have the right to extend their allowance by another half a year.</p><h2>Overlooked<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>In Kyiv, the walk from the metro station to one of the dormitories where refugees now live takes 20 minutes. A loud motorway overpass, then a school, followed by a dirt road that turns to mud in the rain. This leads through abandoned building sites to a nine-storey building on Kustanaysky street.</p><p>At first glance, it looks quite decent — neatly tiled walls and brightly-painted balconies. The front door is shut; to enter the building you have to talk to the caretaker through an intercom.

<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Over the past year and a half, three dozen families — refugees from annexed Crimea and the war-torn Donbas — have been living in this very building. Until recently, they lived relatively peacefully. In December 2015 a notice appeared in the hallway: the residents were given a month to move out of the building, just in time for New Year. There was no signature under the announcement, simply the faceless words “the administration”.</p><p>“The formal reason given for the eviction was that several families had not paid their utility bills,” says 24-year old Yaroslav, who lives at the dormitory. “Firstly, there were only one or two such families, and secondly, they were really faced with difficult circumstances — for example, a mother was unable to pay after her son had just undergone an operation.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSC_0109_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Apartment block on Kustanaysky street, Kyiv. (c) Vitalii Atanasov.</span></span></span><span>Yaroslav shares a room of 20 square metres with his mother and older brother. They’ve been here since autumn 2014. “When everything started, I was studying in Kharkov in the faculty of law,” explains Yaroslav. “I returned to Donetsk, to my relatives, and there</span><span>’d already been shelling</span><span>. Two weeks later, I moved to Kyiv. I thought I wouldn’t be here for long — firstly, I’d stay with relatives. They put up with me for three months and then asked me to clear out. That’s how we turned up here,” he says, glancing around the cramped room.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>As we talk, I learn that, according to a law passed in 2014, the Ukrainian authorities are supposed to guarantee free accommodation for IDPs for six months. As it happens, this has never actually worked out — even when appropriate accommodation has been found. The same thing also happened here: even though the dormitory belongs to a subdivision of the Ministry of Justice, the refugees were no better off.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>“The rent was only slightly below average. We were dealt with as though we were tourists, and even charged a tourist tax,” adds Yaroslav’s mother Tatyana.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In post-Soviet Ukraine, social services have never been a priority. Over the past two years, the government has been working closely with the IMF, which demands that social spending be “optimised”</p><p>She tells me that when the IDP families refused to move out of the building in the depths of winter, to live out their days on the streets, their electricity was cut off for ten days. It was January, and as there was already no gas or central heating, life without electricity became a lot harder. “It was so cold, dark, and damp,” remembers Tatyana. “We slept under four blankets each, as the temperature approached freezing. I could see steam from [Yaroslav’s] mouth as he slept.”</p><p>In order not to freeze to death, residents appealed to the state service for emergency situations, and the agency set up a heated tent outside their front door. “Those who couldn’t bear the cold could warm up there for a while,” says Yaroslav.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In his words, attempts to evict the IDPs from the dormitory building continue to this day. In order to save their home, the residents have collectively bought their case to the Kyiv courts. They’re convinced that state officials have designs on the building — they want to privatise it.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>On the blacklist
</h2><p>In post-Soviet Ukraine, social services have never been a priority. Over the past two years, the government has been working closely with the IMF, which demands that social spending be “optimised”. The policy has had visible results so far: in just two years, for instance, <a href="http://www.unian.net/1232770-x.html">utility rates have trebled</a>. 

<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The authorities want to save money on everybody, and Ukraine’s displaced people are no exception. This partially explains the state’s introduction of strict controls on IDPs, virtually identical to Soviet-era residency permits. IDPs are thus required to obtain a “resettler document”. Without it, they can’t receive their pension, nor social welfare; they can’t pay taxes, see a doctor or get a pharmacy prescription.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/24090874021_4172987850_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2015: destroyed hospital, Slovyansk. CC BY-ND 2.0 European Commission DG ECHO Follow / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>But even people who do get these documents, with all the associated stamps, still can’t feel secure. In March, the government dramatically changed the rules: former prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk declared that “crooks masquerading as refugees are receiving millions of hryvnia from the state budget”, and that </span><a href="http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2016/02/21/7099812/">welfare payments were to be suspended for some 150,000 people</a><span>. Human rights defenders </span><a href="http://life.pravda.com.ua/columns/2016/02/23/208550/">believe that the number of people affected may be several times higher</a><span>.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>It turned out that the SBU, Ukraine’s security services, had drawn up “blacklists” of IDPs, which the Ministry of Social Policy then used to suspend payments, including pensions. The SBU has never explained how these lists were drawn up.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In eastern Ukraine, the policy of blacklisting IDPs has hurt people on both sides of the frontline. The family of Aleksandr Slynko, living in the city of Kharkiv, has received neither disability benefits nor any other social welfare payments since March. “In March I was admitted to hospital in a critical condition, and shortly afterwards the payments stopped. After many inquiries, I discovered that the SBU had put us on the blacklist,” says Aleksandr.
</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In eastern Ukraine, the policy of blacklisting IDPs has hurt people on both sides of the frontline</p><p>Employees of Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy explained to Aleksandr that when they had arrived at his address to assess his status, nobody had been at home. “Why did nobody tell me?” he wonders, perplexed. “Perhaps my wife was out walking with the kids, but all the same, I was in hospital.”</p><p>The Slynko family is in dire financial straits. “The volunteers have given us some money to cover utilities, and provided us with food. But April will soon be over, and our last money will run out with it. How can we go on living?” he screams down the telephone.</p><p><span>To date, no government official Aleksandr has contacted has guaranteed that the payments will be restored.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Fraudsters and fighters</h2><p>I meet volunteer Aleksandra Dvoretskaya at the House of Free People, a resource centre for IDPs, in Kyiv’s Podil district.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Dvoretskaya is a refugee from Crimea. She left the peninsula in spring 2014 after sensing a real threat from the new authorities. Back during Maidan, someone had put up posters outside Dvoretskaya’s apartment block with her photograph, telephone number and home address. The anonymous authors asserted that Aleksandra was a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=645673905480086&amp;set=t.100001124463989&amp;type=3&amp;theater">“traitor of Crimea who supported the criminal Maidan”</a>. After moving to the mainland, Dvoretskaya found a job coordinating Vostok-SOS, an organisation that helps refugees and people who have suffered as a result of the war.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>She calls these “blacklists” discriminatory and illegal. “For many people, social and pension payments are the only source of survival,” Aleksandra tells me. In the first instance, these payments are vital for those Ukrainian citizens who’ve continued living on occupied territory. These people cannot collect their payments until they officially register as displaced persons and get the necessary documents.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/E-Ukraine-UNHCR4_0 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Some people consider IDPs "traitors". СС: Yu. Gusev. / UNHCR / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>“They’ve basically been forced to register as IDPs,” Dvoretskaya continues. Given that the banking system doesn’t work in unrecognised republics in the east, these people </span><a href="http://novosti.dn.ua/details/273474/">regularly risk their lives to cross the border</a><span>, use the ATM and then travel back. Middlemen often do this for them — for a small percentage.</span></p><p>Indeed, the “blacklists” largely target these citizens. “According to the logic of the bureaucrats, you can’t be a resident of Ukrainian temporarily occupied territory,” Dvoretskaya explains. “Because if you are, according to the minister’s words, you’re a resident of the DNR or LNR, a fraudster and separatist.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Practically speaking, displaced persons possess fewer rights than other people. It’s as if they’re being punished for ‘summoning Putin’”</p><p>The discrimination faced by displaced people is, according to Dvoretskaya, a result of the dehumanisation inherent to armed conflict. “Practically speaking, displaced persons possess fewer rights than other people. It’s as if they’re being punished for ‘summoning Putin’. What would be humiliating for a normal pensioner is fine for a pensioner who’s fled the Donbas, as if he should suffer to atone for his sins.”</p><h2>Opportunities lost</h2><p><span>Volunteers and displaced persons had hopes for Ukraine’s State Agency for the Reconstruction of the Donbas, established at the beginning of 2015. But the agency is yet to make any impact, and Ukraine’s new government is now creating a Ministry of Displaced Persons and Occupied Territories in its place. Given the successes of the old agency, few people believe the new ministry will change anything for the better.</span></p><p>For instance, Dvoretskaya remembers the parliamentary hearings devoted to IDPs in February. “The volunteer and rights organisations that I work with saw these hearings as a victory. But in the end the ministers just ignored them, they didn’t even attend.” These were the <a href="http://donpress.com/news/18-02-2016-na-parlamentskie-slushaniya-po-pravam-vpl-ministry-ne-prishli">first parliamentary hearings on the subject of internal displacement to be held in Ukraine</a>, and around 350 NGOs were represented.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If Ukraine’s displaced persons are allowed to integrate fully into local communities, then they’ll lose their ability to influence the political future of the occupied territories</p><p>Six months prior to the February hearings, the Ukrainian parliament <a href="http://informator.lg.ua/archives/105784">revoked the right of displaced persons to vote in the October 2015 local elections</a>. Aleksandr Kliuzhev, an analyst for the OPORA monitoring organisation, tells me that while this decision was legal in theory, in practice it violated international standards. “People didn’t have an opportunity to influence decisions made at a local level, in the places where they live. They still don’t.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-21281509_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2014: humanitarian aid point, Kyiv. (c) Emilio Morenatti / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>According to Kliuzhev, leaders of Ukraine’s parliamentary factions don’t see displaced persons as a potential electorate. “Firstly, politicians don’t understand how to work with IDPs, given that they don’t live in one particular place, but are spread out across the regions,” Kliuzhev tells me. “And secondly, political prejudices worked their magic: the population of Luhansk and Donestk regions had a political position different to the one that dominated in the ruling coalition.”</span></p><p>Kliuzhev also sees the coming Minsk negotiations as a reason for a lack of interest. For Kliuzhev, if Ukraine’s displaced persons are allowed to integrate fully into local communities, then they’ll lose their ability to influence the political future of the occupied territories.</p><h2>Cheap labour</h2><p>Ukraine’s displaced persons don’t just face discrimination from state institutions. Stereotypes in Ukrainian society also play a role. For example, in many regions, displaced persons find it hard to rent apartments and encounter problems in finding work.</p><p>I meet Elena Blomberus, mother of three, to talk about this. Before the war broke out, her family lived in Pervomaisk, Luhansk, but after shelling continued uninterrupted in August 2014, she moved to Kharkiv. Blomberus’ voice begins to falter when she remembers that time: “We left literally in what we were standing in. We crawled out of the basement when the shelling stopped. We thought we’d leave for a few weeks maximum, we only took a small bag with us.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Displaced persons also face prejudice when looking for work. Although there are no official barriers to employment for IDPs, in practice, it’s different</p><p>But the war didn’t stop, and for Elena’s family, the biggest problem has been accommodation — they were refused at a series of apartments. “When I was looking for somewhere to live in Kharkiv, I bought a listings paper. They asked me: are you from Luhansk? I said that I was, I thought they’d help. And they said no, sorry. And I’ve had that a bunch of times.”</p><p>Displaced persons also face prejudice when looking for work. Although there are no official barriers to employment for IDPs, in practice, it’s different. Vitaly Dudin, a specialist in employment law, tells me that “Employers in Kyiv have a negative attitude to people from Donestk, and don’t want to take them on. This is connected with negative stereotypes, and fears, for example, that a displaced person on a permanent contract can then change his or her residency permit.”</p><p>Dudin believes that, generally speaking, Ukraine’s labour market favours the employer. “Even HR experts admit it: the supply of workers, including cheap ones, in the big cities has increased. Displaced persons are very often forced to work unofficially, which is profitable for the employer.”</p><h2>War mentality</h2><p>Maksim Butkevich, a journalist and rights defender, remembers that when the first wave of displaced persons appeared, they were greeted very warmly. “There were declarations by politicians, including the mayor of Lviv, and on a grassroots level: come, we’ll sort everything out, Ukraine is a united country. The war in the Donbas happened later, and the reception after wasn’t so welcoming.”</p><p>First off, there were many more people in the “second wave”. Second, it was mostly activists and supporters of Maidan that came from Crimea. “At that time, people left the Donbas for very different reasons, the majority were fleeing the GRADs, bullets and bombs. They could have opposed Maidan, or, more likely, just want to be left alone,” Butkevich tells me.</p><p>Long before the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-portnov/how-eastern-ukraine-was-lost">conflict in Donbas broke out</a>, Ukrainian society had come to entertain a negative stereotype of people from Donetsk. Residents of Donetsk were people of&nbsp;<span>“</span><span>low culture</span><span>”</span><span>, bandits who respected brute force and who voted for the Party of Regions or the Communist Party.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Any country suffering a large-scale and long-term conflict is at risk of sliding into a situation where “military necessity” and “national security” trump all other considerations</p><p>The ascent of natives of the Donbas into Ukraine’s high politics fostered this stereotype. In 2002, Viktor Yanukovych, who was governor of Donetsk region at the time, became the country’s prime minister, and many of his allies took leading positions in the government. During the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Yanukovych faced off the “pro-European” candidate Viktor Yushchenko, posters were stuck up around Kyiv <a href="http://ru.tsn.ua/analitika/legendy-i-pravda-o-donetskih.html">with slogans mocking people from Donetsk</a> (“Don’t piss in the lift, you’re not from Donetsk”; “Hey, you from Donetsk, don’t break the intercom”).</p><p>Stereotypes about Donetsk thus rose to the fore as part of pre-election “black PR”, promoting the split of Ukraine according to electoral preferences. But while the elections came to an end, the stereotypes remained. “This stereotype couldn’t vanish immediately, and it’s now been transferred to many displaced persons,” Butkevich tells me. “The war doesn’t help: the longer it goes on, the more casualties, the clearer it becomes that the war isn’t going to end, the louder the calls for limits to the rights of certain categories of people under the slogan ‘there’s a war going on’.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>For Butkevich, Ukraine isn’t unique in this regard. Any country suffering a large-scale and long-term conflict is at risk of sliding into a situation where “military necessity” and “national security” trump all other considerations. “Voices calling for all displaced persons from Donbas to be sent through filtration camps in order to find people aiding the ‘separatists’ have calmed down, but the ideas remain.”</p><h2>Who’s interested?<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>Ukraine’s media aren’t coping with the displaced persons well: according to a monitoring audit carried out in autumn 2015, IDPs <a href="http://osvita.mediasapiens.ua/mediaprosvita/research/konfliktno_chutlive_visvitlennya_grup_dotichnikh_do_konfliktu_rezultati_monitoringu/">appear in one percent of reports on Ukraine’s central television channels</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Mass media often exploit negative stereotypes and muffle the problem. And if they do raise issues connected to IDPs, then they accent the positive stories, which don’t reflect the real situation. In 2014, when IDPs were still a new phenomenon, the media paid more attention to them, but there was a lot of negative coverage — hostile language was used far too often. Journalists are now trying to talk more and more about the positive aspects of Ukraine’s “new life”.</p><p>There’s nothing new in the way that media has covered IDPs in Ukraine. As Anastasiya Bezverkhaya, a media researcher, tells me, this situation fits into a wider framework of covering minorities, social problems and possible solutions to these issues. “This subject isn’t scandalous, it isn’t relevant for politicians. This is why there’s no interest in systematic coverage, just like other social topics.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Traditionally, Bezverkhaia tells me, the press depicts socially vulnerable groups, including IDPs, as a “burden” for the majority or a “threat” to social order. It’s not surprising that society reacts to these images accordingly, with people justifying brute methods of solving these issues, or a refusing to engage with the idea that vulnerable groups need additional support.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This is a vicious circle, and IDPs are the only social group directly interested in getting out of this dead-end. But they’re spread out over the country, their rights are being violated, and they have no political representation. And while this situation remains, the demarcation lines, real and imagined, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">will divide Ukrainian society</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/kryvyi-rih-needs-alternative">Kryvyi Rih needs an alternative</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/dmitry-okrest/ukrainian-refugees-in-moscow-face-uncertain-fate">Ukrainian refugees in Russia receive a mixed welcome</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/how-eastern-ukraine-was-lost">How ‘eastern Ukraine’ was lost</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vitalii Atanasov Migration matters Ukraine Human rights Tue, 03 May 2016 10:48:58 +0000 Vitalii Atanasov 101808 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia: the exiles’ election https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/TinaTserovani_0.JPG" alt="" width="160" />Twenty five years after the separatist wars that shook Georgia, 265,000 displaced people still struggle to make ends meet — and their voices heard.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>Less than six months are left before Georgia’s parliamentary election, and a heated contest is expected. The parties of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition have decided to run independently, while several opposition parties are driving hard for public support.</span></p><p>Yet across the country, pessimism reigns. Nowhere is it felt more strongly than among Georgia’s 265,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), who largely hail from the now de-facto states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ethnic cleansing during the wars of the 1990s and later led to Georgian inhabitants of these territories fleeing for their lives. Poorly-integrated into wider society, many IDPs’ hopes for a brighter future have been dashed by successive governments and their failed promises to improve living standards — or to return home.</p><p>That home remains out of reach. Abkhazia and South Ossetia seceded from Georgia during two vicious conflicts of the early 1990s, with more than a little help from Soviet, then Russian, forces. As a result, Georgia lost 20% of its territory, and now considers the two regions to be under Russian occupation. </p><h2>Home away from home</h2><p>Outside the city of Kutaisi in western Georgia stands the Hotel Khvamli. It’s Soviet-era behemoth – worn-out, old, even a little creepy. Nonetheless, at least 80 refugee families call this place home. Old sanatoriums, schools or hotels like this are often the only option for families displaced by the conflict in Abkhazia more than 20 years ago.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Georgia’s IDPs are unsure who deserves their vote – assuming anybody does at all</span></p><p>Some were luckier: they found jobs, new houses, and new lives. Rusudan, 56, isn’t among them. She’s been a guest of Hotel Khvamli for over 23 years, living with eight of her relatives in a room of just 13 square metres.<span>&nbsp;<br /></span></p><p>In 2013, the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) found that 45% of IDPs (from both Abkhazia and South Ossetia) had <a href="http://www.ge.undp.org/content/dam/georgia/docs/publications/GE_vnerability_eng.pdf" target="_blank">failed to improve their way of life</a> since being displaced. Many still live in poverty, hoping that Georgia’s government will notice and help them.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khvamli1.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khvamli1.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Soviet-era Hotel Khvamli outside Kutaisi in western Georgia is home to around 80 IDP families.</span></span></span>The politicians do turn up at Hotel Khvamli, says Rusudan. Indeed, Georgia’s IDPs are a deep wound in national pride — politicians can’t be seen to ignore them. But the resentment here runs deep: over the nine years of Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) government and then four years of the current Georgian Dream (GD) coalition, locals say that politicians’ interest has been “preliminary” at best. They rock up before an election with photo-ops, praise and promises, but they never deliver.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In the parliamentary election of 2012, people here say they voted for Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire businessman architect of the Georgian Dream coalition who remains its power behind the throne. But the IDPs appeared to have no place in Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream; the government in Tbilisi failed them yet again.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Georgia’s upcoming elections are scheduled for 8 October. IDPs, who make up six percent of the country’s population, are weighing up their options. </p><p>They’re unsure who deserves their vote – assuming anybody does at all.</p><h2>Guests at Hotel Khvamli<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>The plumbing system has been broken at Hotel Khvamli for two months now. Sewage leaks into the garden and across the first two floors. </p><p>“We can’t do anything about it on our own,” Rusudan tells me. She and her neighbours have approached the local municipality for help almost every day, but in vain.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Dodo.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Dodo.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>”The elderly have given up, and go with the flow of fate”. Dodo, a refugee from Abkhazia, at Hotel Khvamli.</span></span></span><span>The local authorities asked government officials in the capital, Tbilisi, to intervene. “Tbilisi sent back an answer a few weeks later rejecting to finance [a solution to the problem]. The reason [they gave] was that it is too expensive. They promised to grant three points to each family living here, but at the local municipality we were told that we wouldn’t be granted any points. I don’t see any other ways to solve this,” Rusudan explains.</span></p><p>The Georgian government has developed a point-based system for supporting socially vulnerable families, including refugees. These <em>kula</em> (Georgian: “points”) are allocated after social workers evaluate the family’s predicament and its needs. The poorer a family, the more points they receive. A family with a high number might theoretically be given a new apartment.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Georgia’s refugees are a deep wound in national pride — politicians can’t be seen to ignore them</span></p><p>Rusudan doesn’t have enough <em>kula</em>. Neither does her neighbour Shorena, who came to join us. Shorena, a refugee from Bichvinta, Abkhazia, is divorced, and lives here with her three sons and mother. She notes that over the past 23 years, only one family at Hotel Khvamli has been granted new accommodation via the <em>kula</em> system — due to the fact that two family members were disabled.</p><p>The families living at Khvamli have agreed to stay here, but only if the government finally registers their rooms in their names, and promises to refurbish the place. In the 1990s, many ramshackle properties that housed refugees were sold off at a symbolic price to private individuals, residents and all. The government distanced itself from its responsibilities in maintaining the building, washing its hands of the many problems.</p><p>“The owners bought those hotels together with us,” remarks Rusudan. “I know the owner personally – he’s an ordinary guy, he even has debts like us. How can we ask him to refurbish the entire hotel? There’s no point,” she sighs.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Shorena-UNM.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Shorena-UNM.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Social benefits for the people!” reads this UNM banner on Shorena’s balcony at Hotel Khvamli.</span></span></span>Any visit to a refugee dormitory like this soon becomes an occasion. Once residents learn that a journalist has arrived, everybody has a story to tell.</p><p>Shorena and her neighbours guide me through the dark, damp corridors. On the upper floors, the roofs leak and there are holes in the floors. Hotel Khvamli would be perilous without an experienced guide.</p><p>Over the past 23 years, local government has only “refurbished” the building on one occasion. This meant changing a few light-bulbs and installing a new front door. </p><p>There are no bathrooms at Hotel Khvamli. A common bathroom has been set up on the first floor: a gloomy room separated by lurid canvasses, almost roofless and fiercely cold in winter.</p><p>A few residents on the ground floor have tried to grow vegetables and flowers. Upon leaving the building, I meet Archil Kordzaia. Archil asks me to once again mention the damaged sewage system. The waste seeps down into his family’s room, and his grandchildren are getting infections, and there are fears of hepatitis or even typhoid fever breaking out. These sewage pipes leak in the hot weather. The kids here are afraid of summer.</p><h2>“I won’t hide it. We hoped for a better future”</h2><p>Khvamli isn’t Tbilisi. When it comes to poor families in the regions like these, Georgia’s political parties do not usually win them over with “pro-western” credentials or talk of “Euro-Atlantic integration”. Rusudan isn’t planning on taking a short tourist trip to Europe after Georgia’s visa liberalisation agreement with the EU. Her concerns are in the here and now.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgian Dream’s promises were grand, and they were many. That was the appeal</p><p>I hadn’t even mentioned politics before Kordzaia began to curse the government. He sees no point in voting. As if to illustrate the point, Kordzaia took me to meet Dodo, who’s spent more than a decade living alone here in Khvamli on her pension. Dodo, a refugee from Abkhazia, can barely walk or talk.</p><p>“Look at her! Her family’s forgotten about her, and the government doesn’t care about her. What kind of life is that?” asks Kordzaia.</p><p>Rusudan and Shorena did vote. In fact, they “confess” in 2012 they voted for the ruling Georgian Dream coalition.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TinaTserovani.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TinaTserovani.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“They always tell us whom to vote for, but no, sir, not this time” says Tina, 70, from Tserovani.</span></span></span>“I won’t hide it. We hoped for a better future,” says Rusudan. “Saakashvili failed to do anything for us, so we hoped that Ivansihvili would do better.”</p><p>Georgian Dream’s promises were grand, and they were many. That was the appeal. Poor Georgians from small villages in the south, from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/life-slows-down-in-chiatura" target="_blank">mining town of Chiatura</a> or refugee camps, like Rusudan, began to have hope.</p><p>“Don’t get me wrong. I never expected someone knocking on my door and giving me money. No, I thought he would create jobs. Now they’re even shutting down some factories. Some of my relatives go to Turkey for occasional work on low-paid jobs.” </p><h2>A model town</h2><p>A week after visiting Khvamli, I arrived in Tserovani, north of the capital. It’s the main settlement for refugees from the Tskhinvali region, who make up 95% of its population. Their homes are now under control of separatist South Ossetia, and Tserovani’s inhabitants were resettled here after the Russo-Georgian war in 2008. The authorities had been better prepared; these cottages were constructed and designed specially for them. </p><p>Tserovani is just 30 minutes’ drive from Tbilisi. It’s an orderly place; about 800 small white cottages with scarlet roofs stand in parallel rows with small gardens in front. There are at three main factories, of which only two still work. </p><p>While Tserovani’s men occasionally get hired for part-time labour, a permanent job is quite rare here. Most IDPs scrape by either on their pension or allowance for socially vulnerable people.</p><p>It’s tough to keep warm in Tserovani. Gas bills are higher and harder to pay in winter, and there are no trees in the area which could be used for firewood. Nevertheless, Georgia’s government had promised to help pay for the residents’ heating.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tserovani.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tserovani.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tserovani IDP camp, just 30 minutes’ drive from Tbilisi, has home to refugees from South Ossetia since 2008.</span></span></span><span>Unpaid bills have meant that scores of residents have had their gas cut off. On 5 April, roughly 20 refugees from Tserovani held a picket outside the Ministry of Justice in Tbilisi over the issue.</span></p><p>It was a poor turnout. Rusudan Gigauri, a refugee from the Tskhinvali region, told me that some couldn’t afford to travel to the capital. Others were afraid that their allowance would be cut if they were seen protesting, sometimes a fear among Georgia’s poorer citizens.</p><p>Rusudan explained that under the previous government, refugees used to receive vouchers for gas and electricity bills in winter. When their bills increased, Georgian Dream promised that they would “forgive” the new expenses.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The elderly have given up, and go with the flow of fate. Younger IDPs, many of whom have never seen their parents’ homelands, try to move into the cities</p><p>Nothing of the sort happened. Rusudan, for example, was faced with a debt of 1,200 Lari (£370). She withdrew five months’ worth of her monthly allowance of 45 Lari (£14) and covered part of the bill. The rest was covered with a bank loan. These days, paying it back requires all her allowance.</p><p>During their protest, the Tserovani refugees presented a list of Georgian Dream’s broken promises. Solve them, they told the government, and we’ll vote for you again.</p><p>“We were mad at the last government,” remarked protester Marekhi Akhlouri, “so we thought Bidzina [Ivanishvili] would change our world. Now things are even worse.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tserovani_protest2.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tserovani_protest2.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tserovani villagers protest rising gas bills and broken promises outside the justice ministry in Tbilisi, April 2016.</span></span></span><span>The protest was fruitless. Minister of energy Kakhi Kaladze denied that the government ever promised to waiver or assist with the villagers’ gas bills, and passed the buck on to the ministry of refugees.</span></p><p>Tina, the oldest of the protesters at 70, had simply given up. “I never listen to anyone,” she began. “They always tell us whom to vote for, but no, sir, not this time.”</p><h2>The exiles’ election</h2><p>Georgia’s recent governments, whether UNM or Georgian Dream, have failed the IDPs of Hotel Khvamli and Tserovani. Particularly for refugees from Abkhazia, returning home is an daily dream, but today’s worries are a priority. They have to deal with bills or make sure their children get a good education. </p><p>The elderly have given up, and go with the flow of fate. The younger generation of IDPs, many of whom have never seen their parents’ homelands, try to move into the cities, or even dream of studying abroad. </p><p>In recent years territorial integrity (that is, retaking Abkhazia and South Ossetia) consistently featured among top three pressing issues for Georgians in opinion polls for NDI. The issue took second place before 2011 and before 2015 – third. This year, just 23% of Georgians think that territorial integrity is the most important national issue, and it now comes <a href="https://www.ndi.org/files/NDI%20Georgia_March%202016%20poll_Public%20Issues_ENG_vf.pdf" target="_blank">in fifth place</a>. Jobs, pensions, and price hikes are considered more important.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tserovani_protest.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tserovani_protest.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Face-to-face with the authorities. Tserovani villagers’ protest, Tbilisi, April 2016.</span></span></span><span>Voters on 8 October have a more diverse choice than ever before. There are almost 200 parties registered throughout Georgia, and to top it off, the five parties of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition have decided to run separately.</span></p><p>It’s not that refugees don’t organise themselves. Last May, <em>Devnilta Partia</em> (Georgian: “the refugees’ party”) was founded by <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/interviu/366057-lela-guledani-satciroa-droulad-mokhdes-qveyanashi-arsebuli-resursebis-shestsavla-da-mathi-efeqturad-gamoyeneba.html" target="_blank">IDP activist Lela Guledani</a> on a platform defending the community’s interests, and was the first of its kind in the country. It held a number of protests and press conferences in the first months, but as Guledani herself admitted, only IDPs living in and around Tbilisi were able to attend. Unfortunately, Guledani and her colleagues were <a href="http://news.ge/ge/mobile/story/162139-mashin-tqven-batono-ministro-multimilioneri-yofilkhart-devnilta-partia-ltolvilta-ministrs-akritikebs" target="_blank">barely able to campaign</a> or build support in places like Kutaisi or areas near Abkhazia where many IDPs live. Devnilta has since faded into irrelevance, and it’s not even clear if Guledani plans to run in elections this October.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This year, just 23% of Georgians think that territorial integrity is the most important national issue</p><p>Georgia’s displaced people have other political organisations, too. <em>Ap’khazta Kreba</em>, or the Assembly of Abkhazians, was founded in September 2014 to unite the 30 or so small unions of refugees from the breakaway region. Led by lawyer and IDP activist Malkhaz Pataraia, it’s probably the most active.</p><p>Ap’khazta Kreba was out in force on Georgian Language Day on 14 April, protesting the Abkhazian de-facto government’s <a href="http://dfwatch.net/georgian-no-longer-teaching-language-in-gali-abkhazia-41844" target="_blank">ban on Georgian-language teaching</a> in the Gali region. The majority of people in Gali, Abkhazia’s southernmost region, are ethnic Georgians, many from the Mingrelian sub-ethnicity.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sokhumi.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sokhumi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="157" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The long road home. Road sign outside Tbilisi indicating the way to Sukhumi, capital of Abkhazia. Photo CC: Tsov / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Apkhazta Kreba is perceived as pro-UNM. Its members are often seen at UNM-organised rallies, such as during the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/armine-sahakyan/how-georgias-public-foile_b_9432634.html" target="_blank">protests</a> against the Georgian government’s business with Russian state gas firm Gazprom in early March. Last June, the movement even held a joint press conference with the opposition party, making a vague promise to found a new organisation for IDPs.</p><p>As members of Apkhazta Kreba distributed flyers and put up posters across Tbilisi to advertise the meeting, a UNM member of parliament <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/332603-shotha-malashkhia-qnacionaluri-modzraobaq-qafkhaztha-krebasthanq-erthad-devnilebis-mdzlavri-modzraobis-chamoyalibebas-gegmavs.html?ar=A" target="_blank">urged them</a> to stick posters on the glass palace owned by “you know who”. Of course, everybody knows who: <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/01/bidzina-ivanishvili-profile-georgia" target="_blank">Bidzina Ivanishvili</a>’s residence overlooking Tbilisi is seen as the clearest symbol of his role in the country’s politics. It’s a role which some would like to end once and for all.</p><p>Unlike IDP’s hopes for a return to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that may not be such a distant dream. In the <a href="https://www.ndi.org/files/NDI%20Georgia_March%202016%20poll_Public%20Political_ENG_vf.pdf" target="_blank">last opinion poll</a> conducted before Georgia’s parties are to declare their electoral platforms, only 15% said they would vote for Georgian Dream if the election was held tomorrow. Meanwhile, 13% said they would vote for the UNM and 6% for the Free Democrats, a party which left the GD coalition in late 2014.More tellingly, 38% did not know who they would vote for, and 6%, like Archil Kordzaia, would not vote for anyone. </p><p>Georgia’s voters, whether IDPs or not, are greatly disillusioned. It’s hard to tell what party can inspire them once again.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>With a resolution of the disputes over Abkhazia and South Ossetia a distant prospect, Georgia’s displaced people can only hope to build another home away from home – whoever is in power.<br /><br /><em>All photos courtesy of the author (except for Sukhumi road sign, Tsov/Wikimedia Commons). </em></p><p><em>openDemocracy front page photo: Tserovani IDP settlement, home to refugees from South Ossetia since 2008. Credit: International Crisis Group</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia">Karabakh: the view from Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/life-slows-down-in-chiatura">Life slows down in Chiatura</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/islam-tekushev/unlikely-home">An unlikely home</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/south-ossetia%27s-creeping-border">South Ossetia&#039;s creeping border</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mari Nikuradze Migration matters South Ossetia Politics Human rights Georgia Conflict Caucasus Abkhazia Fri, 29 Apr 2016 15:17:08 +0000 Mari Nikuradze 101740 at https://www.opendemocracy.net An unlikely home https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/islam-tekushev/unlikely-home <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/repatriates_choir_abkh.png" alt="" width="160" />Abkhazia may not be the first port of call for Syrian refugees, but historical ties link this unrecognised state on the Black Sea coast to the epicentre of conflict.&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/islam-tekushev/rodina-tam-gde-ne-zhdali" target="_blank"><em><strong>Русский</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>Abkhazia may be an unlikely home for Syrian refugees in the South Caucasus, but since war broke out, this small de-facto state on the Black Sea, considered by most states to be Georgian territory, has welcomed a few hundred refugees fleeing the conflict.</span></p><p>The Abkhazian authorities’ decision to accept these refugees was not one made at random. Abkhazia’s Syrian refugees are descendants of the Mukhadjirs—ethnic Abkhaz and the closely related Circassian people who were expelled from their ancestral homelands in the north-west Caucasus following the Russian Empire’s conquest of the region in the wars of the nineteenth century.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/69153.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/69153.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former parliament building in Sukhumi, shelled during the War in Abkhazia (1992-93). Abkhazia remains largely unrecognised, and is dependent on Russia for economic and political support. Photo (c): Darko Duridanski / Demotix, 2008.</span></span></span><span>Although the majority of them are indeed refugees by any definition of the word, in Abkhazia itself they are referred to as ‘repatriates’. This is connected with the fact that Syrian refugees—500 of whom arrived in Abkhazia following the outbreak of war—migrated here under the auspices of the de-facto government’s repatriation programme, which has operated in Abkhazia since 1993.</span></p><h2>Tilting the balance</h2><p><span>There are no precise figures for the number of ethnic Abkhaz, and closely related Abazins, in Syria. Ethnic Abkhaz arrived in Syria in 1967, in the aftermath of the Six Day War. Following Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, Abkhaz and Circassians, who were living in the settlement of Hassaniya, fled the region to the safety of Damascus and its suburbs.<br /></span></p><p><span>According to estimates given by the Damascus Circassian community before the outbreak of conflict, approximately 1,500 Abkhaz lived in various districts of the capital alone, alongside the much more numerous Circassian community (50,000-70,000). A local contact, who I do not name to protect his identity, estimates that only a few hundred Abkhaz remain in Syria today.</span></p><p>After the escalation of the crisis in Syria in 2012, the de-facto Abkhazian authorities—with the help of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Circassian diaspora—created a corridor for Syrian mukhadjirs. According to the Abkhazian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the largest influx of Syrians came in 2012 when some 186 refugees arrived in Abkhazia, and the State Repatriation Committee has become main government organ responsible for the acceptance and housing of refugees. </p><p>This is no coincidence. With a growing Armenian community in this de-facto state, the Abkhaz, who have often been in the minority on their territory, could find themselves increasingly&nbsp;<span>‘squeezed</span><span>’</span><span>. The main goal of the committee is to tilt the demographic balance in Abkhazia in favour of the titular nation.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hadji-bek interview.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hadji-bek interview.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hadji Bek (pseudonym), an ethnic Abkhaz repatriate from Syria, tells his story in an interview at the de-facto foreign ministry of Abkhazia. Video still via YouTube.</span></span></span><span></span><span>Although the de-facto government’s official census data from 2011 put the Armenian community at 41,000 compared to 122,000 Abkhaz, unofficial estimates believe that the two communities are roughly equal in number. The State Repatriation Committee may also—among other powers—extend financial aid to repatriates, arrange accommodation and grant them citizenship. So far, this programme has seen up to 7,000 ethnic Abkhaz and Abazins from Jordan, Turkey and other countries receive Abkhazian citizenship. In 2013 alone, some 40 million rubles (£384,000) from the national budget were spent on refugees—an enormous sum by local standards.</span></p><p><span>Nevertheless, despite the long-awaited return of these compatriots, the attractiveness of Abkhazia to the Abkhaz and Circassian diaspora is quite another question. Settling in has proved a challenge. According to the State Committee, around 520 Syrians have settled in Abkhazia, of whom only 180 are ethnic Abkhaz, the rest being Circassians. Of these, only 390 chose Abkhazia as a permanent place of residence, while the rest have since returned to Syria or resettled in other countries. Many of those who remain likewise do not connect their future with Abkhazia.<br /></span><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Around 520 Syrians have settled in Abkhazia, of whom only 180 are ethnic Abkhaz.</span></p><p>The main reason is the language barrier, which reduces repatriates’ chances of finding work. The Abkhaz language presents a real problem for Arabic or Turkish-speaking Abkhazians, particularly older repatriates. Results from a questionnaire carried out in 2015 by the Abkhazian presidential Center for Sociological Research found that among 1,000 respondents from Turkey and other countries with Abkhaz populations, only 77 declared that they spoke the Abkhaz language. </p><p>Nothing can be said about their Russian language knowledge. Many ethnic Abazin repatriates to Abkhazia know the Circassian language as a result of their having lived among the Kabardin people (a Circassian group), whose language is more widely spoken in communities across the Middle East.</p><h2>‘I bought myself a ticket and left for Krasnodar’</h2><p>Religious differences are also a barrier to integration. The majority of Abkhaz and Circassian refugees from Syria are Sunni Muslims. Most Abkhaz in Abkhazia, by contrast, are Orthodox Christians. For this reason, many Syrian Circassians have left for Russia’s North Caucasus, which shares more cultural similarities.</p><p>Nauryz Abas and his family is a particularly good example. Many years ago, when Syria was still at peace, Abas left his family there and moved to Krasnodar in southern Russia.</p><p>‘I was a soldier. My father also served his whole life in the Syrian army. When the opportunity came in 1999, I bought myself a ticket and left for Krasnodar,’ says Nauryz. ‘My ancestors were Circassians, from the area where the city of Tuapse now stands. Following the Caucasian war in the 19th century, they fled to Constantinople and then turned up in the suburbs of Damascus, before Syria, in its current form, even existed.’</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/repatriates_choir_abkh.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/repatriates_choir_abkh.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="282" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Abkhaz repatriates from Syria sing in a choir at a Sukhumi cultural festival, 2014. Ruslan Yeniq, video still via YouTube.</span></span></span><span>Nauryz Abas considers himself a Circassian, and works as a builder. His ancestors spoke the Shapshug dialect of Circassian — much closer to the Abkhaz language than to Kabardian. However, Nauryz himself speaks Kabardian, as he grew up in a Kabardin community.</span></p><p>‘When the war in Syria began, my family, my wife and two daughters of 12 and 14 years, came under threat,’ continues Nauryz. ‘In 2013, I was able to bring them to Abkhazia, where they lived with an Abkhaz family. I worked alone in Nalchik [ed. in Kabardino-Balkaria, Russia] in construction for several months, after which they joined me.’</p><p>Nauryz has complained of problems with bureaucracy while in Russia. ‘Officially, I am not a refugee as such. I have no citizenship whatsoever. I lost my passport, and couldn't replace it as there is war in Syria. My family came here on tourist visas, which they received in Damascus upon invitation. And now they need to renew them. Abkhazia still hasn’t given us citizenship; they require a number a documents which we do not have, and cannot bring back from Syria due to the ongoing war,’ says Nauryz.</p><p>‘In Abkhazia it was difficult to find work, and even tougher to settle down. As I've worked in Kabardino-Balkaria for many years, where I have a lot of friends, I decided to move my family here. It’s tough. I am the only one of us who works. But we somehow manage to survive, praise God,’ he concluded.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">‘In Abkhazia it was difficult to find work, and even tougher to settle down’</p><p>Another factor determining Nauryz’s decision—about which he remained silent—was his religion. Nauryz and his family are practicing Muslims. His daughters both wear the hijab.&nbsp;<span>Although people in Abkhazia prefer not to openly discuss their religious convictions, there have been problems living alongside Muslim Mukhadjirs.</span></p><p>Abkhazia’s Muslim community is composed of three groups: local Abkhaz Muslims, members of diaspora communities from Jordan, Syria and Turkey residing in Abkhazia and representatives of ethnic groups from the North Caucasus (Abazins, Adyghes, Circassians and Kabardins).</p><p>According to data from various organisations, including results from sociological surveys, Muslims make up just over 10 per cent of Abkhazia’s population. Unlike in the North Caucasus, there are no extremist groups here, though Salafism tried to take root in the early 2000s. However, following the murders of several community leaders, the spread of Salafism receded. The Abkhaz people are quite tolerant towards other confessions, but Islam has not been widely accepted here.</p><h2>Silent work</h2><p>This is Mustafa Alo’s second year living in Sukhumi with his 12-year old daughter and 7-year old son. Mustafa and his wife are ethnic Abazins, and repatriates from Syria. Mustafa’s children attend a secondary school in Sukhumi. His family, just like his parents, are practicing Sunni Muslims.<br />&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sukhumi_mosque_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sukhumi_mosque_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mosque in Sukhumi, Abkhazia. Muslims are believed to make up just over 10 per cent of the de-facto state's population. Photo CC: Alaexis, 2007</span></span></span><span>‘The main problem for me is finding a job in my field. I’m a civil engineer, and in Syria I worked as the head of construction at a major firm which oversaw construction projects for the ministry of internal affairs,’ says Mustafa.</span></p><p>‘My wife is a doctor, but she can't even find work as a nurse, since we have no documents to prove our qualifications. We don't even know the language well. We’ve barely begun to speak Russian,’ wrote Mustafa.</p><p>In Mustafa’s words, after he and his family received a visa and were able to move to Russia, they immediately crossed over to Abkhazia, where the State Repatriation Committee was able to help them. ‘For some time we lived with other repatriates in a sanatorium, and were then provided with a house in Gudauta,’ he tells me.</p><p>‘I now work as a builder,’ continues Mustafa, ‘renovating apartments together with another young guy from Syria who studies here at the Abkhaz State University. In summer, the money isn’t bad, but as soon as winter comes we're in trouble. There are no orders, and it's very difficult to survive just on welfare.’</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Disputes have arisen around the amount of welfare payments for the poor and for repatriates. The monthly allowance for repatriates in Abkhazia stands at 10,000 roubles (£93.38), which equates to the average Abkhazian’s monthly salary</p><p>In 2015, an economic downturn added to the many woes already facing migrants and repatriates. Against the backdrop of reduced payments by Russia to Abkhazia, the de-facto government slashed pensions and welfare, which could only have an impact on internal politics.</p><p>Disputes have arisen around the amount of welfare payments for the poor and for repatriates. The monthly allowance for repatriates in Abkhazia stands at 10,000 roubles (£93.38), which equates to the average Abkhazian’s monthly salary. Likewise, the internal political crisis, which led to a change in the de-facto state’s elite in May 2014, has reduced the ability of the Abkhazian authorities to respond to repatriates’ needs.</p><h2>Foreign factors</h2><p>The ‘Russian factor’ also has a significant influence on the situation facing the Abkhaz and Circassian diaspora abroad. The curtailing of Russian state funds to Abkhazia, which had literally become a tool for blackmailing the Abkhazian elite, led to cutbacks in financing in all spheres. Social welfare is no longer indexed, and there also delays in payments.</p><p>Moreover, given that Circassians in Syria are also fighting with the opposition, several Russian embassies have ceased issuing visas to Syrian Circassians. Among their number are also Abazins, the closest Circassian group to the Abkhaz. Consequently, an exit route from Syria for repatriates is now closed.</p><p>The dispute between Russia and Turkey, which has already led to Moscow levelling sanctions at its southern neighbour, could become yet another threat to Abkhazia’s repatriates. Abkhazia, having positioned itself as a strategic partner, is caught between a rock and a hard place. The first blow from these sanctions—should Abkhazia choose to implement them across its territory—will hit the diaspora.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/256741.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/256741.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bringing in the tangerine harvest. These fruit will be sold in Russian markets, one of Abkhazia's few exports. Repatriates, much like local residents, have few economic prospects. Photo: (c) Ocean Lake / Demotix, 2009</span></span></span><span>Soner Gogua, a repatriate from Turkey living in Abkhazia and head of the Apsny fund, voiced his concern on the issue in late November. In his words, the visa regime introduced by Russia for Turkish citizens is having an effect on Turkish businessmen, including ethnic Abkhaz repatriates from Turkey.</span></p><p>The Russo-Turkish wars of the nineteenth century became a reason for the deportation of a significant number of Abkhaz and Circassians to the Ottoman Empire. Today, around 100,000 ethnic Abkhaz live in Turkey. Around 8,000-10,000 Abkhaz live in Syria according to data from the human rights centre Memorial. Among their number are representatives of Abkhaz clans such as Amarshan, Agrba, Kudzhba, Maan, Chichba, Kaytan and others.</p><p>As Gogua says, they are only able to reach Abkhazia through Russian transport hubs, like the airport at nearby Sochi. If, in the immediate future, Russia limits the movement of Turkish vessels through the Black Sea, then Abkhazia’s economy will suffer. After Russia, Turkey is a key investor in Abkhazia.</p><p>In Abkhazia itself, the matter is one of heated debate, and one which—the majority believe—could lead to a loss of ties with the diaspora. A diaspora to which Abkhazia has tied its future.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/circassians-come-home">The Circassians come home</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia">A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikayel-zolyan/refugees-or-repatriates-syrian-armenians-return-to-armenia">Refugees or repatriates? Syrian Armenians return to Armenia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/darina-shevchenko/%E2%80%98-convention-on-refugees-rescind-it-or-carry-it-out%E2%80%99">‘The convention on refugees: rescind it or carry it out’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Islam Tekushev Migration matters Georgia Conflict Caucasus Abkhazia Tue, 05 Jan 2016 10:09:27 +0000 Islam Tekushev 98872 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/%20040.jpg" alt="" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /></p><p>The Russian authorities’ attitude to refugees fleeing ISIS falls short of the compassion these people deserve.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Last week, Russian migration authorities accepted an application for asylum from a Kurdish family—husband, wife and four children ages three to 13—who had fled from Iraq earlier this fall. The officials issued the family documents identifying them as asylum seekers and transferred them to a temporary accommodation center a few hours’ drive from Moscow. But these actions followed a shameful nightmare: <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34657582">the family had been stuck for more than two months at Moscow’s main airport</a>, living in a glass cubicle, formerly a smoking lounge, surviving on charity from sympathetic passengers.</p><p>Khassan Akhmed Abdo and his wife Gulistan Issa Shakho had lived in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. This past summer, with ISIS attacks in the area and Kurdish authorities arresting ISIS recruiters in Erbil and environs, they resolved to flee to Russia. </p><p>‘We decided to go to Russia to save our children from the war,’ Gulistan explained to a Russian court, after the family were tried on charges of attempted illegal border crossing, a criminal offense. Why Russia? Because Gulistan’s sister lives here and is eager to host the family. </p><p>The family arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on 10 September. They had Syrian passports, Khassan being of Syrian origin, and were traveling on tourist visas. The border guards at passport control became suspicious because of the number of luggage stickers on their boarding passes—too many for your ordinary tourists on a three-week visit.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/214025_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A husband, wife and four children spent two months in Moscow's Sheremetevo airport waiting to apply for asylum. (c) Anton Belitsky / Demotix. </span></span></span><span>The family got stuck in the transit terminal, and a criminal investigation was opened into their alleged ‘attempted illegal border crossing’. On 30 October, Russia’s Federal Migration Service refused to consider the asylum application they had filed at the airport, citing the criminal charges against them and indicating they could not re-apply until the end of their court proceedings.</span></p><p>On 14 November, a court fined the husband and wife 5,000 roubles each for ‘attempted illegal crossing” of the Russian border. This amounts to approximately $155, or 146 euros. You may think that’s nothing, but for these prisoners of the airport, with its extortionate prices for food and water, the fine was prohibitive. </p><p>More importantly, though, they should not have been on trial in the first place, as both Russian and international refugee law protect asylum seekers from being prosecuted for illegal border crossing. But that did not stop Russian authorities from initiating criminal proceedings, nor the court from finding the couple guilty and slapping them with a fine.</p><p class="mag-quote-right">when international solidarity to protect Syrian and Iraqi refugees is of critical importance, Russia has not pulled its weight</p><p>This outcome prompted an immediate media outcry. The Civic Assistance Committee, <a href="http://refugee.ru/en/about-organization/">a leading Russian group working to protect migrants' rights</a>, met with the migration authorities and urged them to finally accept the family’s application and end their degrading and unnecessary confinement. The media attention possibly helped make up the authorities’ minds. </p><p>On the evening of 20 November, migration officials arrived at the airport, had the family re-submit their asylum application, and sent them on to the temporary accommodation center, where they now have beds to sleep on, not to mention a shower and fresh air. </p><p>This is a happy ending—although the outcome of their asylum claim is, as yet, undecided. However, one cannot help but ask why that pointless two-month ordeal and the absurd court case had to happen. </p><p>Russia claims its airstrikes in Syria are to save its people and the world from ISIS. At the same time, the government effectively punished this family of asylum seekers, who fled because they feared ISIS, with the indignity of living in the transit zone of a busy airport with neither proper washing facilities nor normal food, deprived of even a semblance of privacy, and totally dependent on the kindness of strangers. </p><p>In fact, at a time when international solidarity to protect Syrian and Iraqi refugees is of critical importance, Russia has not pulled its weight. It has offered no refugee resettlement places in response to the UN Refugee Agency’s appeals and has contributed little more than token donations to sustain four million Syrian refugees in the region in response to UN humanitarian appeals. </p><p>That it brought charges of illegal entry against a family fleeing the region, subjected them to a humiliating ordeal, and only grudgingly considered their refugee claims suggests that Russia still has a long way to go in responsibly addressing the humanitarian disaster to which its policies have, in part, contributed.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/darina-shevchenko/%E2%80%98-convention-on-refugees-rescind-it-or-carry-it-out%E2%80%99">‘The convention on refugees: rescind it or carry it out’</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikayel-zolyan/refugees-or-repatriates-syrian-armenians-return-to-armenia">Refugees or repatriates? Syrian Armenians return to Armenia </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">Warped mirror: how Russian media covers Europe’s refugee crisis </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/dmitry-okrest/ukrainian-refugees-in-moscow-face-uncertain-fate">Ukrainian refugees in Russia receive a mixed welcome</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Migration matters Russia Mon, 30 Nov 2015 08:52:20 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 98014 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Refugees or repatriates? Syrian Armenians return to Armenia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikayel-zolyan/refugees-or-repatriates-syrian-armenians-return-to-armenia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/220px-Yerevan_Ararat_by_Nerses.jpg" alt="11069552133_a01b475e54_z.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Armenians have lived in Syria for centuries. Following the outbreak of war, many have been seeking refuge in Armenia.<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%85%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BB-%D0%B7%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8F%D0%BD/%D0%B1%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%86%D1%8B-%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%B8-%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BF%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8B-c%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B9%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BC%D1%8F%D0%BD%D0%B5-%D0%B2-%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B8"> на русском языке</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Not long ago, at a session of the UN General Assembly, Armenia's president Serzh Sargsyan declared that in the past few years Armenia has accepted 16,000 refugees from Syria. In his opinion, this makes Armenia one of Europe's leading countries in number of refugees accepted. </p><p>According to UNHCR estimates, Armenia currently hosts some 3,238 officially registered refugees, along with 12,450 'people in a refugee-like situation'—all of them from Syria. This second category refers to the majority of Syrian Armenians who, upon arriving in Armenia, prefer not to apply for refugee status, but instead apply for either Armenian citizenship or a 10-year residence permit. Both of these are rights extended by Armenian law to foreign citizens of Armenian descent. </p><p>In contrast to other European countries, the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees in Armenia are ethnic Armenians. But be that as it may, 15,000 refugees is not an insignificant number for a country with a population of three million and a GDP of $3,500 per capita. </p><h2>A difficult road </h2><p>Until the beginning of the civil war in Syria, the country's Armenian community, by various estimates, numbered between 80,000 to 100,000. Sako Arian, editor of the Arevelq website dedicated to issues in the Middle East, believes that the community actually numbered some 60,000 to 70,000 Armenians, as their number in Syria had slowly been declining since the 1970s.</p><p class="mag-quote-right">According to UNHCR estimates, Armenia currently hosts some 3,238 officially registered refugees.</p><p>Of course, not all Syrian Armenians fleeing the conflict have settled in Armenia. In Arian's words, many have left for Lebanon (around 15,000), Jordan (2,000) and western states (around 8,000). </p><p>In order to reach Armenia, Syrian Armenians have had to undertake a long journey through Turkey and—given the closure of the Armenian-Turkish border—through Georgia. </p><p>Those who have the money depart for Lebanon and fly to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, via Beirut. Others remain in Lebanon, which has a large and well-established Armenian community.</p><p><span>As Harout Ekmanian, a Syrian-Armenian journalist from Aleppo, says, the difficult journey to Armenia and the country's low living standards are reasons why Syrians heading to Yerevan are almost exclusively ethnic Armenians.</span></p><p>Besides, if ethnic Armenians benefit from preferential treatment in receiving residence permits and Armenian citizenship, then other Syrians are faced with the complicated procedure of applying for refugee status. Syrian refugees in Armenia who are not of Armenian descent are generally few in number, and often from mixed families.</p><h2>The fate of the Armenian community in Syria </h2><p>The Armenians of Syria, although never the most numerous community, occupy a very special place in the Armenian diaspora. Alongside the Armenians in Lebanon, Syria was home to one&nbsp;<span>of the oldest Armenian communities in the world and played an important cultural role. </span></p><p><span>Armenians have lived in Syria long before the genocide of 1915. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians appeared on the territory of modern Syria in 1915 after the Turkish state deported Armenians to camps in the desert near the Syrian town of Deir-ez-Zor, where they were condemned to a slow death of hunger and disease. Of those who managed to survive, many settled in Syria. The most numerous Armenian community was in Aleppo, but many Armenians lived in other cities across Syria—in Damascus, Homs, Latakia and Qamishli.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/1024px-Yerevan_Ararat_by_Nerses.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/1024px-Yerevan_Ararat_by_Nerses.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yerevan, capital of the Republic of Armenia, in the shadow of Mount Ararat. Photo (CC): Nerses</span></span></span><span>Today, there is no reliable data on the number of Armenians who still live in Syria. According to Harout Ekmanian, his sources in Syria indicate around 5,000 families, but it should be noted that this includes some families whose members have already settled in Armenia. </span></p><p><span>By Sako Arian's estimation, around 15,000 Armenians remain in Syria. Many live in Aleppo, where the Armenian quarter has become a kind of fortress—the local Armenian youth have formed a militia for its defence. In Ekmanian's words, on the basis of information about the number of students in Aleppo's Armenian schools, it can be concluded that there are around 7,000 to 8,000 Armenians in the city. Arian estimates 8,000 to 10,000.</span></p><p><span>Apart from Aleppo, on the whole, Armenians remain in Damascus and the coastal region, in the cities of Latakia and Tartus, controlled at present by government forces. Ekmanian states that many Armenians have resettled in these cities from regions badly hit by conflict, and are in general those who could not afford to travel to Armenia. </span></p><p><span>To the north east, Armenians live in the city of Qamishli in Syria's Kurdish region, but their number has greatly decreased. Arian says that Kurds are loyal to their friendship with the Armenian and with other Christian communities. The Armenian quarter has been preserved, and is defended by an Armenian militia that cooperates with the Kurdish self-defence forces. </span></p><p><span>There is also the Armenian settlement of Kessab, not far from the Turkish border. In 2014, divisions of the opposition forces supported by Turkey briefly occupied Kessab, and the majority of the town's Armenians fled. Some then returned after Kessab was retaken by government forces. Perhaps most surprisingly, several Armenian families remained until very recently in Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State. These people survived by repairing cars belonging to Islamic State fighters—Armenians in Syria have traditionally been seen as the best car mechanics. According to the latest data, the last Armenians in Raqqa fled the city following the beginning of the Russian bombing campaign. </span></p><p><span>On the whole, the Armenians of Syria—much like other minorities—felt relatively comfortable under the Assad regime. Armenians in the Middle East, says Ekmanian, usually preferred stability to any significant changes, and their community in Syria was no exception. Nevertheless, when demonstrations against the Assad regime began, some Armenians supported the dissidents and opposition. </span></p><p><span>The majority of Armenians—fearing religious extremism amongst the Sunni Muslim majority—see in the Assad regime if not their defender, then at least the lesser of two evils. Be that as it may, most Syrian Armenians realise that the Syria they fled has changed irreversibly. </span></p><h2><span>Problems of integration </span></h2><p><span>Traditionally, the Armenian community in Syria was relatively prosperous. Many Armenians worked as doctors and engineers, and many more owned their own businesses. When the war broke out, those who had means to make a living found themselves at the mercy of various&nbsp;</span><span>armed groups. Fighters, or simply bandits, came from all sides and simply attacked more affluent houses, taking people’s business and hostages for ransom. </span></p><p><span>Hagop, 26, says that his family used to own a small shoe factory, a good business, before the war. ‘One day, some strangers phoned my father and said “we have seized your factory – give us $300,000, or we'll raze it to the ground.” We didn't have that kid of money, and besides, my father understood that if he met them, he could be taken as a hostage himself. “Well, go on and burn it down,” my father told them. On the very next day he left for Lebanon, and from there to Armenia... I had already visited Armenia with my family.’ </span></p><p><span>Many Syrian-Armenian families are a lot less lucky.</span><span>Many of their homes have been destroyed in the fighting. Some have been able to keep hold of all their property, while others have sunk deeper into debt, in order to pay ransom money for their relatives. If we add this to the large amount of money needed to reach Armenia, then it is clear that for the majority of Syria Armenians, their former prosperity has taken a hit.</span></p><p><span>In any case, Armenia itself has enough problems. The country has a high level of unemployment, with hundreds of thousands of Armenian labour migrants looking for work abroad, generally in Russia. The economy, which has not recovered since 2008, is facing new challenges connected with the current economic situation in Russia. The closed border with Turkey and the danger of renewed hostilities with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh do not give Armenia's residents any further cause for optimism. Given the inefficient and corrupt public officials typical of post-Soviet states, Syrian Armenians are not faced with an easy situation in their historic homeland.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/12166357_10153769176054665_465007064_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/12166357_10153769176054665_465007064_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Syrian-Armenian cafe in Yerevan. Photo (c) Maxim Edwards</span></span></span><span>Sako Arian believes that, taking into account these very real difficulties, the very fact that Armenia has accepted refugees should be seen positively. Harout Ekmanian takes a more critical line on the Armenian authorities' approach towards helping refugees. For Ekmanian, government organs have been more concerned with PR efforts and grandiose statements than practical, functioning programmes.</span></span></p><p><span>One such example raised by Ekmanian – which turned out to be a complete fiasco – was the widely publicised Nor Haleb ('New Aleppo') project. This project proposed to build a housing complex specifically for Syrian Armenians in the town of Ashtarak, not far from Yerevan. In this sense, the project was supposed not only to solve the housing problem, but to recreate the atmosphere of the Armenian quarter of Aleppo for the resettled refugees. </span></p><p><span>However, as the programme progressed it became clear that the Armenian government did not have the necessary resources to complete it, and New Aleppo became a commercial development. It turned out that only people with independent means could buy an apartment for themselves in the complex. The few Syrian-Armenians who could afford to do so had no interest in New Aleppo, given that for roughly the same sum they could have bought themselves an apartment in Yerevan.</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">&nbsp;Only a few dozen Syrian Armenians have settled in Nagorno Karabakh.</span></p><p><span>Sarkis Balkhian, representative of the Aleppo charity, had doubts about the project for a different reason. After all, even if the project did turn out to be feasible, it would facilitate isolation, rather than integration, of Syrian Armenians. </span></p><p><span>Armenians in Syria used to face the task of preserving their language, culture and identity, prompting a sense of isolation from wider Syrian society. In today's Armenia, Syrian Armenians no longer need to fight to preserve their culture and identity, but isolationist instincts still make themselves felt. For that reason, Balkhian believes that Armenia needs projects to facilitate the integration of&nbsp;</span><span>Syrian Armenians into society.</span></p><p><span>Outside Yerevan, another issue that has caused a lot of noise is the resettlement of Syrian Armenians in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh and adjacent areas, which are considered to have been 'liberated' in Armenia, but internationally recognised as the territory of Azerbaijan. </span></p><p><span>As Ekmanian states, the flames of this story have been fanned by both sides: Armenian media outlets, especially those with a nationalist bent, praise the resettlement as a success story, while Azerbaijani media sees it as yet further evidence of Armenia's policies of occupation. </span></p><p><span>In reality, the number of Syrian Armenian resettling in the unrecognised Nagorno Karabakh Repubic is negligible: there simply is no 'grand plan' of mass resettlement to speak of. Both Arian and Ekmanian estimate that only a few dozen Syrian Armenians have settled in Nagorno Karabakh, and certainly no more than 100. In general, these people come from an agricultural background, and hail from rural regions of Syria such as Kessab and Qamishli. They worked the land in Syria and continue to do the same in Nagorno Karabakh. </span></p><p><span>Further resettlement of Syrian Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh is unlikely. The majority of Syrian Armenians are city dwellers, used to life in large cities such as Aleppo and Damascus. Attracting them to Nagorno Karabakh would be no mean feat. The authorities in Stepanakert and Yerevan now approach this question with great caution, wary of exacerbating an already tense situation. </span></p><h2><span>Help yourself: how Syrian Armenians are settling in </span></h2><p><span>Where the government does not have enough resources to help Syrian Armenians, NGOs and charitable organisations are stepping in. Among their number are organisations founded by Syrian Armenians themselves, such as the Aleppo charity (otherwise known as the Aleppo Compatriots' Charitable Organisation) and the Coordination Centre for Syrian Armenian Issues. </span></p><p><span>These organisations work with the Armenian authorities, helping in their own way to build a bridge between the government and the Syrian Armenian community. They are generally financed by Armenian communities from North America and western Europe, thanks to whom they are able to provide refugees with accommodation and the most urgently needed essentials.</span></p><p><span>Those who are able to start a business are helped by the Support Centre for Small and Medium Businesses, a government organisation which provides small loans on preferential terms. The money is not a lot, but it's enough to start a business. These are usually for the owners of small restaurants, street food vendors, car mechanics or hairdressers. Most often the owner and their relatives run these businesses, which are not hugely profitable but allow them to survive. Public universities provide discounts to students from Syrian Armenian refugee families, which are mostly covered by the charitable organisations.</span></p><p><span>In the window of a Yerevan hairdresser's salon hangs a sign reading 'Syrian Armenians work here'. This is a method of attracting customers—Yerevan residents have already formed a positive impression of Syrian Armenians, believing them to be reliable and highly skilled workers. </span></p><p><span>Syrian food has become particularly popular. Over the past couple of years, tens of small establishments have opened across Yerevan bearing names unexpected for the city – 'Abu&nbsp;</span><span>Akob', 'Aleppo Lunches' or 'Pizza and Za'atar'. They offer an authentic atmosphere, and not only the hummus and falafel which have become so familiar, but more exotic Middle Eastern dishes. </span></p><p><span>Antranig, 20, is a student in Yerevan. The author met him in one of the city's Syrian cafes, where he has worked for two years. He recounts his journey from Syria, which began not long before his eighteenth birthday. Antranig was able to take one of the last direct flights from Aleppo to Yerevan. One week after his arrival in Yerevan, the flights stopped—militants had begun to shoot at civilian planes. Antranig’s immediate family remains in Aleppo. Antranig says that his family are relatively safe in Aleppo, as they live in the Armenian quarter under the protection of the Armenian self-defence brigades. He still worries for their safety – nobody can know what tomorrow will bring. 'In any case', says Antranig 'I see my future here in Armenia. When I arrived, I intended to study at university, but when by uncle opened this place I began to work here. Our little restaurant is right in the centre of town – all kinds come to us: local and Syrian Armenians, Europeans, Indians, Iranians, Arabs... We're glad to see all of them... I think I will earn a little here, and then go to study.' </span></p><p><span>Vruir Bilemdjian, 23, also left Syria after the civil war had just begun. 'By the time we departed, fighting had just reached the suburbs of Aleppo, we saw planes dropping bombs and would rush out onto the balcony to see what happened.' </span></p><p><span>Today Vruir is completing his studies at the Medical University in Yerevan, and would like to continue his studies with a postgraduate programme in Europe. 'I'm not planning on staying put in Europe' says Vruir, 'I'll be drawn back to Armenia. If the war is over by then, perhaps even to Syria. But I'm afraid that the war will not end any time soon.’</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/circassians-come-home">The Circassians come home</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/greg-forbes/armenia-and-eeu-point-of-no-return-for-yerevan">Armenia and the EEU: the point of no return for Yerevan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">The power of Electric Yerevan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/greg-forbes/another-day-another-conflict-russia-ukraine-and-syrian-civil-war">Another day, another conflict: Russia, Ukraine and the Syrian Civil War</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mikayel Zolyan Migration matters Conflict Caucasus Armenia Thu, 15 Oct 2015 10:36:50 +0000 Mikayel Zolyan 96866 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Migrant voices onstage in London https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/molly-flynn/migrant-voices-onstage-in-london <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/010%281%29.jpg" alt="" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>This month, London hosts a series of documentary performances on migration in eastern Europe.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div><p>Since the early 2000s, documentary performance practice has come to lead the theatre avant-garde across Russia and Eastern Europe. A form of performance that draws its material from current events and real life documents such as interviews, articles, and autobiographical narratives, documentary theatre is practiced around the globe. However, the genre’s investment in questioning notions of truth, identity, and the stability of historical narratives has made it a particularly generative creative practice in post-socialist countries.</p><p>Contemporary east European documentary theatre <a href="http://calvertjournal.com/articles/show/4769/lifes-a-stage-exploring-documentary-theatres-role-in-the-new-east">has come to constitute an important space for the speaking and witnessing of real-life testimonies</a>, ushering stories from the past, and those from the so-called ‘periphery’, directly into the here and now. As a rule, documentary theatre draws its narratives from found texts and interviews. Those who share the space with the performers of documentary theatre are transformed, in this way, into witnesses to the stories being told onstage.</p><p class="pullquote-right">The play is performed by untrained actors, who tell the stories of their friends and acquaintances.</p><p>In the upcoming series of documentary plays on migration and social inequality in Bulgaria, Russia, and the UK, London’s GRAD Gallery offers audiences a chance to witness the works of some of Eastern Europe’s leading documentary theatre artists. </p><p>In conjunction with the gallery’s multidisciplinary arts platform Peripheral Visions, a special project of the Sixth Moscow Biennale, GRAD <a href="http://www.grad-london.com/whatson/special/peripheral-visions/bloody-east-europeans/">will host three east European documentary plays between 9 October and 13 November</a>.</p><h2>Acts of testimony</h2><p>Moldyi teatr’s musical satire&nbsp;<em>Bloody East Europeans</em>&nbsp;opens the series with a blend of comedy, tragedy, Soviet anthems, Ukrainian folk ballads and 70s disco hits. The play is performed by untrained actors, who tell the stories of their friends and acquaintances facing the challenges of London living as undocumented migrants.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/uzbek sized.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/uzbek sized.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Uzbek. Photo: Anna Alferova (c)</span></span></span><em>Bloody East Europeans</em>&nbsp;voices testimonies from people who are often relegated to the margins of public discourse and gives audiences a chance to consider the real life experiences of East European migrants in London.</p><p>The second play in the series,&nbsp;<em>Uzbek</em>&nbsp;by Talgat Batalov, tells the story of how its author emigrated from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Moscow at the age of 19. While presenting his audiences with his real life immigration documents, Batalov details how he came to understand his own national identity as a Muscovite-Uzbek of Tatar descent.</p><p>‘When I lived in Uzbekistan I considered myself Russian,’ Batalov jokes, ‘because everyone there considers themself Russian’. Only after moving to Moscow, as Batalov describes it, did the actor/director begin to identify and be identified as Uzbek. Through its use of irony and sarcasm,&nbsp;<em>Uzbek</em>&nbsp;challenges the murky relationship between official documents and national identity in the post-Soviet space.</p><p class="pullquote-right">People in western Europe are offered few opportunities to hear from those at the heart of the crisis.</p><p><em>We Are the Rubbish From Eastern Europe</em>&nbsp;is the final performance in the series, presented by Bulgaria’s leading documentary theatre company, Theatre Replika. Directed by Georg Genoux and produced with support from the Bulgarian Goethe Institute, the play depicts the lives of people in Sofia living off the contents of the city’s rubbish bins. </p><p>In the second act, Replika’s actors recount stories of their friends’experiences of emigrating to western Europe and the struggles they face.</p><p>Through the rubric of rubbish, both literal and figurative, <em>We Are the Rubbish From Eastern Europe</em> explores the value of everyday objects and asks important questions about what matters most in the actors’ own efforts to sort through the lasting legacy of socialism in the contemporary Bulgarian context.</p><h2>Witnesses wanted</h2><p>Debates about Europe’s migrant crisis have taken center stage in public discourse in the past nine months. Horrific stories and images of the resultant tragedies appear on the front pages of newspapers across the globe as political figures deliberate on how many refugees and migrants their respective economies can accommodate. </p><p>Despite the flood of coverage on the topic however, many people in western Europe are offered few opportunities to hear from those at the heart of the crisis.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/rehersal.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/rehersal.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rehearsal. Photo: Miroslav Pasuk (c)</span></span></span>As a collection of works, the plays in GRAD’s&nbsp;<em>Peripheral Visions</em>&nbsp;theatre programme make no claims about Europe’s current refugee crisis. They do not feature the stories of Syrian refugees; the actors in them are not those who have survived the lethal journey across the Mediterranean. </p><p>These plays do, however, offer audiences access to true stories from real-life people who have made the choice to leave their homes and start anew in a country they believed would offer more opportunities, greater stability, and a freer life.</p><p>The plays included in the series touch the socialist past and draw out that history’s relevance in the present. They tell the stories of individuals who have left home, crossed borders, and faced the challenge of starting over somewhere new. The complexities of national identity and the fungibility of official documentation are exposed in these non-fiction narratives while the stripped-down aesthetic of the performances communicates the raw nature of the narratives told onstage.</p><p>Considered in relation to one another,&nbsp;<em>Bloody East Europeans</em>,&nbsp;<em>Uzbek</em>, and&nbsp;<em>We Are the Rubbish From Eastern Europe</em>, form an alternative method of documenting the undocumented and investigate the nuances of national identity in post-Socialist spaces.</p><p>As audiences and artists come together for this unique series of theatre events, participants are invited to re-imagine and re-define collective narratives about xenophobia, migration, and social inequality in contemporary culture.</p><p><em>To view the full schedule for GRAD’s Peripheral Visions documentary theatre programme click <a href="http://www.grad-london.com/whatson/">here</a>.&nbsp;</em></p></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-krizhevsky/new-drama-in-moscow">A new drama in Moscow</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">Warped mirror: how Russian media covers Europe’s refugee crisis </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/darina-shevchenko/%E2%80%98-convention-on-refugees-rescind-it-or-carry-it-out%E2%80%99">‘The convention on refugees: rescind it or carry it out’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Molly Flynn Migration matters Thu, 08 Oct 2015 11:14:51 +0000 Molly Flynn 96655 at https://www.opendemocracy.net ‘The convention on refugees: rescind it or carry it out’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/darina-shevchenko/%E2%80%98-convention-on-refugees-rescind-it-or-carry-it-out%E2%80%99 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/RIAN_01367712.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="RIAN_01367712.LR_.ru_.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Who receives refugee status or temporary asylum in Russia – and how.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>According to data from the Civic Assistance Committee, <a href="http://refugee.ru/en/about-organization/">which offers legal, medical and social&nbsp;</a><span><a href="http://refugee.ru/en/about-organization/">assistance for refugees and their families</a>, there are 800 people with refugee status in Russia today.</span></p><p><span>Human rights activists assert that refugee status is very difficult to obtain in Russia, regardless of&nbsp;</span><span>the fact that the country signed the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees after the fall of the&nbsp;</span><span>Soviet Union. For their part, public officials declare that the majority of claimants do not have&nbsp;</span><span>sufficient grounds to receive refugee status, arriving in Russia solely for economic reasons.&nbsp;</span></p><h2>More than Europe</h2><p><span>For two weeks, a Kurdish family from Syria has been living in the transit zone of Moscow’s&nbsp;</span><span>Sheremetyevo airport. Two adults and four small children cannot enter Russia.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The border guards decided that the refugees’ passports were forged, and did not allow them to leave&nbsp;<span>the airport. According to Roza Magomedova, a lawyer from the human rights centre Memorial,&nbsp;</span><span>the Kurds have had to sleep on benches and wash in the toilets since 10 September, with no&nbsp;</span><span>opportunities for a hot meal. </span></p><p><span>The family, which fled from Islamic State, applied for temporary&nbsp;</span><span>asylum in Russia and is still waiting for a decision. Magomedova claims that the refugees received&nbsp;</span><span>their passports legally. ‘In accordance with the Convention on the Status of Refugees, any&nbsp;</span><span>individual who is seeking asylum – even if they enter another country illegally – cannot be deported&nbsp;</span><span>back to a place where they are under threat,’ states Magomedova.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_01367712.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Christian family from Egypt at Moscow's Civic Assistance Committee. (c) Aleksandr Utkin / VisualRIA.</span></span></span><span>On 9 September, Konstantin Romodanovsky, Head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS), declared that Russia was ready to accept refugees from Libya and Syria. On 4 September, Nikolai Smorodin, deputy head of the FMS, told Interfax that, since the beginning of the conflict, </span><a href="http://www.rosbalt.ru/main/2015/09/04/1437092.html">2,000 refugees from Syria have received temporary asylum in Russia</a><span>.</span></span></p><p><span>In Smorodin’s words, reports that Syrians were being refused shelter in the Russian Federation en masse were entirely unfounded. In a session of the State Duma on 16 September, Otari Arshba, First Deputy Head of United Russia, declared that, in 2015, Russia had accepted nearly three times as many refugees as Europe.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Human rights activists claim that Russia has turned away almost as many refugees as it has accepted. ‘The refugees we work with say that receiving a Russian visa is simpler and cheaper than, for example, a visa to EU members states. However, arranging refugee status or temporary asylum in our country is very difficult. They arrive, are refused, and are expelled,’ says Yelena Burtina, who works for the Civic Assistance Committee.</p><h2>They don't even try</h2><p>Richard, 28, is from DR Congo, and has lived in Russia for three years. Every day in his small hometown, he would play football together with friends on the football pitch. That was one of the few recreational opportunities available. The local authorities sold the land – including the football pitch – to a businessman. Richard and his friends began to hold protests – the guys went out onto the streets with the demand that the land remained public. Richard spent a year in prison. </p><p>‘My uncle was able to get me out of prison, but only on the condition that I leave the country. I was provided with a student visa for 60 days, after which I attempted to get temporary asylum. I was refused, as they could not find sufficient grounds. I left my country due to political persecution, and I cannot understand why my case did not seem serious enough to government officials,’ says Richard.</p><p>After this, Richard did not try to obtain legal status in Russia. ‘I got a job with an advertising agency, handing out leaflets. The police would often check my documents, take me into detention and then released me. Not long ago, my son was born. I fear that I will be unexpectedly deported from the country, and my son will be left without a father. His mother and I wanted to marry, but given that I had overstayed my visa and had no legal status in Russia, we weren't able to,’ Richard tells me. He recently filed another application for temporary asylum and should receive an answer by the end of the year.</p><p>‘They are very reluctant to give Africans refugee status, so many prefer to not even file an application. Furthermore, refugees don't know the language, and even those who don't speak Russian too badly don't understand the formal language of our government officials,’ says Anna Voronkova, a volunteer for the Civic Assistance Committee.</p><p>‘Even some Russians would find it difficult to answer a question such as “For what reason did you not arrive at the appointed date?” or “Why did you not come when requested?” Without middlemen, it is extremely difficult for them to pass through the circles of our bureaucratic hell.’<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Isabelle, 40, is from Cameroon, and arrived in Russia after her older brother was killed by Boko Haram. Isabelle’s life also came under threat. She has been in Russia for nearly two years. She isn’t even trying to receive either refugee status or temporary asylum. She believes that it is useless, and is even afraid to start putting together the necessary documents. ‘They’ll just refuse me and expel me from the country, and when I return home I’ll be killed,’ says Isabelle.</p><h2>Dropped off in the middle of Moscow<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>According to data from Civic Assistance, in general, refugees are currently arriving from Syria or Ukraine.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>‘There are also refugees from Central Asian states such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as from Iran and Iraq. Russia’s Far East sees refugees from Afghanistan and North Korea. Today, most refugees in Russia are from Afghanistan. Many of them arrived some time ago. These days, Afghan refugees arriving here are those who work with the local government and international forces present in Afghanistan, and are therefore persecuted by the Taliban. Women often arrive who the Islamists believe to have “misbehaved” – namely, studied or not agreed to a forced marriage,’ says Burtina.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>When refugees make the decision to flee their country, they have little time to carefully consider where to go. Many of them cannot even imagine what today’s Russia is like. ‘One of the refugees I helped had brought along a map of the USSR with him,’ says Burtina. ‘He had only the vaguest idea where he was going.’ Some people arrive in Russia legally, but many find help from middlemen—people smugglers who have built an illegal business on such services.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>‘For example,’ Burtina begins, ‘not long ago a Syrian family paid middlemen a very large sum of money to be taken to Finland. The husband, a very ill wife and three children were transported in a freight wagon, unable to see where they were headed. The smugglers dropped them off near a McDonalds in Moscow and left. There they were, in the middle of a foreign country without money, documents, or possessions of any kind.’<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>On a mission to refuse<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>‘People can wait months for their turn to start proceedings [for the application],’ says Burtina. ‘They are in a tough legal situation – every day they risk being deported. The Russian government offers them no assistance – no benefits and to help in finding work. It seems to me that this contradictory policy must stop. Either Russia fulfils its obligations to the Convention on the Status of Refugees, or it rescinds it and declares that it will no longer accept refugees.’</p><p>Olga Semyonova (surname changed) arrived in Moscow from Ternopil in western Ukraine after the start of the conflict in the east. Olga did not agree with the activities of the new authorities in Kyiv and decided to move to Russia. Olga hoped that she would quickly receive temporary asylum, bringing her son with her to Russia. ‘I wanted my son to learn Russian and learn to love your country, so I left everything behind and moved here,’ says Semyonova.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The FMS refused to grant her the status, as it appeared (to the authorities) that her life was not under threat, meaning that there was no basis for legalising her status as an asylum seeker. Olga found a good job in Moscow, but plans to return to Ukraine so that her son can start the first grade at school.</p><p>It is now very difficult to register the children of refugees in Russian schools. The FMS requires that school directors inform them of all students without registration or Russian citizenship. The Center for Integration and Education of Children of Migrants and Refugees, where children who have fled hunger and war were taught, <a href="http://yodnews.ru/2015/07/16/goaway">was evicted from its premises by Moscow’s city government earlier this year</a>. Volunteers believe that this was a result of the Civic Assistance Committee's inclusion on the register of ‘foreign agents’ in April 2015.</p><h2>No basis</h2><p>‘Refugee status is hard to get, because the grounds on which 90 per cent of people in Russia apply for it do not meet the criteria of either Russian or international law. A person may receive refugee status only if there is a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of five factors: race, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, membership of any defined social group or for political convictions.’</p><p>‘These applications must be factually based, and not something a foreigner has simply invented. We listen to the refugee and hear his point of view, and analyse the political situation in his country. We then find out whether the refugee took his concerns to the police, and how the government approaches his problem. For example, if a Coptic Christian from Egypt complains of religious discrimination, we know that his country's government is fighting radical Islamism and that the new regime defends the rights of religious minorities. According to my observations, refugees often want to stay in Russia for economic reasons,’ said an official who had worked for several regional FMS departments, under condition of anonymity.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Your world<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>In Russia, refugees are often left to fend for themselves. ‘In the first days following their arrival, some would sleep in the railway stations or on the street,’ says Burtina. ‘There are no state programmes for aiding refugees in Russia. They get a single lump sum of 100 roubles [£1].’</p><p>Zakhai, a Syrian citizen, fled from war to Russia three years ago. Zakhai crossed the border illegally, working in Moscow in an underground textile workshop at Izmailovo market alongside his countrymen.</p><p>After <a href="http://vk.com/video-26898409_169190607">a raid by nationalists from the Holy Rus organisation</a>, the workshop closed and the refugees were detained by the police. Zakhai was able to escape the police and remained in Russia. ‘There’s a large Syrian diaspora here, and most of us work,’ says Zakhai, ‘Moscow needs a cheap workforce. We all help one another, trying to make the best of our situation – because we can't go back.’<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><em>Editor’s note: this article <a href="http://yodnews.ru/2015/09/24/refugees?nomr=1">first appeared in Russian at Yod News</a>. We are grateful to Yod for their permission to translate and re-publish this article here.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">Warped mirror: how Russian media covers Europe’s refugee crisis </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/greg-forbes/another-day-another-conflict-russia-ukraine-and-syrian-civil-war">Another day, another conflict: Russia, Ukraine and the Syrian Civil War</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/circassians-come-home">The Circassians come home</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Darina Shevchenko Migration matters Russia NGOs Human rights Thu, 08 Oct 2015 07:55:35 +0000 Darina Shevchenko 96647 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Warped mirror: how Russian media covers Europe’s refugee crisis https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554751/Zhilin%20crop.jpg" alt="Zhilin crop.jpg" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" />For all of its sniping and sensation, Russian media’s coverage of refugees in Europe hit too close to home. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/%D0%B8%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD-%D0%B6%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BD/%D0%B2%D0%B7%D0%B3%D0%BB%D1%8F%D0%B4-%D0%B2-%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B5-%D0%B7%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%BE">на русском языке</a></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Russian citizens get their news from the television. In Russia, the ‘box’ is no longer a source of mass information, but a means of mass defeat. </p><p><span>The TV is used to demonise entire states (the US, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia), and now the TV is deployed to demonise the situation with refugees from the Middle East arriving in Europe.</span></p><h2><span>‘Croatia’s tolerance lasted for all of two days’</span></h2><p><span>To understand what the average Russian citizen thinks about refugees, you just have to switch on the evening news. For instance, take a news bulletin from federal TV channel Rossiya-1, which has viewing figures of up to 50m people.</span></p><p><span>The first block is titled: ‘The European Union is closed: Croatia blocks its roads.’</span></p><p>‘The Croatian army is now at a state of increased military alert,’ reels off the presenter. ‘All border crossings with Serbia are closed. There is no open route to Germany for refugees. Hungary detains them at the border, and Slovenia turns them back. The railway stations, overflowing with passengers, are now the sites of riots.’</p><p class="pullquote-right">Zafer Salikh, a refugee, tells the camera in Syrian how he’s sleeping on the rails for a second night running.</p><p><span>A correspondent from the Tovarnik station tells us that refugees imagined Europe differently—a place that would be happy to see them. Instead, women and children are forced to sleep at the station. More than 2,000 people, according to the journalist, are waiting for a train, and when it comes, there’s not enough space for everyone. But the most terrifying thing is the police: boarding passengers onto the train, they can separate parents and children. Everything is up to them.</span></p><p><span>Zafer Salikh, a refugee, tells the camera in Syrian how he’s sleeping on the rails for a second night running. After, the channel’s correspondent takes over to say that volunteers are the refugees’ only hope, and they’re already tired.</span></p><p><span>A girl in an orange robe speaks to the camera: ‘This needs to stop. It’s the 21st century. Europe should have learned something. Croatia has responded simply wonderfully.’ Then the correspondent reports how Croatia promises to take refugees to the border, in the direction of Austria and Germany, but actually transports them to a camp near Zagreb.</span></p><p><span>‘Croatia’s tolerance lasted for all of two days,’ says Rossiya-1’s correspondent, before the programme cuts to a shot of kids behind barbed wire. They can’t move on, to western Europe, and the other way lies war.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/8620755.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/8620755.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Refugees in a processing camp in Opatovac, Croatia. Photo (c) Beata Zawrzel via demotix</span></span></span><br /></span></p><h2><span>Room for irony</span></h2><p><span>The next item on the programme focuses on how Russia is caring for Syrian citizens who have lost their homes as a result of war. Not on its own territory, of course.</span></p><p><span>Russian experts, the presenter states, have built a camp in Hamah, a town in the west of Syria. Here, people whose homes have been destroyed by Islamic State are met with<em> kasha </em>(Russian porridge). Meanwhile, on screen, we see a dark-haired boy eating—a direct contrast to those children kept behind fences in Europe.</span></p><p><span>Hamah is only 40km from the front line, but the journalist tells us that this is a big distance. The camp can take up to 500 people, and if necessary, 1,000.</span></p><p><span>The camera turns to the canteen’s tables, which even have roses on them. Europe can’t even dream of this: they make people bed down between railway sleepers there. A woman by the name of Anan speaks about she’s already learned how to use the Russian field kitchen, and that there’s at least a month’s supply of food here—all provided by the Russians.</span></p><p><span>But this story purposefully omits the fact that Europe has taken people trying to save themselves from war. For most Syrians, the prospects of receiving refugee status in the Russian Federation are slim: there’s no legal provision for it. Article 5 of the law on refugees states: ‘An individual who has arrived from a foreign country, where he or she had the opportunity to be recognised as a refugee, cannot be recognised as such in the Russian Federation.’</span></p><p><span>Given that there’s no direct land border with Syria, this is hardly possible: a Syrian citizen would be turned around to seek shelter in Turkey or a neighbouring country.</span></p><h2><span>Here come the experts</span></h2><p><span>Now Channel One tries to explain why refugees are fleeing to Europe en masse, rather than to their ‘brothers in faith’. Irala Zeinalova, the presenter, says that the mass movement towards western Europe is surprising given that the war in Syria has been going on for some time, and that no substantial change has been seen.</span></p><p><span>Then the ‘experts’ chime in. ‘Europe is resisting the Transatlantic Trade Agreement, which the United States is trying to push through,’ says Irina Alksnis, vice-president of the Aspect Center for Social and Political Research. ‘This move would mean becoming a satellite, the economic vassal of the US, in order to save the American economy at Europe’s expense.</span></p><p><span>‘But I’m not surprised, if the migrants get what they want as a result of the destabilisation of Europe. One can only guess and assume how much European capital has shifted over to the US.’</span></p><p><span>Next, a voice-over says that thousands of terrorists are trying to get into Europe, masquerading as refugees. ‘You might think this nightmare which is happening today is the work of some invisible hand. In actual fact, there is no such hand. The chaos we see before us is all according to the scenario of an author who is all too known to us [i.e. the US]. This director has rather blurred conceptions of good and evil.’</span></p><p><span>In fact, ‘blurred conceptions of good and evil’ would be an accurate description of those in charge of content for official media. Ulyana Skoibeda, a journalist for the tabloid <em>Komsomolskaya Pravda</em>, notorious after voicing her regrets that the Nazis didn’t make enough lampshades out of the ancestors of Russian liberals, published an article titled ‘Chronicle of the death of Germany’—a diary of a Russian woman living in Munich.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/8622540.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/8622540.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>‘Croatia’s tolerance towards refugees lasted for all of two days.’ Photo (c): Beate Zawrzel via demotix</span></span></span></span></p><p><span>We see the following on the pages of the most popular newspaper (7m copies sold weekly):</span></p><p><span>‘Residents of Munich are preparing to hold a demonstration in support of the government’s migration policy. Idiots. “Germany should be coloured” they shout, demanding the government take more Islamic refugees. Demanding the government put more weight on their necks. Did we even have to fight Germany? Seventy years on, the country is killing itself.’ (Do we need to remember that, 70 years ago, Germany was destroyed by its radical intolerance?)</span></p><p><span>Further, the <em>Komsomolka </em>tells us how Germany’s wealth is a myth. ’12.5m people live below the poverty line.’ ‘People stand in line for old food.’ ‘For many, collecting bottles is the only way to survive.’ At the same time, to the indignation of the author, Germany spares its refugees nothing—not its benefits at 2800 euros, not its furnished apartments, not its health service.</span></p><p><span>The finishing touch in the destruction of Germany, however, is the passage about pensioners, who are being forced out of their homes.</span></p><p><span class="pullquote-right">Europe is pictured as a place that cares neither about refugees, nor its own citizens.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><em>Komsomolka </em>offers the following quotation from the German authorities: ‘In Germany, the housing situation is tough. We are accepting refugees, but we can’t offer them housing. At the same time, many elderly people live in apartments that are too big for them. We have to accept a new programme of forced resettlement of the elderly into rooms or smaller apartments. The situation is very difficult, we call on the German people to understand and help.’</span></p><p><span>This is actually an appeal by the IG-Bau trade union. It doesn’t have any relation to the German government.</span></p><h2><span>Ignorance, hostility and ideology</span></h2><p><span>For the most influential of Russian media, Europe is pictured as a place that cares neither about refugees (who can’t get in due: people’s reserves of tolerance are spent), nor its own citizens (who are forced to live in poverty and even forced out of their own homes to make life more comfortable for refugees).</span></p><p><span>In covering the refugee crisis, Russian media is actually showing its citizens their own country. The only difference is that they call it by a different name.</span></p><p><span>After all, it’s Russia that has lacked tolerance towards migrants and refugees for years. The demonstrations on the Manezh in 2011 showed how strong nationalist moods are in Russia.</span></p><p><span>Simultaneously, it is Russia whose generosity to people forced to re-settle outstrips its generosity to its own citizens. Ukrainian refugees received 800 roubles a day; a Russian citizen, on average, earns 421 roubles per day. (According to Rosstat, the state statistics agency, the average monthly wage in Russia is 12,462 roubles.)</span></p><p><span>Russia’s leading media picture Europe and the refugees in dark tones. Inviting viewers to the screen, the TV producers try to persuade them that what they are seeing isn’t a reflection of life here. The viewer believes this, and has reason to believe so.</span></p><p><span>The first reason: ignorance. Most Russian citizens have never seen refugees, Ukrainian, Syrian or otherwise, for real. Only on TV. And here the difference between Ukrainian and Syrian refugees is exaggerated: the Ukrainians are modest, law-abiding and ready to work; the Syrians are uneducated, scroungers, criminals and even terrorists.</span></p><p><span>The second reason: high levels of hostility towards Muslims. According to the Public Opinion foundation, 23% of Russian citizens surveyed have negative feelings towards Islam (53% are neutral, 19% - positive). This hostility comes largely from criminal reports, which often feature people from the Caucasus. This is their metric for the rest of the Muslim world.</span></p><p><span>The third reason is ideological. ‘People believe what they want to believe.’ The decline of the west, as heralded by Russian television, has been Russia’s national idea for too long. Anything that brings the end of the west closer is only to be welcomed.</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/dmitry-okrest/ukrainian-refugees-in-moscow-face-uncertain-fate">Ukrainian refugees in Russia receive a mixed welcome</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/how-russia-is-coping-with-its-ukrainian-refugees-rostov-UNHCR">How Russia is coping with its Ukrainian refugees</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/circassians-come-home">The Circassians come home</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ivan Zhilin Migration matters Russia Beyond propaganda Fri, 25 Sep 2015 10:01:01 +0000 Ivan Zhilin 96319 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ukrainian refugees in Russia receive a mixed welcome https://www.opendemocracy.net/dmitry-okrest/ukrainian-refugees-in-moscow-face-uncertain-fate <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Many people took refuge in Russia after fleeing eastern Ukraine last summer. Their experiences are far from uniform. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/%D0%B4%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B9-%D0%BE%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82/%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%BA-%D1%83%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%86%D1%8B-%D0%B6%D0%B8%D0%B2%D1%83%D1%82-%D0%B2-%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B8-%D0%B2-%D1%83%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%8F%D1%85-%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BD%D1%84%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BA%D1%82%D0%B0" target="_blank">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>While the West thinks Russia is fighting a war with Ukraine, and Moscow calls the conflict a ‘civil war’, civilians continue to flee the combat zone in eastern Ukraine.</span></p><p>Last summer, <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-great-exodus-ukraines-refugees-flee-russia-12181">many people made their way to the border crossing at Rostov, and from there—across Russia</a>.</p><p>Ukrainians have been coming to work in Russia for a long time. If you take into account labour migrants from Ukraine (of which there are 3.6m), there are almost five million Ukrainians living in Russia. And for many Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens, Moscow was the only place they could move after the outbreak of war in the east.</p><p>But how have Ukrainians fared here, in a country where ‘Banderites’ (followers of <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/feb/24/a-fascist-hero-in-democratic-kiev/">Stepan Bandera</a>) and ‘supporters of Maidan’ are far from popular?</p><h2><span>Give evidence or else</span></h2><p>At the start of July, Sergei, 25, who left for Moscow after war broke out in south eastern Ukraine, received a call from the district Prosecutor’s Office.</p><p>They invited Sergei to give evidence as part of a criminal investigation into war crimes committed by the Ukrainian military in Donbas. If Sergei didn’t co-operate, they said sternly, he would be issued a summons.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/6249698555_aafce67820_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Moscow sky-line. Yuree Markevich / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>‘The questions were like: have you heard anything about the use of weapons, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/03/19/ukraine-more-civilians-killed-cluster-munition-attacks">which aren’t sanctioned by the OSCE?</a> Have I, my property or my family suffered as a result of the war?’ remembers Sergei.</p><p>‘After every question, I wrote that I didn’t know anything, or if I did, I found it out from the press, and then signed my name,’ explains Sergei, one of many Ukrainians in Moscow who have received these invitations. ‘I was told they want to question as many people as possible, and then send the case to court. S<span>traight off, t</span><span>he investigator said that this was all a formality.’</span></p><p>Sergei comes from the port city of Nikolaev (Mykolaiv) on the Black Sea coast, and he is sure that the prosecutor’s office found his telephone number via the Federal Migration Service (FMS), who have a record of him.</p><p>‘They didn’t ask any informal questions, they just asked me what I plan to do next,’ remembers Sergey.</p><p>‘I told them [the investigators] the truth: I want to stay here and work. No one asked why I came here. Obviously, no one wants to die in a war. Some people go to Europe, other people come here, and then there are those who are buried somewhere in Odessa. A friend of mine went to fight as a volunteer. He died on his first mission.’</p><h2>‘There’s no work for us here’</h2><p>Sergei left his home town of Nikolaev <a href="http://gulfnews.com/news/europe/ukraine-s-military-mobilisation-undermined-by-draft-dodgers-1.1499192">just as the draft was kicking in</a>. Indeed, despite the fact Sergei was a student and is exempt from military service, a draft summons was delivered to his address shortly after he moved to Moscow.</p><p>Sergei tells me that many of his acquaintances fled to Moscow to avoid the draft. People are sympathetic to his plight, he notes, when he tells them where he’s come from and why he left.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/16046667789_cbcbf12c07_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nikolaev is a rail and sea transport hub on Ukraine's Black Sea coast. Torpedolov Ukraine / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>However, in a new town, and with Ukrainian&nbsp;citizenship, people aren’t having much luck when it comes to jobs: they have to choose between working as a loader or a courier. </p><p>Employers want Russian citizens. For them, Ukrainians are labour migrants just like citizens of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan—the traditional means of low-skilled labour. As a result, Sergey hasn’t managed to find a job, and now makes his money by busking.</p><p>‘There’s no work for us here,’ says Sergei. ‘One guy, he’s over 50, left so he didn’t have to fight. He’s an engineer, but the only work for people like us is unskilled labour—bring this, bring that. But still, it’s better than being at the front. At the start, they told us they’d mobilise us for a month, then six months. The lads who wound up in the army last year are still there.’</p><p>Regardless of the conflict in Ukraine’s south east, Sergei doesn’t consider himself a ‘traitor’, although he admits that his friends who stayed behind have called him one.</p><p>‘They called me a renegade, of course. I had one really unpleasant conversation with a neighbour when he saw a picture of me on Red Square. Another one asked me not to shoot at them after I’m called up to the DPR [<a href="https://news.vice.com/article/in-photos-one-year-later-a-look-at-the-forming-of-the-donetsk-peoples-republic">Donetsk People's Republic</a>] militia, but I’m not planning on joining them at all.’ Sergei was never interested in politics, and saying that he isn’t planning to return to Nikolaev any time soon.</p><p>All of Sergei’s relatives have left Nikolaev, though his mother recently visited home. ‘She went back,’ Sergei tells me. ‘She said that the local television had changed its tune. Before, everyone said they were against Russia, but now they criticise the new government too. The country is in crisis, default, pensions aren’t being paid.'</p><p>‘A neighbour of ours, a school teacher, lost her job after she refused to sign a document saying she would instill a real national spirit in her students, that’s how they got her. On the whole, I don’t miss <em>that</em> Ukraine.’</p><h2>‘Later that night they started to shell our side of town’</h2><p>So far, it seems the Prosecutor’s Office is only searching for witnesses in Moscow. Refugees living in other cities have not been questioned.</p><p>For instance, Tatyana Sukhinova, 34, who now lives in the small village of Luknovo some 300km east of Moscow. Originally from Amvrosievka, a town halfway between the Russian border and Donetsk, Tatyana is from a mixed Russian-Ukrainian family.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/Suhinova3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="213" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tatyana Sukhinova with her daughter. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>Amvrosievka has been shelled since 15 June 2014 (both sides have blamed one another).&nbsp;</p><p><span>‘I was at my mum’s dacha [country house] at the time,’ Tatyana remembers, ‘and later that night they started to shell our side of town. There were Ukes [Ukrainians] with guns all over town. You’d be walking along and you wouldn’t know whether you’d get home or not. Everyone was scared, praying that their house wouldn’t be shelled and that they’d remain alive.’</span></p><p>Tatyana decided to evacuate after a shell hit her home. ‘I remember the border crossing clearly, the moment itself. Back then loads of people wanted to get across in time—some by bus, others by car. People, including us, were traveling without even knowing where they were going.</p><p>‘When I crossed the border, I felt a pain in my heart: where am I going, what will happen next, how I’m going to look after my children, how will we live. My eyes were constantly full of tears, though I tried not to cry. Not a happy time whatsoever.’</p><p>Tatyana arrived in Moscow a month later, and migration service officials requested she fill in a pile of documents. She had to negotiate a place for her children Snezhana and Valentin on her own.&nbsp;<span>‘It was only thanks to some good people that my children didn’t have to sleep on the street, and I could get my bearings,’ Tatyana recalls.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>‘People say we’re the reason there’s a crisis in Russia’</h2><p>After the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbas, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valery-pavlukevich/samara-ripples-from-ukrainian-storm-refugees-national-liberation-movement">when thousands of people made their way to central Ukraine or neighbouring regions in Russia</a>, numerous volunteer initiatives were set up to help refugees. For several months, refugees from the war lived in tents while volunteers identified potential housing for them. Several of these projects are also involved in supporting the unrecognised republics in Donetsk and Luhansk.</p><p>Today, Sofia, Tatyana’s 14-year-old daughter, is waiting for her mother in&nbsp;<span>Rostov, the largest city near the border between Russia and Ukraine.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>When the refugees tried to cross, the border guards didn’t let Tatyana’s older daughter through: Sofia has her father’s surname, and she didn’t have a document certifying his permission.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Soon, Tatyana will go to Rostov to collect her daughter, and then on to the border crossing in order to extend her migration card, otherwise she faces a fine. Tatyana also has to travel to Amvrosievka to receive her children’s school certificates: without them, Sofia will have to repeat the seventh grade.</p><h2>‘If I’m honest, I really don’t know how we’re going to survive’<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>Meanwhile, Tatyana has to receive a temporary residence permit before September. She has to undergo a medical examination and sit exams on Russian history, language, and literature.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The examination costs 2,700 roubles (£28) per individual family member, and the tests will come to 7,500 roubles (£79) in total: money this family doesn’t have. ‘If I’m honest, I really don’t know how we’re going to survive,’ says Tatyana, a single mother. ‘I can’t find the money we need to continue living in Russia.’</p><p>Tatyana earns 5,000 roubles (£52) per month working as a seamstress at a linen factory, and she earns extra, waitressing at two<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/Suhinova2_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tatyana at work. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>&nbsp;cafes on the highway. Here, she receives 350 roubles (£3.70) a day for waitressing, washing dishes and cleaning.</p><p>Tatyana couldn’t find work immediately. She lost her job at a plastic bottle factory due to the economic crisis: her employers prefer to keep the local workers. ‘We are living in another country and among different people, who hate us, and it seems like it’s a bad dream. There are thousands of people like us in every town. You just want to wake up and return to your old life. We aren’t having an easy time of it here, of course, but there’s no way back for us either.<span>' <br /></span></p><p>‘The hardest thing in my life is losing everything: home, friends, family,’ Tatyana reflects. ‘And to find yourself in another country where nobody needs you, apart from your children. Here in Russia, wherever I work, there are people who say we’re [Ukrainians] the reason there’s a crisis in Russia. And now we’ve come in droves, asking for help.</p><p>‘At first, even my kids had conflicts with their new classmates—they’d overheard their parents. Some people hate the fact that Ukrainians have come here en masse. They accuse me of being responsible for the unemployment rate, and that Putin is sending truckloads of humanitarian aid to the Ukrainians instead of helping his own people and his own state. Although to be fair, people helped us in the beginning with firewood and getting the kids into school.’</p><h2>‘This is all fascism’<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>Many refugees or the volunteers who help them refused to comment: they’re afraid of ‘provocations’.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>For instance, one woman who left Donestk for Russia has been attacked from the other side: ‘I posted an announcement on the internet. Someone rang me on the pretext of helping me and asked for my address. Then they called us traitors, and promised to come with guns and get my children.’</p><p>‘This is all fascism,’ says Anastasiya Bykova. ‘Fascism, that’s the current situation in Ukraine.’ Bykova, 27, left the town of Slavyansk (Slovyansk) with her children after the separatists surrendered the town in July 2014.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/Bikova (in glasses).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anastastiya Bykova (centre). Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span></span></p><p>Now, Anastasiya lives with other refugees in Serpukhov, a small town between Moscow and Tula. Despite her Russian sympathies, Anastasiya was denied official refugee status, and as a result she cannot find permanent employment.</p><p>But the Prosecutor’s Office decided to get in touch all the same—perhaps given how close Serpukhov is to Moscow. ‘Our conversation started with a request to inform them of the last 10 years of my life, right up to how old I was when I gave birth, who the father was, why we divorced, what I’d lost and how I got here.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>‘They even asked about my previous husbands’ dates of birth. It was like I was at confession for two hours. Well, I told them that I’d realised back in May [2014] that this was real war. But all the same we weren’t ready to leave.’</p><h2>‘Let’s just say that people don’t want to talk about this’<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>It is not only Ukrainian refugees that are finding life difficult. In late July, Russia’s Federation Council publicised the so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/will-patriotic-stop-list-kill-russia%E2%80%99s-ngos">‘patriotic stop list’</a>, which declares 12 organisations ‘undesirable’, invites the justice ministries to investigate their activities, and stipulates fines and even prison time for people co-operating with them.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Aside from Open Society Foundations and the National Foundation for Democracy, the Ukrainian World Congress (Toronto) and the Ukrainian World Coordination Council (Kyiv) were also included on this list. The Ukrainian World Congress has partner organisations in 34 countries, including Russia.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/Girjov.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="257" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Girzhov. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></span></p><p>These developments have left some people in an uncertain situation. As Viktor Girzhov, co-chairman of Ukrainians of Moscow, explains, the Congress and Council co-ordinate activities all over the world, including a partnership with his organisation. Girzhov says that his group’s relationship with these organisations is no more than a partnership, and as part of this, he travels to meetings once a year.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Girzhov doesn’t receive a penny from foreign funding, and the last grant was given to hold a cultural festival in 2009. ‘You need to look at things how they really are, we’re not involved in any subversive activities,’ says Girzhov.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>‘But now they’ve searched the library of Ukrainian literature. The Ministry of Justice has refused us registration twice. We don’t doubt that they’ll refuse us again.</p><p>‘In the Far East, they sacked a choir manager after she visited Maidan, and in order for the choir to continue, they demanded she come out against the events in Kiev. I haven’t met any “curators”, but some people have had phone calls, and have been invited to meetings. Let’s just say that people don’t want to talk about this.’</p><h2>‘There’s a tension in society, like before a storm’</h2><p>Everyone, it seems, has decided to lay low. No demonstrations are being held. Activists say that many people from Ukrainian organisations have left the regions, places like Tatarstan and Ekaterinburg.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>‘People who made their position clear before have gone quiet,’ admits Girzhov. ‘And that’s when you consider that we don’t conduct political activities, which could subvert Russia’s independence. After all, we’re all citizens of Russia. We just identify ourselves as Ukrainians, who speak their native language at home, and who observe tradition.’</p><p>Girzhov says that the authorities are yet to demand demonstrations of loyalty from local Ukrainians. Instead, public officials are concerned only with preventing conflict.</p><p>Girzhov is a frequent guest on Russian state television. Indeed, it’s thanks to Girzhov that discussion on talk shows is possible: often guests come on with exactly the same position.</p><p>‘On an everyday level, it feels like attitudes have gotten worse,’ says Girzhov. ‘There’s a tension in society, like before a storm. People who didn’t say anything against Ukrainians before are now very negative.<span>' <br /></span></p><p>‘They’re pleased that Russia took Crimea. For them, Russia should have taken almost all of Ukraine. You can find people who think like this even among distant relatives of mine. Just imagine: people who’ve lived for centuries together, who’ve fought together, are now at each other’s throats. The war in Donbas, Crimea, both of these events have divided Russian society.'</p><p>‘This is an abyss you just can’t cross. Now we have to build bridges. It seems like the search for enemies among Ukrainians has lost its shine. Compared to the annexation of Crimea last year, people are a bit tired of all this now.’</p><p><strong><em> If you enjoyed this article, please consider following oDR on <a href="http://on.fb.me/1IAtrLR">Facebook</a>&nbsp;or <a href="http://bit.ly/1g0I7x3">Twitter</a>.&nbsp;</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/valery-pavlukevich/samara-ripples-from-ukrainian-storm-refugees-national-liberation-movement">Samara: ripples from the Ukrainian storm </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/how-russia-is-coping-with-its-ukrainian-refugees-rostov-UNHCR">How Russia is coping with its Ukrainian refugees</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Okrest Migration matters Ukraine Russia NGOs Human rights Conflict Tue, 28 Jul 2015 16:54:02 +0000 Dmitry Okrest 94830 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Circassians come home https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/circassians-come-home <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554750/alaidin%20on%20the%20left%20-%20adnan%20stash.jpg" alt="alaidin on the left - adnan stash.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Long exiled from their homeland, Circassians are now seeking refuge in the Caucasus following conflict in their adopted home, Syria. Adjusting to life in Russia has not been easy. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/%D1%81%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%82%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%B1%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0/%D0%B8%D0%B7-%D1%81%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B9%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9-%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%B7" target="_blank"><em><strong>Русский</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>When Russia extended its empire in the Caucasus region in the late 19th century, its Muslim Circassian population was forced to migrate to areas in the Ottoman Empire, and many settled in what is now Syria. Although increasingly assimilated, they retained their distinct identity, including their Adyghe language and culture. </p><p>‘This is my country, my homeland,<span>’</span><span>&nbsp;says Ali Nazran in Russian. He knows only a few words of the language, but this phrase has become a kind of mantra for him. Ali, 35, arrived in Russia four years ago after his adopted land of Syria exploded into civil war. Ali</span><span>’</span><span>s whole family – mother, father and brother – followed him. They bought a small house and settled in.</span></p><p>When Ali lived in Mardzh-Sultan, a suburb of Damascus, he had his own business, a small furniture shop. Back in Maykop, the capital of the Adygea Republic, Ali still works in the furniture trade, but only as a casual labourer. </p><h2>Adygea</h2><p>Adygea, an enclave within the Krasnodar Krai in south western Russia, with a population of less than 500,000, is one of three North Caucasus republics that are home to Adyghe Circassians, the other two being Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. </p><p>Historically, Circassian tribes were to be found across the whole western Caucasus, but a century and a half ago, when they offered fierce resistance to the Russian conquest of the region, 90% of their population were either massacred or deported to Turkey, with thousands dying of hunger on the way.</p><p> The concept of genocide was unknown at the time, but after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Adyghe and Karachay-Cherkessian parliaments recognised these events as a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Circassian nation.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/erkez_sürgününün_anılması_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/erkez_sürgününün_anılması_1.jpg" alt="Circassians in Turkey commemorate their ancestors' expulsion from the Russian Empire in 1864. CC Soerfm, 2011" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Circassians in Turkey commemorate their ancestors' expulsion from the Russian Empire in 1864. CC Soerfm, 2011</span></span></span></p><p><span>After fleeing first to Turkey and then to Bulgaria, Ali Nazran’s ancestors settled in Syria. But now the Syrian Circassians are once more being forced to abandon everything and flee conflict. </span></p><p><span>The richer among them have moved to the USA and Western Europe (there are Circassian communities in 55 countries). With Europe now fast-tracking Syrian refugees, many who returned to Russia have now moved on in the hope of a better life, says Ali Bgana, an Adyg who has returned from living in Israel.</span></p><p>Before the present civil war, radical Islam —&nbsp;as practised by Bashar al-Assad<span>’s opponents —&nbsp;did not hold much sway over</span><span>&nbsp;Syria. T</span><span>hough there are small differences in their traditions,&nbsp;</span><span>Circassians and Arabs prayed in the same mosques. </span></p><p><span>In Adygea, says Ali Nazran, people —&nbsp;</span><span>especially women – are less traditional in their dress: it feels like a secular society. On the other hand, the mosques are open all day, while in Syria they only opened for the five daily prayer times. And the Adyg character is much the same in both countries.</span></p><p>‘Adygs everywhere are brought up in the same belief and value system, the Adyghe Habze, which goes back to oral tradition,<span>’</span><span>&nbsp;</span><span>Ali Nazran tells me through a local interpreter.</span><span>&nbsp;</span><span>‘</span><span>It teaches us how to live, how to behave, how to treat women and older people.’ The Syrian Circassians have retained their own language alongside the Arabic spoken in Syria, and it has changed very little from the Adyghe spoken in the Caucasus.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The mountains of Adygea.</span></span></span></p><p>Ali feels completely at home here, which wasn’t the case in Syria. Ali’s village outside Damascus was surrounded by Arab settlements, but was notable for its order and the cleanliness of its streets and houses, which the locals put down to its Adyghe population. </p><p>The Arabs always saw the Circassians as immigrants, aliens, but they appreciated their moral qualities. The Syrian authorities also liked to recruit Circassians into the army and security services, and there are still Adygs fighting in the government forces there. </p><p>Ahmed Stash, 20, is also happy to be home. ‘Life was difficult in Syria. It was like we were foreigners because we weren’t Arabs. And our mentality was always different.’</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/akhmed stash.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="289" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Though Ahmed Stash has adjusted well to life in the Russian Federation, his parents have had a harder time finding their feet. </span></span></span></p><p>Ahmed has been back for three years now, and speaks good Russian, so he can help his fellow Adygs translate official documents. ‘Russian is even easier than Adyghe,’ he says. In Syria, Ahmed only spoke Adyghe at home – he lived in Homs, where there weren’t many Circassians. Most of his friends were Arabs, so his Adyghe isn’t as good as that of people who lived in Circassian villages. </p><p>Initially Ahmed enrolled at university in Nalchik, capital of Kabardino-Balkaria. But his parents soon got a mortgage to buy a flat in Maykop so he decided to transfer to the civil engineering department of the technical university there.&nbsp;</p><p>Ahmed’s in his third year of a five-year course now, and would like to work for the city authorities afterwards. ‘I’d like to get citizenship, settle down here, get married and have a family,’ he tells me. ‘I think all Adygs should resettle here and live in their own country, not someone else’s.’</p><h2>Difficult for the elderly</h2><p>Ahmed’s parents have already got their residence permits, and can theoretically look forward to Russian citizenship, but for that you need a proper job. </p><p>But they are both 65, a big disadvantage for a jobseeker, even a well-qualified one: Ahmed’s father is a mechanical engineer, his mother<span>&nbsp;a teacher.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">To get citizenship, you need to find a proper job – not easy if you’re 65 </p><p>Meanwhile, Adnan Stash has encountered the same difficulties. In Damascus, Adnan worked as a layout designer and sub-editor on newspapers and magazines. </p><p>‘I wanted to work in a print company here as well,’ Adnan says. ‘When I arrived I was struck by the out-of-date equipment they used, but I was happy to do any job they gave me – it was all familiar technology. They offered me a job the next day, but phoned again the same evening and said there were no vacancies. I don’t know why they changed their minds.’</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/alaidin on the left - adnan stash.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alaidin Pshimaf sits on the left, with Adnan Stash on the right. </span></span></span></p><p>Adnan doesn’t think his lack of Russian was a problem, as Adyg women were also employed there. It might, however, have been because of his age – he is 63. </p><p>Russian men usually retire at 60, but foreigners have to work in Russia for five years before being entitled to a work pension. And it’s hard enough for Russians to find a regular job at that age, let alone immigrants. So Adnan, who already has a residence permit, is only entitled to the minimum unemployment benefit of 800 roubles (£9) a month, although his rent is 12,000 roubles (£135) and utilities cost another 5,000-6,000 roubles (£56-67). </p><p>To make ends meet, his wife, daughter and two sons have rented a kiosk from Adyg friends, where they sell grocery products: sugar, flour and other cereal foods. Serving customers is also helping Adnan to learn Russian. </p><p>Alaidin Pshimaf, another refugee from Damascus, has given up trying to find a job. He is 68 and spent his whole life as a road construction mechanic. But his work record counts for nothing in Russia, and he receives the minimum 6,000 roubles a month pension here. His life savings, meanwhile, are languishing in Syrian banks. </p><p>Fortunately, his sons are able to help him out. With the help of local friends, the elder son, a former manager, has found work as a taxi driver, while the younger has a job at a factory, and they both earn about 12,000 roubles a month. </p><h2>Friendly relations </h2><p>Alaidin Pshimaf was attracted by the idea of returning to his historical homeland even back in the Soviet years. </p><p>In 1980, Alaidin received a Soviet passport, which he still has, but he hasn’t been able to have it verified. The bureaucrats in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claim that the archives have been lost. </p><p>The USSR was seen as a country friendly to Syria, and the Circassians there were even more devoted to their historical homeland, although their community organisations steered clear of politics. And though other non-official bodies and movements were sometimes banned, the Adyghe Khase Circassian Council was never bothered: Circassians, after all, were (and still are) prominent in propping up Syrian governmental structures.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/ Адыгеи.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The mountains of Adygea.</span></span></span></p><p>Returning Adygs are equally ready to be faithful Russian citizens. They are loyal to Moscow and, should war break out, would defend the borders of the state which includes their homeland.</p><p>But they are also welcome elsewhere. Khazrail Khanakhok, a member of Adyghe Khase’s executive committee, says that most Syrian Circassians are highly qualified specialists in their fields: it is no surprise that they are in demand in Europe and the USA. </p><h2>‘Why do they treat us like this?’</h2><p> Russia, on the other hand, is less than welcoming to the repatriates. Both Alaidin and Adnan have had problems acquiring Russian citizenship. They both have residence permits, but will have to wait five years for their passports. There is no fast-tracking in sight for them or the other 1,000 or so Syrian Circassians who have returned to Adygea and Kabardino-Balkaria. </p><p>This is odd, to say the least. The situation of these Circassians falls under the remit of a specific Russian law (‘On state policy concerning compatriots residing abroad’). They are members of a nation historically settled on the territory of the Russian Federation. Their national self-identification is further confirmed by the fact that they speak Adyghe, the second official language of Adygea. </p><p>In addition, these people have fled from a war zone, and should be entitled to the same special aid as Russian refugees from Ukraine. Ukrainian refugees tend to receive citizenship after just a few months, work is found for them and they receive assistance with their living costs. The Syrians, by contrast, are not only refused any official help but their resettlement is facing official obstruction.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/maykop.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maykop's Adyghe Khase organisation (from left to right): Zaurby Chundyshko, Ali Bgana, Khazrail Khanakhok.</span></span></span></p><p class="pullquote-right">The Circassians should be entitled to the same special aid as Russian refugees from Ukraine</p><p>‘They have made repatriation more difficult. Russian consulates in Syria are refusing to issue exit permits’, says Zaurby Chundyshko, chair of the Maykop city Adyghe Khase organisation. </p><p>‘Refugees have told me that they wanted to bring their relatives with them but were not allowed to complete the appropriate forms. The authorities fall back on all kinds of bureaucratic procedures – anything to avoid letting them in. And then when they arrive in Russia, they are stymied by immigration legislation. To get a residence permit they have to take exams to test their knowledge of Russia’s history and language. And most of them don’t speak much Russian.’</p><p>According to Ali Bgana, the language test was only introduced this year; previously, it only had to be taken when applying for citizenship. It was introduced to restrict the number of ‘undesirable’ migrants from Central Asia, but the Circassians got caught up in it as well. </p><p>Ali thinks it is impossible to learn Russian in three months – it takes two to three years. And Zaurby believes that if Adyghe and Russian have equal status under Adyghe law, then the settlers should be able to take exams in their own language and learn Russian as they go along. </p><p>Khazrail Khanakhok suggests that one way to help resettlement would be for the federal government to allocate funding to build, say, 100 houses a year for repatriates. </p><p><span>If that happened, it would bring business investment into the equation, and Adygea would be able to accept anyone wishing to settle. Returning Circassians could build their own houses. The Russian government has already allocated 1,000 plots of land outside Maypol, some of them in the village of Mafekhabl, built 15 years ago by Circassian repatriates from Kosovo. And residents of another village, Panakhes, have given asylum to 200 refugees from Syria and helped them build 37 houses.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554750/ район1-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Roughly two-thirds of Adygea's population live in villages and towns scattered across the republic's mountain ridges.</span></span></span>&nbsp;<br /></span><span>Ali Bgana believes the problem lies with the republic’s government, which fails to serve the interests of its people. The head of government was appointed by Moscow, the parliamentary elections were a sham and all the local officials, including ethnic Adygs, just follow Kremlin orders. And the Kremlin is afraid of a flood of Circassian resettlers into the only North Caucasus republic where a majority of the population are ethnic Russians.</span></p><p>Both the Adyghe Khase Circassian Council and the refugees themselves believe these fears to be unfounded. At best, there might be 50,000 repatriates from Syria, and the security services could monitor the immigration process to keep out potential terrorists. </p><p>‘Are a few thousand Syrian refugees going to have any impact on the situation in Russia?’ asks Alaidin Pshimaf. ‘Why do they treat us like this?’</p><p>At present, Adygea, thanks to the efforts of the people who live there, is free from religious fanaticism, and most of the population support democratic reform. </p><p>But if they lose confidence in their government and hope that their voices will be heard, more radical religious leaders might take the initiative, and Adygea could suffer a fate similar to other Muslim republics of the North Caucasus.</p><p><em>All images courtesy of the author.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Bullough Oliver,&nbsp;<em>Let our Fame be Great: Journeys among the Defiant People of the Caucasus</em>, Allen Lane, 2010</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sufian-zhemukhov/sochi-city-with-no-mosque">Sochi: a city with no mosque</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/crimes-in-caucasus">Crimes in the Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sufian-zhemukhov/russia-and-georgia-circassian-question">Russia and Georgia: the Circassian question </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/zeynel-abidin-besleney/circassian-nationalism-and-internet">Circassian Nationalism and the Internet</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Adygea Svetlana Bolotnikova Migration matters Russia Conflict Caucasus Wed, 15 Jul 2015 18:14:58 +0000 Svetlana Bolotnikova 94458 at https://www.opendemocracy.net