It might be considered strange, but discussions that have taken place over the Russian repatriation program to bring back “compatriots” to the Russian Federation after this program was announced in June 2006, have essentially come to naught. From time to time, this subject is mentioned in reports by journalists or during public hearings, but in a way as if it was a matter of the past, something that had “failed to occur” or that was “thoroughly” discussed and analyzed.
The current approach toward this problem (and this is nothing but a problem for all participants in the current process, as we will later attempt to demonstrate) is as wrong as the majority of opinions that have been voiced about it. As a reminder, the first statements indicated, either in a categorical manner or with some reservation, that the Russian population living in Kazakhstan would not return to its historical fatherland. However, the proof for such predictions, softly speaking, was not very extensive. In a number of reports in certain publications (note: sometimes the reports were quite incorrect regarding potential immigrants, no matter how many of them there could be eventually) the focus was on the fact that the Russian side was not nearly ready to fulfill the plans that it had announced. Everything, in essence ended with this.
There were even less arguments in other reports. Thus, during a recent conference on immigration problems in Central Asia, an official from the State Statistics Agency said that the Agency received a letter from the government, offering (to conference participants) to share their views regarding the (immigration) issue. I don’t know what reply was sent back to the government, but during the conference, the official commented saying, “Those who wanted to leave have already left.” The conference participants never heard well-formulated arguments. I hope that they were recorded in the reply letter to the government.
So, the first reaction to this absolutely exceptional political event in the national information sector (Kazakhstan) was superficial, unfounded and somewhat hysterical. That is, the fact that nobody was prepared to discuss this problem seriously was obvious.
Statements that were voiced by certain media outlets and public officials that the Russian regions were not sufficiently prepared to take in immigrants; and the manner in which these statements were voiced, appeared to be speculative. It would be unrealistic to expect that such a large-scale project should be conducted so fast that the Russian regions would formulate concrete timelines. Here (in Kazakhstan), everybody laughed at the situation and then forgot about it. It is believed however, that the mechanism for brining expatriates home will be designed and proposed to the public as of the beginning of 2007. To this effect, a representative office of the Russian Federal Immigration Service (FMS) should be opened in Almaty. Imagining that one lonely official would sit there, killing flies in boredom is very difficult. Such agencies, after their establishment, have lots of things to do, including issues related to legislative, personnel and financial problems. This would be a good subject for discussion. But, oh no…
The fact that the Kazakhstani mass media criticizes the Kremlin’s initiative is understandable, and is explained sometimes by an obvious bias on the part of those political forces that would prefer not to bring up this subject. But there is also criticism from the other side. Various activists from the Russian and Slovak communities have accepted the Russian presidential initiative quite critically, although many obviously try not to show it. Fedor Miroglov, one famous activist from this community made some comments on this issue, “This is all a reckless scheme. Nothing is prepared and despite this fact, they are already calling us (to move)”. He used as an example his favorite analogy, the program to bring back the oralmans. He believes that the first reason for this entire situation is that the immigration program is not an attempt to resolve the demographic problems in Russia, but is a type of PR project being implemented by the administration prior to the upcoming elections.
There is logic in this, but such PR projects, after their creation, might never “disappear”. They develop slowly, but genuinely acquire certain specifications and structure. If the situation changes, it could then turn into real instrument for repatriation, likely for a large amount of people, rather than remaining just a simple “bureaucratic paper tiger”. While analyzing this problem, the main thing that one should remember is that it (the problem) “grows” out of one of the most important Russian issues – demography. Its hazards and importance is recognized in Russia by everyone, and the authorities will attempt to resolve it using all means, including immigration. Naturally, PR projects could contribute to resolving current problems. In addition, this project has been publicized extensively, so it cannot be hidden quietly.
Kazakhstan has a different point of view on this initiative, and a different attitude towards its purposes. In any case, we should not think that this will end with mere buzz – the program will work. Even if it will have to be promoted bureaucratically, it will still work and will improve continuously. The question is; how fast will it progress? Considering Kyrgyzstan, for example, the picture is more or less clear; people would leave rapidly. They are doing it now without a program, and would do so even more with one in hand. As for Kazakhstan, one must search very carefully and seriously for an answer to this question. But this work has yet to be undertaken.
Comments made by the leader of the Russian Community in Kazakhstan, Yuri Bunakov in October during a city meeting are rather typical. One cannot ignore such an example of self-expression during an open-air meeting, which the Russian community had not held for an eternity, possibly since the middle of 1990s, when the government had refused to re-register it in any manner.
Thus, while commenting on this issue, Mr. Bunakov noted, “This subject is not crucial right now: this is only groundwork, there are only general outlines for policies in the form of a Russian presidential order and national program. There is no specific plan existing in Russia that could serve as a foundation for this policy.”
The representative of the Dzhambul Oblast affiliate office of the Russian Community of Kazakhstan (RCK), Svetlana Chautina said during her presentation that after the event which took place this spring in Taraz for translating receipts for municipal payments into the Kazakh language, and after, “the insufficiently thought- out decision to introduce amendments into the law on language, a disturbance occurred among the Russian speaking population in the oblast, and after the decree issued by the Russian president on immigration, the anxiety has not abated – each day, people come to the community and inquire about the law.”
“If there are any changes, I believe that the majority of the Russian population would decide to take an important step such as immigration,” Ms. Chautina stated.
Some observers believe that sometime during our era, the interests of the Kazakhstani government and the top leaders of Russian public organizations began to coincide: the first (the government) does not want to dramatize this issue, to become engrossed in discussions that could bring about even more difficult issues and could call into question certain officially established beliefs. The others – the leaders of Russian organizations, are in danger of damaging their political image in the event that a great deal of people suddenly begins moving out. Who shall they govern then? Therefore, the first and the latter are actually ideological antipodes but both amicably ignore the Kremlin immigration program, and simultaneously support their own interests.
Such a public discussion has been ongoing as of late. There have been zero results and no sensible understanding of the consequences of the Russian immigration policy has been gained: more so, there have been simply badly reasoned and poorly constructed arguments… This is not good, because in the event that the problem becomes a crucial one, our society and state will simply not be prepared to resolve it, and accordingly they (the society and the state) will not be able to react on this issue in time. We should have considered this problem in a different way; calmly, without politics or in-depth analysis. Generally speaking, it should have been done professionally.
Unfortunately, it is hard to find the grounds for such an analysis. We first of all should look at the fact that pragmatism has pushed morals aside. What do the ethnic statistics show us here today? How objective are the figures? What precisely is the socio-political phenomenon known as a “compatriot,” anyway, and what are its limits in the application of the immigration program? If these compatriots will decide to immigrate, what kind of ethnicities will there be? Only Russians?
Likely not - this means that our society will face certain ethno-cultural, ethno-political, and demographic changes. What kind? Who has studied this? I will take a risk by saying no one. It appears that one academic institute will do something about this (although several years ago, some works were published, but the general public paid no attention).
What is the true mood of main target of the Kremlin policy - Russians (who are living in Kazakhstan), who determine the potential for immigration? It is the easiest thing to say “those who wanted to leave have already left,” and thus, close this subject. As far as we know, several years ago, officials at one ministry which were engaged in studies of state ideology attempted to research this problem. However, this turned out to be a one time action. Meanwhile, the Russians are now thoroughly realizing the scope of the Kazakhstani problem which is in one way or another connected to the immigration issue, and soon, they will be more aware of it than people are here in Kazakhstan.
Another question that is absolutely misunderstood and which was not considered carefully during the post-Soviet period is that of the role of different ethnicities in certain areas of the economy. This absolutely natural question, which does not carry any potential for conflict, is not under study here (Kazakhstan). Meanwhile, we should research it, even when there is no competition underway for labor resources between the closest partner-countries in order to understand which branch of industry could suffer if the ethnic-political situation in the country changes. It is high time to say that we should study the potential and specifics for the attraction of labor immigrants from third countries, rather than only legalizing them. These issues, the initiative of President Putin and an influx of immigrants to Kazakhstan are obviously interconnected.
We can recollect the 5th Convention of the Trade Union of Metallurgists and Miners of Kazakhstan, which took place on April 27, 2005 in Almaty. During this meeting, participants presented figures on total production volumes for Kazakhstani mining and metallurgical sectors, the exports of which were 27% out of the total production volume for that year.
“This sector (mining and metallurgy) remains one of the primary elements of the state economy,” stressed Mr. Shumenov, the leader of the trade union, adding that integration processes as part of EurAsEC could spur qualified specialists to repatriate to work in the mining and metallurgy enterprises in Russia, since salaries are higher. After Kazakhstan joins the WTO, a tremendous amount of foreign laborers will obtain an opportunity to enter the local job market, especially from China.
The ethnic component is not dominant, but it does exist. Another fact from the last year which relates to the same subject, 50 highly-qualified miners from the Karaganda region moved to the Kemerovskaya Oblast upon invitation of its administration in an organized manner. This also occurred long before Russia announced state support for immigration policy.
One of the most likely schemes for the realization (of the strategy for attracting highly-qualified labor) is that “dot invitations” are sent to individual groups of professionals with guaranteed jobs at mines and plants. It is no secret that the salaries are much higher in the industrial sector of Russia, and this sector is developing. However, the country (Russia) is not aspiring to become one of the top 50… Upon using such a scheme, we will probably not face immense immigration of specialists but, considering the very critical shortage of professionals in the industrial sector, one could imagine what the immigration of several thousand qualified specialists would mean for the country…
While developing this article, the author addressed a number of the leaders of industries that are known and successful in their sectors, including the food industry, metallurgy, transportation and logistics. The question was; what was their attitude toward the initiative on the part of President Putin. The answer was essentially the same – they treated this question very seriously, especially in the sense that was touched upon in the previous paragraph. That is, there are afraid of losing their workers. There is also one more curious point, which is that all of them had asked that they and their industries remain anonymous…
Today, the extent to which people are informed on these issues in Kazakhstan; and the level of transparency and objectivity is very low. There is barely one political aspect that could clearly portray the medium and long-term consequences of Mr. Putin’s immigration program.