Russians line up for visas outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
(Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times)
Russian Immigration - "For many years the joke was that Israel had become the 51st state of the US. Instead we have become just another Soviet republic."
Roughly 1.25 million Russians have left the country in the last 10 years, Sergei Stepashin, head of the national Audit Chamber, told the radio station Echo of Moscow. The chamber tracks migration through tax revenues.
He said the exodus is so large, it's comparable in numbers to the outrush in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution.
"About as many left the country after 1917," he said.
The wave of emigration, which has included large numbers of educated Russians, has grave implications for a country of 142 million with a death rate significantly higher than its birthrate. A study published this year by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development called Russia a waning power and predicted its population would shrink by 15 million by 2030 reports the Los Angeles Times.
Experts believe that 100,000 to 150,000 people now leave the country annually and warn that the exodus reached dangerous dimensions in the last three years.
About 20% of Russians are thinking about leaving the country and trying their luck abroad, according to various Russian polling agencies, from the independent Levada Center to the Kremlin-friendly VTsIOM. Among 18- to 35-year-olds, close to 40% of respondents say they'd like to leave.
They don't leave like their predecessors of the Soviet 1970s and '80s, with no intention to return. They don't sell their apartments, dachas and cars. They simply lock the door, go to the airport and quietly leave.
The reasons are varied. Some, like Irtenyev, chafe at life under Putin's rule, which seems all but certain to continue with the prime minister's expected return to the presidency next year. But for many others, economic strictures are the prime motivation. With inflation on the rise, and the country's GDP stuck at an annual 3% growth rate the last three years — compared with 7% to 8% before the global economic crisis — Russians are feeling pinched.
"I just can't bear the idea of watching Vladimir Putin on television every day for the next 12 years," the 64-year-old Igor Irtenyev said of the Russian leader who has presided over a relatively stable country, though one awash in corruption and increasing limits on personal freedoms. "I may not live that long. I want out now."
Russian nuclear physicist Vladimir Alimov, who now works at the University of Toyama in Japan, said he couldn't survive on the $450 monthly salary of a senior researcher at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"Yes, I miss Russia, but as a scientist I couldn't work there with the ancient equipment which had not been replaced or upgraded since the Soviet times," Alimov, 60, said in a phone interview. "Here in Japan, I have fantastic work conditions. I can do the work I enjoy and be appreciated and valued for it, everything I couldn't even dream of back in Russia."
|Israel’s Moldova-born foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. His Yisrael Beiteinu party has been successful mainly as a result of its support among Russian-speaking immigrants.|
Russian immigration impact on Israel
Jews in the former Soviet Union were largely banned from migrating to Israel before the collapse of the empire. But from 1990 onwards they came in their thousands, and they now constitute around 15% of Israel's 7.7 million population.
Now in the heart of Jerusalem, you can down vodka shots in homage to the former Russian president. In Ashdod – also known as Little Moscow – you might pop into the Tiv Ta'am supermarket for pork and black bread. On Israeli TV there's Channel 9 if you want to watch broadcasts in the mother tongue round the clock.
The million-plus citizens of the former Soviet Union who migrated to Israel in the past 20 years have not only made new lives of their own but they have transformed their adopted country. They have influenced the culture, hi-tech industry, language, education and, perhaps most significantly, Israeli politics.
According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics around 30% of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s were not Jews or not considered Jewish under Orthodox law. In 2005 that figure leapt to 59%. Only around 5% of the non-Jews have converted says the UK Guardian.
But they almost overwhelmed Israel, causing a severe housing crisis. Many eventually settled in Russian enclaves in cities such as Ashdod, Petah Tikva and Haifa – and in expanding West Bank settlements, such as Ariel.
"It was a very different type of immigration," said Lily Galili, an Israeli journalist writing a book about the impact of the tidal wave from the former Soviet Union. "They didn't want to integrate. They wanted to lead. They changed the nature of the country."
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Israeli politics, particularly in the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Moldova-born foreign minister, and his far-right party, Yisrael Beiteinu. Now the third largest force in Israeli politics and a key member of the ruling coalition, Yisrael Beiteinu has enjoyed success mainly as a result of its support among Russian-speaking immigrants.
Lieberman and his party have pursued a relentlessly rightwing agenda, opposing concessions in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, supporting settlement expansion, seeking to curb the rights of Israel's 20% Arab population and attacking leftist NGOs and campaigners.
A year ago the former US president Bill Clinton caused a furore when he said Russian-speaking Israelis were "an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians".
Russian immigrants were among "the hardest-core people against a division of the land ... They've just got there, it's their country, they've made a commitment to the future there. They can't imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it," Clinton was quoted in Foreign Policy magazine as saying.
Galili pointed to "some sense of alienation between Russian immigrants and native-born Israelis. There is not much social interaction. There are still places for 'Russians' that 'Israelis' don't go and aren't wanted – and vice versa."
But, she added, there would be no going back. "For many years the joke was that Israel had become the 51st state of the US. Instead we have become just another Soviet republic. It's quite a twist in the story." (UK Guardian)
|The million-plus citizens of the former Soviet Union who migrated to Israel in the past 20 years have not only made new lives of their own but they have transformed their adopted country.|