05.09.2009
Approaching the Far Away
№3 2009 July/September

The next meeting of the World Congress of Russian Compatriots
Living Abroad, scheduled to be held in Moscow on December 1-2,
2009, holds the promise of becoming a landmark event in the
dynamically developing dialogue between the Russian authorities and
Russian communities abroad.

The Congress should reaffirm the Russian government’s all-round
support for Russian compatriots living abroad and give an impulse
to activities that have been unfolding in this field recently. The
upcoming forum will work towards the consolidation of the Russian
diaspora and will increase its prestige in countries where fellow
Russians live.

THE EVOLUTION OF RELATIONS WITH COMMUNITIES ABROAD

There has been considerable progress in the two and a half years
since the previous Congress (in St. Petersburg in October 2006) in
establishing a closer relationship between Moscow and Russian
compatriots living abroad, ensuring their rights, maintaining the
Russian ethno-cultural space, and consolidating the Russian
community.

However, we are still at the very beginning of the long road
towards narrowing the gap between Russia’s internal space and the
Russian community abroad. It is important to have a clear
understanding of where we are now and where we are moving.

In recent years Russia has reviewed its attitude towards
compatriots living abroad, proceeding from the reality of the
rapidly-changing world and the logic of its own development as a
state adhering to democratic values and the upkeep of the global
Russian ethno-cultural sphere. The pivotal factor is the
recognition by Russia that Russians living abroad belong to the
same cultural tradition, even though they have found themselves on
the outskirts while Russia proper remains the center of the Russian
language, culture and mentality. The 19th-century philosopher and
poet Fyodor Tyutchev sounds very prophetic today, who wrote:
“Although we’ve been split apart// By inimical fate,// We’re still
one race, // The scions of a single mother!// That’s why they hate
us!”

The presence of an influential and consolidated Russian
community abroad meets Russia’s national interests. A community
interwoven and integrated in the public and political life of the
country where it lives – rather than an assimilated or marginalized
one – could make up a full-fledged part of a global Russian world.
A community of this kind that retains its ethnic identity, impulses
for self-organization and connections with the historical
motherland is able to wield fruitful influence on the outside world
and act in the interests of raising Russia’s international status
through the strengthening of ties with countries where ethnic
Russians live.

Interaction with the Russian community living abroad is an
important part of Russia’s foreign policy. The Russian Foreign
Ministry chairs the Governmental Commission for the Affairs of
Compatriots Living Abroad, the key state agency for coordinating
Russian policy in the field of interaction with Russian communities
in foreign countries.

A policy of declarations of support for the Russian community
living in other countries gradually gives way to practical measures
in this field that rely on three major principles:

  •  assistance for the communities’ consolidation,
  •  the maintenance of Russian ethno-cultural space,
  •  the consolidation of ties with historical Russia on the
    principles of partnership and mutual assistance.

A COMMUNITY, NOT YET A DIASPORA

The Russian community living abroad cannot be called a diaspora
yet if one uses the traditional meaning of the word, although a
30-million-strong ethno-cultural group is a large ethnic formation
(second only to the 80-million-strong ethnic Chinese community).
Standing next in line are the Hindus and the Poles with about 20
million people in each community.

The notion of “diaspora” implies an organized and structured
community, but the Russian community is neither organized nor
structured yet. One could describe Russians living abroad as a
diaspora if one realizes, of course, that a “diaspora” is something
more than just a group of people speaking the same language and
having identical cultural and spiritual roots.

And what are the impediments to the formation of a full-fledged
Russian diaspora?

First, government policies in some of the
countries where ethnic Russians live. These governments try to
assimilate or marginalize Russians. This approach can be seen both
in the counties of the former Soviet Union and beyond, including in
countries where ethnic Russians make up a sizable part of the
population. More often than not, Russian communities are
indigenous, autochthonous and have lived in those territories for
centuries. The breakup of the Soviet Union provided grounds for
analysts to describe Russians as a split nation – one that has
found itself partially divided throughout various countries due to
the cataclysms of history.

Second, anti-Russian propaganda and a desire to
smear Russia’s image and its policies. This does not facilitate the
shaping of a sense of Russianness among ethnic Russians. The
deplorable role of some people from Russia, who have partly
retained their Russophobic philosophy in contrast to members of
other ethnic communities, is also noticeable. Evidence of this can
be seen in many Russian-language media abroad, especially outside
of the CIS.

Third, the historical waves of emigration from
Russia and the extremely disparate make-up of the communities, from
oligarchs to the very poor. These include both the Russian elite
and those who had to leave the Soviet Union in a search for their
daily bread. On the one hand, some ?migr?s are genuine friends of
Russia but, on the other, some people benefit from fanning
anti-Russian sentiments and criticizing the domestic and foreign
policies of their former homeland.

The differences in the attitudes to Russia and its policies on
the part of different categories of Russian ?migr?s or ethnic
Russians stranded in other post-Soviet countries after the Soviet
Union’s disintegration is a very specific feature that is not found
in the majority of other ethnic groups in foreign countries.
Although there is a general tendency today towards a more positive
image of Russia, negative viewpoints still abound, and this could
be seen in how the Russian-speaking media covered events in the
Caucasus in August 2008, as well as in the comments they made about
the Russian-Ukrainian conflict over the delivery of natural gas to
European consumers in January 2009.

Add to this the multiethnic and multi-confessional nature of the
global Russian community. Russians, Tatars, Circassians and people
of Russia’s other ethnic groups have their own ethnic communities,
and there are also millions of Russian-speaking ethnic repatriates
from the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

This situation pushes to the forefront the task of ironing out
the differences that divide the global Russian community, of
supporting the processes of consolidation on the basis of general
interests and fostering a positive attitude among Russians living
abroad towards their historical homeland.

THE CONSOLIDATION OF COMMUNITIES ABROAD

Naturally any consolidation takes time. Like today’s Russia, the
global Russian community living abroad is one of the youngest in
the world, while intra-diasporal relations are formed over decades.
Maturity comes over a span of many years, as experience is gained
in smoothing out internal contradictions and the communities
determine their place in the countries of permanent residence and
formulate common platforms for defending their interests. It is
important that the opportunities being opened now be used both by
the Russian community itself and its historical motherland.

One important instrument for establishing ties and exchanging
information is widening the Russian-language information sphere.
Sporadic meetings of editors-in-chief of Russian-language
publications, including the ones in the format of the World
Association of the Russian Press (WARP) – the latest meeting was
held in Lucerne, Switzerland in June 2009 – are unable to influence
that sphere in any significant way in spite of their usefulness.
Discussions of the problem of the structure of the Russian
community living abroad and protecting the compatriots’
ethno-cultural interests are not very prominent on the pages of
Russian-language publications in foreign countries, as their
benchmarks lie some way off from the interests of both fellow
Russians living abroad or their historical motherland.

The Governmental Commission for the Affairs of Compatriots
Living Abroad has helped create some specialized publications, like
Shire Krug (Broaden the Circle) in Vienna, Yedinstvo v Raznoobrazii
(Unity in Diversity) in Almaty, and Baltiyskiy Mir (The Baltic
World) in Tallinn, that offer space in their pages to compatriots
discussing their problems. However, these publications have failed
so far to win mass appeal and remain small. The same can be said
about the Ruvek Internet portal, the Russkiy Vek (Russian Age)
magazine published in Moscow, and the Golos Rodiny (The Voice of
the Motherland) newspaper. Appropriate media support for contacts
with compatriots living abroad requires special attention on the
part of the Russian government.

Shoots of philanthropic support for ethnic Russian culture on
the part of wealthy members of the Russian community have begun to
sprout in recent years. The community will never grow into a
diaspora without the self-sufficiency of economic foundations. What
can be done to help Russian businesses based abroad to facilitate
the development of Russian culture and education in the communities
without fear of being persecuted by the local authorities? This
problem demands a substantial and thorough scrutiny, including
looking at the experience of the “old” successful diasporas.

The possibility of support for Russian communities on the part
of Russian business operating in foreign countries is also high on
the agenda. It might be worth expanding and intensifying sporadic
sponsorship action undertaken by Gazprom, Lukoil and other large
corporations. This activity should receive assistance from the
Russian government and public opinion to become systemic and
significant.

Next in line is the establishment of smooth relations between
ethnic Russians and the authorities in the countries where they
reside. Fellow Russians can become an important link in Russia’s
relations with those countries. Being citizens of and taxpayers in
one or another country, ethnic Russians have every right to count
on their governments’ assistance in preserving their culture and
language.

One more pressing problem is the leadership of Russian
compatriots’ organizations. The leaders must be active and oriented
not at complaining, but at protecting the interests of ethnic
Russians in the territories where they live; bridging dialogue with
the local authorities; gaining support for Russian business; and
elaborating clear-cut positions in protecting the ethno-cultural
environment.

Moreover, many of today’s leaders cannot always claim such
authority. More often than not, the organizations are led by
veterans or teachers in Russian-speaking schools whose interests
are focused narrowly on resolving professional tasks and on the use
of rather modest assistance coming from Russia.

There is a growing need for promising young leaders capable of
strategic thinking and who are able to help resolve the problems of
the global Russian community. It is important to make the maximum
possible use of democratic principles while setting up coordination
centers in different countries. These centers must acquire – to be
frank – a lobbyist potential in what concerns the protection of
ethnic Russians in the countries where they live. The task of
maintaining the Russian world and preventing assimilation
underlines the importance of the movement towards a self-organizing
and viable diaspora; all the more so that other countries with
sizable ethnic communities have gained some encouraging
experience.

Serious efforts to consolidate the Russian communities abroad
have been made with Russian assistance in recent years. The
backbone of the organizational structure – coordination councils in
more than 80 countries – has been set up. These councils try to
elaborate a common platform reflecting the interests of
communities, separate organizations and all compatriots. Special
attention is given to preventing marginalization at all costs and
to help integrate Russians into the societies of the countries
where they live, along with maintaining their cultural and ethnic
identity. Simultaneously, discussions – sometimes acute ones – and
interaction between the communities are unfolding.

Regional conferences of Russian communities are organized
annually in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus,
Moldova, the Baltic countries, Europe, the Americas, the Middle
East, Africa, Asia and Australia. World conferences of Russian
compatriots meet annually (the last one was held in Moscow in
November 2008) and world congresses of Russian compatriots convene
on a triennial basis. The Governmental Commission for the Affairs
of Compatriots Living Abroad has helped streamline conferences and
roundtable meetings of Russians living both in Russia and abroad,
where people meet to discuss pressing problems of the Russian
community abroad (the most recent such event, a roundtable meeting
on Russian-speaking Ukraine that discussed the opportunities for
and problems of consolidation, was held in Moscow in April
2009).

The World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots was set up
in 2006. It de facto took on the role of a central agency
consolidating and representing their interests and ensuring
permanent dialogue with the agencies of executive power in Russia,
as well as Russian and foreign NGOs. It is the World Coordination
Council that monitors contacts with coordination councils of
individual countries.

PROTECTING ETHNO-CULTURAL SPACE AND THE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE

Some crucial elements of ensuring the viability of Russian
communities abroad are the protection of ethnic/cultural identity,
support for the Russian language and the languages of Russia’s
other indigenous peoples, as well as culture and traditions. The
Russian language remains an instrument of science, culture and
inter-ethnic communication. Although elites in many former Soviet
countries ostentatiously distance themselves from Moscow, they
frequently continue to speak and think in Russian. It is obvious
that maintaining the territory of the Russian language and Russian
culture is a task of paramount importance. In this light, efforts
by some countries to oust Russian from the sphere of education,
culture, social life and everyday communication cannot but cause
concern. The development of national languages should not lead to
restrictions in the field of culture, education and everyday life
for Russian compatriots. In the meantime such instances abound.

The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States,
Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian
Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo, known as Roszarubezhtsentr before
2008) has traditionally managed the preservation and promotion of
the Russian language abroad. It has recently been actively
expanding the network of its centers, although it is clear that
this is not enough. Russia’s Education and Science Ministry
continues practical steps under the federal program “The Russian
Language in 2008-2010” that promotes the system of distance
education and embraces Russians living abroad. Teaching aids,
textbooks and multimedia programs on the Russian language have been
produced, and a series of radio and TV programs have also been
created.

The Russkiy Mir (Russian World) foundation began operating in
June 2008 with substantial funding from the federal budget. The
foundation’s objective is to support the Russian language and
culture abroad through a system of grants and in other ways. The
task of maintaining the Russian language now involves the efforts
of federal law and executive bodies, regional organizations, the
mass media, and actually the entire cultural and scientific
potential of Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has taken some crucial steps, as
well. It has supplied complete sets of books and materials for
libraries (more than 200 in 2008) and Russian language study rooms
(over a hundred in 2008), and provides retraining for teachers in
Russian schools abroad (more than 1,200 teachers in 2008). It has
also organized sightseeing tours of Russia for over 1,500 children
of Russian compatriots as prizes for winning various academic
competitions.

The problem of maintaining and strengthening the positions of
the Russian language interweaves with another pressing problem –
that of providing education for compatriots in Russia. On August
25, 2008, the government passed a resolution On Cooperation with
Foreign Countries in the Field of Education that provides for a
further increase – with the help of federal funding – in the
admittance of foreign citizens and compatriots residing abroad (up
to 10,000 people annually) to Russian colleges and universities, as
well as for sending up to 300 teachers to universities in foreign
countries.

The Education and Science Ministry is working intensively to
open branches of Russian schools of higher learning abroad. Right
now 36 branches of 29 Russian universities operate on Russian
licenses in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. The universities
opened four branches abroad last year.

Another important document in effect now is the February 10,
2009 federal law On Changes in Separate Legislative Acts of the
Russian Federation Related to the Activity of Federal Universities.
It waives the requirement for compatriots in foreign countries to
take Russia’s Unified State Examination, which is a mandatory
requirement for getting a high school diploma and for applying to
universities and vocational training colleges. This provision has
laid out a new procedure for admitting foreigners to Russian
educational institutions, and it currently is in the process of
registration at the Russian Justice Ministry.

On the whole one cannot help but admit that the Russian
government has made sizable efforts in the past three years to
support Russian culture abroad. A realization of “what’s lying in
the scales,” as the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova said, has appeared.
Still, we have also realized that, considering the experience of
other countries, this is just the beginning of the process that
will require dynamic development. A crucial move in this sense
could be the rapid opening of Russian cultural centers in foreign
countries and branches of such centers in major foreign cities.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN RUSSIA AND COMPATRIOTS

Work with Russians living abroad is gradually moving away from
paternalism with modest financial support to interaction along the
principles of partnership. As a result, Russian communities abroad
will become Russia’s intellectual, economic, cultural and spiritual
partners, while building up their ethnic/cultural identity.

However, this approach does not mean that Russia should
relinquish its persistent support for the legitimate rights and
freedoms of fellow Russians in any part of the globe where they may
be encroached on. Support of this kind remains a key priority and
this is clearly fixed in a new concept of Russia’s foreign policy,
which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev endorsed in July 2008.
Fellow Russians in other countries should have confidence that
their historical homeland will not let them down for one minute and
will not permit any encroachments on their ethnic/cultural
rights.

An interdepartmental workgroup set up by the Governmental
Commission for the Affairs of Compatriots Living Abroad is actively
considering proposing amendments to the federal law On the Russian
Federation’s State Policy Towards Fellow Countrymen Living Abroad,
as the current law was adopted amid specific political conditions
in May 1999 and contains a number of outdated provisions and
unrealistic commitments.

The authors of the new draft put emphasis on a concrete
definition for the notion of “compatriots living abroad,”
specifying the roles of the World Congress and coordination
councils, fixing the powers that enable Russia’s regions to work in
the field of support for fellow countrymen living abroad on a solid
legislative basis. The paternalist pathos must give way to the
spirit of partnership now, as this is what the majority of fellow
Russians living abroad advocate.

Along with this, the authors take account of the remarks and
proposals that compatriots voiced at national and regional
conferences and at the World Conference of Compatriots (held in
Moscow from October 31-November 1, 2008). Information on progress
in this activity was presented at meetings of the Government
Commission on December 24, 2008 and March 30, 2009.

Finding a concrete definition for the notion of “compatriots
living abroad” has special significance, as the current definition
is rather declarative and embraces the list of people who have had
Soviet and pre-Soviet citizenship. This legal concept actually
includes millions of people, including those from the so-called
titular nations in former Soviet republics and, in addition to
them, in Poland, Finland, etc. This contradicts today’s reality and
impedes targeted work with Russians living abroad.

A heated debate continues about the possible issue of a special
document that would confirm a person’s affiliation with compatriots
abroad. Although the effective law envisions “issuing documents” to
fellow Russians, no such identification documents have been issued
in the past decade.

This is not a simple matter and it requires serious
consideration, since if Russia issues IDs this might cause a
negative reaction from governments in the countries where ethnic
Russian live. Moreover, the very printing of such documents will
require funding significantly higher than all the current
allocations for support to Russian communities abroad. Should this
“documenting” become a substitute for compatriot
self-identification? And should budgetary funds be spent on
bureaucratic procedures instead of being used for real assistance
to Russian veterans, organizations and cultural programs?

The endorsement of a system of moral motivation for compatriots
living abroad in 2008 played a encouraging role in terms of
strengthening relations between Russian communities and their
historical homeland. A special ceremony by the Governmental
Commission for the Affairs of Compatriots Living Abroad to award
compatriots with honorary diplomas and signs of distinction took
place as part of the World Conference of Compatriots. At the end of
November 2008, Medvedev issued a decree to decorate a number of
fellow Russians abroad with the Order of Friendship or the Pushkin
Medal. This practice will continue in 2009.

The international experience of working with fellow countrymen
abroad reveals three major models:

  • Repatriation (resettlement to historical
    homeland);
  • Paternalism (protecting the rights of
    compatriots and material aid);
  • Pragmatism (employing the diasporas’
    political, economic and lobbyist potential).

None of these models is ever used in its pure form in the world
and the evolution of the approaches supported, for example, by
Germany and Israel testifies to this.

The development of Russian policies towards Russian communities
abroad has made it possible to combine these models. This became
possible after the endorsement of a state program to assist the
voluntary resettlement to Russia of compatriots living abroad. It
was enacted by Decree No. 637, which the Russian president signed
on June 22, 2006.

Time has shown that the program is popular, as more than 12,000
people have moved to Russia in the first 18 months since it was
adopted. The majority of repatriates (about 80 percent of all those
who applied for the program) come from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine. Small numbers of
people have come from non-CIS countries: Germany (90 people),
Israel, the U.S., and some other countries. A large group of
Russian Old Believers living in South America are considering
possible resettlement to Russia’s Primorsky Krai in the Far Eastern
part of the country. Russian Old Believers from Georgia are moving
in compact groups to live in the Tambov Region. Resettling Russians
most frequently (in 83 percent of the cases) choose the Baltic
exclave region of Kaliningrad, as well as the Kaluga, Lipetsk and
Tambov regions.

Since the program does not emphasize statistics for
resettlement, there is no reason to compare any “target figures” or
results. Given all the complexities and subtle aspects of
organizing people moving to new places of residence, which quite
often implies breaking up the traditional lifestyle, a discussion
of “planned targets” would be inappropriate. What really matters
here is a concrete person and a concrete family. The main thing is
to provide fellow Russians with the opportunity for a civilized
government-sponsored resettlement to their historical homeland. The
significant factor is that the program is turning into an
encouraging element in relations between Russia and the communities
abroad.

Naturally, practical actions under the program have revealed
some shortcomings. The main problem appears to be the lack of
attractiveness of regional programs (housing, decent jobs).

The experience gained has helped work out additional measures to
raise the attractiveness and efficiency of the state program.
Provisions have been made, for instance, to include more categories
of people – businessmen, students, and people coming to live with
their relatives (should the latter have housing for the people who
are resettling) in regions not listed among the territories for
resettlement. Also, participants in the program who have not been
issued with Russian passports yet can now get the status of
resident taxpayers.

As a response to proposals from compatriots, a discussion has
begun on possibly giving regional divisions of the Federal
Migration Service the authority to issue a license of participation
in the state program to compatriots who have already arrived in
Russia legally and who are willing to join the program.

Establishing partnership relations between Moscow and the
compatriot communities abroad is a vital prerequisite for the
gradual formation of a consolidated and viable diaspora that would
be resistant to assimilation.

THE CONGRESS AS AN OPPORTUNITY

The upcoming World Congress of Russian Compatriots in December
is expected to gather over 500 representatives of organizations of
ethnic Russians from 89 countries, as well as Russian legislators,
federal and regional government officials, public organization
activists, and executives of foundations that interact with
compatriots abroad.  Preparations for the Congress were
discussed by the Governmental Commission for the Affairs of
Compatriots Living Abroad in late March and by the World
Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots.

Apart from the plenary sessions, the forum will have from ten to
twelve theme sections where discussions will focus on the
consolidation of compatriots’ organizations, maintaining the
Russian-speaking community abroad, and the protection of the rights
of compatriots abroad. The latter envisions, among other things,
enacting the mechanisms of international institutions and NGOs, and
providing opportunities for education in Russia and at branches of
Russian universities abroad. This aspect presupposes a discussion
of the role that constituent territories of the Russian Federation
can play in providing assistance to Russians living abroad, the
united spiritual community of the Russian world (in cooperation
with the Russian Orthodox Church), Russia’s historical heritage and
refuting the falsifications of history, mass media problems,
implementation of the state program for resettlement, etc.

A number of important meetings, as well as national, regional
and international forums will take place in the run-up to the
Congress. The objective of discussions there is to tap ways to
resolve the most pressing problems faced by Russian communities
abroad.

Whatever the skeptics may say, the system that was set into
motion in the past two years or so makes it possible to streamline
discussions and interaction within the global Russian community on
the one hand, and to maintain the compatriots’ regular dialogue
with their historical homeland on the other.

It is quite obvious that Russia is just at the beginning of the
road. Dialogue with compatriots should be imbued with new issues
and it should take on a new scale over time. All of this will
require substantial moral and material support on the part of
Russia.