18.05.2005
The Specter of Immigration
№2 2005 April/June
Anatoly Vishnevsky

Director of the Institute of Demography of the State University- Higher School of Economics. He holds a Doctorate in Economics.

A new specter is haunting Europe, America, and Russia – the
specter of illegal immigration. Demands to combat this evil are
gaining momentum from Moscow to Washington, DC. There is something
like nostalgia for the time when state borders were closed and few
people would be ceremonious toward importunate aliens. The
nostalgia carries a tint of bewilderment, though: people realize
that it is impossible to reverse the course of time.

In 1953, an old soldier with the nickname ‘Ike’ [Dwight
Eisenhower], a man unfamiliar with sentimentality, ordered
Operation Wetback, which was a mission to expel all illegal
immigrants from the U.S. “Can anyone imagine Mr. Bush ordering to
expel five to ten million illegal immigrants now?” Patrick J.
Buchanan asks bitterly. This scholarly U.S. politician lists the
serious threats arising from the excessively liberal treatment of
illegal migrants. The leader of the French National Front
Jean-Marie Le Pen, as well as many Russian governors and police
chiefs, would eagerly undersign his concerns. The author of this
article would do the same, but with certain reservations.

There is no doubt that the risks inherent in illegal migration
must be understood, and yet the problem of illegal migration has
other aspects, too. There is the possibility that the phenomenon
and its inherent risks comprise only a visible part of the iceberg,
and a collision with its submerged mass will smash to pieces the
seemingly indomitable European-American-Russian ship of refined
civilization. What does the submerged part of the icy mount
conceal? Does the fanning of sentiments around the question of
illegal migration impair our vision to the real future threats,
while making early preparations for them impossible?

After all, what is the essence of mass illegal migration? Is it
not the shadow of mass migration in general, or its unavoidable
companion, at a time when the receiving countries are trying to
regulate the numbers of incoming migrants, while this inflow
exceeds the demand? The inflow of aspirants is divided into two
parts – those who are eligible for entering a country and those who
are not; the persistence of those who are barred becomes the source
of illegal migration. That is why this phenomenon is rooted in the
apprehensive treatment of immigration in general. Illegal
immigration only testifies to the state’s inability to tightly
regulate the inflow of migrants.

DEMOGRAPHIC IMPERATIVE FOR THE NORTHERN RING

In the second half of the 20th century, the Russian Federation,
as part of the Soviet Union, became the first country in the world
to acquire a correlation of birth and mortality rates that made the
simple reproduction of generations impossible. This happened in
1964, and in 1992 the natural increase of Russia’s population gave
way to a natural decrease and the nation began to shrink.

What we are dealing with is by no means a temporary crisis when
the status quo will be quickly restored and Russia will regain a
large reproduction of its population. What we are witnessing is a
systemic change in demographic behavior which has impacted
virtually all of the European countries, the U.S., Canada, and
Japan. These countries form, together with Russia, the so-called
Northern Ring. In the southern hemisphere, this demographic feature
is only found in Australia and New Zealand.
If the current demographic tendency remains unabated, the Northern
Ring countries will not have any serious prospects for a population
increase. Even the most optimistic forecasts indicate that only
North America is in a position to bring about a change, albeit an
insignificant one, while the population of Russia and the entire
European continent is doomed to go down (see the table below).

Source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and
Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population
Prospects: The 2002 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The
2001 Revision (http://esa.un.org/unpp)

A recent forecast that studied Russia’s demographic trends until
the year 2100 proves that its population will shrink at a fast rate
unless a massive influx of migrants begins. An extrapolation
forecast (i.e. suggesting that the current migration tendencies
will be maintained) indicates that fewer than 100 million people
are likely to live in Russia in 2050. In 2100, the nation will be
reduced to fewer than 70 million people. Naturally, the forecast
contains various projections for the dynamics of births and deaths,
but even the most optimistic one leaves little hope for a dramatic
change in the general tendency.

North America’s specific situation demands a closer look at the
U.S. experience. Russia and the U.S. have notable differences in
terms of their demographic evolution and its prospects. In 1950,
the Soviet Union and the U.S. were among the world’s most populated
nations, immediately behind China and India. The Soviet Union was
ranked number three and the U.S. was ranked number four. But even
if Russia had been considered within its present borders, it would
have been ranked number four then and the U.S. number three.
Forecasts show that by 2050 Russia will have sunk to the bottom of
the list of the 20 biggest countries, while the U.S. will retain
its third position. The secret lies in the Americans’ readiness to
assimilate huge numbers of immigrants; the U.S. has chosen an
alternative path that might be good for Russia, too.

Indeed, a strategy of active acceptance of immigrants offers the
only way to slow down or stop the shrinkage of Russia’s population.
This strategy suggests that, in order to stabilize the numeric
strength of the population at the current level, Russia will have
to immediately begin increasing its net immigration rates until the
middle of this century.

The strategy presupposes that the average number of immigrants
admitted annually after 2025 will exceed one million people, while
the composition of the Russian people (including the ethnical
aspect) will naturally see a radical change. In most probability,
migrants and their descendants will comprise more than a third of
the country’s population by 2050, while by the end of the 21st
century, the posterity of contemporary Russians will obviously be
in the minority. Russia will certainly not be the only country to
find itself in such a situation; many other countries of the
Northern Ring will have the same picture. UN experts say, for
instance, that attempts to stabilize the numeric strength of the
population with the aid of immigrants would mean that by the
mid-21st century, immigrants and their descendants would reach 30
percent of the population in countries like Germany and Italy. Like
in Russia, that percentage would continue to increase in the
future.

It may be assumed that such forecasts strengthen the positions
of the opponents of immigration, who have good reasons to complain
about the loss of Russian, European, American, or Japanese
identity. Their arguments look impressive at first glance, however,
they are built on accentuating, or exaggerating, the detriments of
accepting big numbers of immigrants. Meanwhile, it is also
important to consider the benefits for the demographic situation,
economy, etc. There is no doubt that a fast increase in the number
of the non-native population is fraught with risks, but the
benefits it produces may heavily outweigh them.

ECONOMIC TRUMP CARDS OF IMMIGRATION

How can the alternative migration strategies influence the
Russian economy?
The abovementioned extrapolation forecast indicates that the
natural decrease of the Russian population will proceed
simultaneously with a decrease in the number of able-bodied
workers, that is, men between the ages of 16 to 60 years, and women
between the ages of 16 and 55 years. The number of such people has
been growing over the past fifty or so years, despite some
fluctuations. It continues growing even now, but that growth will
expire soon. The extrapolation forecast suggests that a rapid
regression of the able-bodied population will begin in 2006 or
2007. By 2050, that group may be reduced to 45 percent of its
numeric strength in 2000. By 2100, it will sink to 35 percent of
the initial figure.

Should the stabilization version be implemented, however, the
whole picture would look different. This version does not rule out
the reduction of the able-bodied group (which stems from changes in
the correlation of age groups), yet this group would be reduced by
a much smaller margin and the reduction would continue only until
the middle of this century. The actual number of the able-bodied
people would decrease less than 15 percent versus the 2000 figure
in that case, and stabilization would begin afterwards.

The problem concerns not only the amount of the labor resource,
but its structure as well. Quality upgrades of the workforce,
including better professional training and greater labor
productivity, may cushion the impact of the numerical reduction,
but certain structural limitations will not disappear even if the
qualitative properties change in the best possible way.

To mitigate the impact of the aging workforce, the country needs
an inflow of young workers, and immigration is its only source
given the flagging birthrates at home. More importantly,
immigration may be instrumental in forming a social pyramid.

Increasingly prosperous societies, which possess a high level of
education and qualification, as well as a fast-growing middle
class, unavoidably require fresh injections from a less qualified
and less demanding foreign workforce to replenish the bottom
sections of the social pyramid. This approach has always been used
to form labor resources in modern urban areas, especially the very
large ones. The populations of those areas were the first to suffer
a reduction in the number of births or the cessation of
reproduction. Yet they continued to grow thanks to the arrival of
rural people, who agreed to living in conditions that the
second-generation and third-generation descendants of the earlier
arrivals would not have found acceptable. Those urban centers,
which grew at fast rates thanks to the introduction of migrants,
became the driving force for developing the economy and increasing
social wealth. In the Soviet Union, the village played the role of
an internal colony whose harsh exploitation over many long years
made possible the rapid modernization of Soviet society. The
exploitation had a core mechanism – the incessant absorption of an
inexpensive and undemanding rural workforce in the cities.

But the time came when the internal sources of labor reserves
for advanced sectors of the national economy were exhausted in many
countries, as well as in Russia. Thus, there arose the need for new
external sources. This explains the appearance of social and
economic niches that the West Europeans and Russians are reluctant
to occupy in their respective countries, but which strangers from
impoverished countries are eager to fill. Moreover, they are ready
to agree to the most disadvantageous conditions merely to settle in
the city, thus opening huge opportunities for super-exploitation
and the enrichment of the exploiters. They also provide for
“initial capital accumulation,” which is of special importance for
comparatively poor countries, such as Russia (or the European
countries after World War II). Actually, immigration from less
developed countries to the more developed ones is a type of
neocolonialism. Like any other form of colonialism, it provides
many benefits to the parties involved, although their status is not
equal. Neocolonialism reveals a typical colonialist hypocrisy – it
profits on the immigrants’ cheap labor and then accuses them at the
same time of robbing Russia/France/Germany/etc, because they send
part of their earnings back home.

Immigration offers benefits to recipient countries as it is an
essential factor that allows them to use their own human resources
more efficaciously. Illegal immigration has double benefits – an
illegal newcomer is especially suitable for unrestricted
exploitation. The bonanzas of immigration are known to everyone who
has been connected with immigrants as an employer, landlord,
consumer of services, or law-enforcement officer. As politicians
and bureaucrats popularize the struggle against legal and illegal
immigration, their efforts often become a covert instrument for an
increase in alien exploitation, sometimes under the slogan of
defending their rights. Not infrequently, this struggle proves
useless because it eventually backfires and hurts the economic
interests of the native population or some of its influential
sections.

In the U.S., the “sanctions against employers” have proven quite
inefficient and the politicians lack unanimity on the issue. For
instance, the U.S. administration knew that illegal immigrants make
up 80 percent of the workers harvesting onions in Georgia. The
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) tried to perform its
duties honestly, but legislative agencies of the state opposed its
moves and forced it to retreat. The employers in the farming
sector, construction industry and low-paid services claim they must
have an opportunity to hire foreigners even if their status is
illegal. So, do we have any reason to think that the struggle with
immigration will be any more successful in Russia than it has been
in the U.S.? 

While Russian business stands to gain from an inflow of
immigrants, Russian workers may suffer from it, as the supply of a
cheap immigrant workforce puts pressure on the labor market. It may
worsen the terms of labor contracts or even create unemployment.
But if you put aside the problem of “excessive people” – which is
certainly an exaggeration in a country witnessing depopulation –
the issue actually comes down to the balance of labor and capital
all the same, not to the contentions between the indigenous people
and newcomers. A policy of marginalizing the migrants, which
formally aims to defend the national labor market, in reality
consolidates the positions of capital owners. It expands their
opportunities for exploiting the immigrants and for dictating
conditions on the labor market in general. This may be one of the
reasons why the positions of the xenophobic right-wing parties
opposing migrants reveal strange affinities with the positions of
left-leaning trade unions, alarmed by the presence of cheap illegal
foreign workforce.

AN ETHNIC BOMB?

One of the things about immigration that puts Russian society on
alert is the change in the ethnic makeup of the population.
Presently, ethnic Russians account for 80 percent of the country’s
population. But if the demographic stabilization scenario
materializes, migrants and their descendants will make up the
greater part of the population by the end of this century. Whatever
ethnic groups the migrants belong to, ethnic Russians will become a
minority in Russia.

Undesirable changes in the ethnic composition are often used as
an argument by those who favor restrictive policies toward
immigration in Russia. Paradoxically, many find it convincing even
when logic obviously contradicts the ongoing processes. Until very
recently most immigrants came to Russia from post-Soviet countries
and were ethnic Russians. They provided the population influx in
1992, and their subsequent percentage did not reduce to less than
60 percent, although their net migration was decreasing. People
belonging to other indigenous nationalities of Russia – the Tatars,
for example – make up another 10 percent of post-Soviet immigrants.
This means that the current anti-immigrant sentiments, frequently
having a nationalistic tint, evolved from the times when
immigration helped build Russia’s mono-ethnic structure, not erode
it.

It is also true, though, that in pursuing the stabilization
migrant policy Russian society will have to accept and integrate
considerable inflows of immigrants who stand worlds apart from
Russians in terms of their culture, language and religion. Some
estimates indicate that Russia will be able to absorb, over the
medium term, some 3 to 3.5 million ethnic Russians, about 0.5
million people of non-Russian indigenous people, as well as another
3 to 4 million representatives of the so-called ‘title nations’ of
the former Soviet republics. The latter belong to a different
cultural tradition, but mostly speak Russian and are closely tied
to Russia by a two-centuries-old history. “Melting” such inflows
would not present much of a problem for Russia. Moreover, those
people make up the very human resource that must lie at the core of
any sensible demographic strategy (Russia’s messy migration policy
results in a partial redirection of migrant flows from the CIS to
other countries, which means net losses for Russia in the strategic
future). But if the estimates are correct, it means that only 7 to
8 million new people will arrive, while the actual demand over the
next 25 years is triple that figure.

To sum up, Russia will unavoidably face dramatic changes in its
ethnic composition. Why does this prospect trouble our society?
There is no simple answer to this question, especially given that
at various times in Russia’s history it voluntarily expanded its
ethnic composition and nobody considered it to be a major problem
for the government. Previously, ethnic diversification would be
justified by territorial expansion, but now expansionism is
senseless as the accents have shifted: like many other countries,
the Russian Federation is short of people rather than territories.
For contemporary followers of the 14th-century Muscovian Prince,
Ivan the Moneybag, accumulating people in the world’s biggest
sovereign territory would be as wise a step as uniting the feudal
Russian principalities scattered around Moscow under a single ruler
seven centuries ago.

But it is important not to oversimplify the problem: the
differences in language, culture, religion and household traditions
often breed misunderstanding and impede contacts between people.
Furthermore, immigration from developing countries also means that
the newly arrived will amass on the lower levels of the social
pyramid. This seems to be the main problem, and it will intensify
as long as the rates of immigration increase.

When immigrants initially arrive to Russia, they are ready to
agree to any terms. As time goes by, however, they begin to feel
like a discriminated minority deprived of many opportunities. These
sentiments block their integration into the host society, and
motivate them to unite on the basis of ethnic principles and
traditionalist values. This could trigger protest and extremism, as
well as ethnic crime. Mass immigration may indeed turn into a
serious factor of instability, as it poses very real risks.
Even in the U.S., a nation of immigrants which proudly calls itself
a melting pot, there are calls for restricting immigration. For
example, Patrick Buchanan names immigration a most acute problem
and requiring an immediate solution, since the question is often
heard now: “Who are we, Americans, in fact?”. Political scientist
Samuel P. Huntington argues that the unending influx of
Hispanic-speaking immigrants threatens to split the U.S. into two
different nations, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike the
previous ethnic groups of immigrants, the Mexicans and other
Latinos did not assimilate with American culture and instead formed
their own political and language enclaves. They rejected the
Anglo-Protestant values that had molded the American Dream.
Buchanan compares immigration with the Mississippi, an unhurried,
long and life-giving river. The immigrants enriched American life
with many new elements, and American history will always remind
people of that. But when the Mississippi River overflows its banks,
it produces horrendous devastation.

The same concerns can be heard in Europe. Jean-Marie Le Pen said
on Ekho Moskvy radio: “Whole cities in France have been swept by
mass immigration… If we don’t do all we can do to solve our
internal problems within national borders, or if we destroy those
borders, we will be drowned in this flow.” Sergei Baburin,
Vice-Speaker of the Russian State Duma, speaking about illegal
migrants who are “ready to resettle to the Russian territory from
China and other countries in millions, not in thousands,” argues:
“We have 144 million people in Russia now, and if 300 million
Chinese come here, what kind of a state language will we have
then?”
Indeed, if 300 million Chinese come to live in Russia, it will have
to address far more startling problems than the state language. But
where does that figure come from? The stabilization forecast
mentioned earlier indicates that Russia will need not more than 100
million immigrants until the end of this century to maintain
its  population at the current level. Of course, this is a
huge figure, but it is far lower than 300 million new arrivals.
Incidentally, the immigrants do not necessarily have to come just
from China. So, is it worthwhile fanning passions instead of
soberly assessing the scale of the problem? Panic is far from the
best mode of behavior in times of trouble.

DISCHARGING THE FUMES

The population of the Northern Ring countries, totaling some 1.2
billion people, constitutes the so-called ‘golden billion.’ It
represents approximately 20 percent of the planet’s inhabitants who
occupy 40 percent of the globe’s land surface and control a still
greater share of the global wealth. They – and, incidentally, us –
really have much to lose, which makes their fears of aliens from
the South understandable. But let us try to analyze all aspects of
this complicated problem.

Proponents of tough restrictions on immigration, whether it be
Patrick Buchanan in the U.S., Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Joerg
Haider in Austria or their Russian counterparts, are confident that
the recipient countries of immigrants have the clues to solving
this pressing problem. The primary thing is to convince their
societies that the risks of migration are very real and that tough
migration laws should be introduced to regulate the quantity and
quality of the immigrants, as well as sectors of the economy and
regions of the country where they can be admitted. Once this has
been accomplished, the dangers of an immigration deluge and a
redistribution of global wealth will disappear. 

Such arguments, however, consider the interests of just one
party in the global migration process – the recipient countries.
But this process has another important side, as well – the emigrant
nations. The population of the emigrant nations did not exceed one
billion at the start of last century, while now their number is
approaching 5 billion. In fifty years, even under the most
favorable – though unlikely – models of demographic development,
this figure may swell to 7 to 8 billion. It would be very naive to
expect those people to passively watch the anti-immigration walls
that the ‘golden billion’ countries are building; the numbers of
citizens in the South who are attracted by the immeasurable
opportunities in the North are increasing. They have the same
inspirations as the European navigators and conquistadors had for
the southern lands in the past. Recently, UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan remarked in an interview that many people in different parts
of the world are looking at Europe as a continent of unlimited
opportunities. They desire to start a new life there, just as
millions of impoverished Europeans did when they set sail for the
New World long ago in a belief they would have a chance
there. 

Migration to the rich countries presupposes employment at less
prestigious jobs and meager wages compared with the standards of
the developed countries. Yet, it allows the migrants to attain
almost immediately higher living standards than they had in their
homelands. It provides their children with an education, while
ensuring them access to the many advantages of contemporary
civilization. The process also serves as a mechanism – a modest but
not altogether insignificant one – of redistributing financial
resources between the rich North and impoverished South. According
to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the
migrants sent an annual average of $65 billion back to their
respective homelands in the late 1980s. This sum ranked second only
to revenues from crude oil.
In the interview quoted above, Dr Annan added that migrants had
remitted more than $88 billion to the developing countries in 2002.
This is 54 percent more than the $57 billion which the developed
nations allocate in aid to the developing countries, he said. These
facts make migration look quite attractive for many millions of
people from the South, and that is why migration pressure on the
Northern Ring countries is ever increasing.

Thus, international migration provides a mechanism for
demographic and economic “replenishment” of the Northern Ring
countries (which will otherwise become depopulated) and for the
regulation of the immigrant resources according to their needs.
More importantly, this mechanism levels off the rapidly aggravating
demographic and economic imbalance between the South and the North
and helps release excessive pressure from inside the overheated
international pot. So should efforts be made to stem the growing
migration pressure on the developed countries by building a dam
that would block that flow, especially if the effort may appear
futile? Would it be more prudent to improve the regulatory “valves”
that could increase its “throughput capacity?” Would it be more
reasonable to consider expanding the immigration capacity of the
Northern Ring (and Russia) as a separate challenge set by history,
the internal demands in those countries, and by the global
situation as a whole?

SHOULD WE MEET DANGER FACE TO FACE?

Is it possible that the dangers of mass migration, which are
manifest by the current numbers of immigrants, will increase
exponentially when the assimilation of large inflows of immigrants
becomes a strategic goal? Such a course of events is highly
probable and requires certain strategic decisions to be made right
now. As is always the case, when society runs into a serious
danger, it is required to make difficult choices.

The mounting and widespread resolve to settle migration problems
on the basis of defensive measures and maximum restrictions against
aliens to Russia is understandable. Many hold the opinion that the
problem will be gone as soon as the migrants are gone. But what if
life takes revenge and washes away the protective dam? It is worth
remembering that the growing pressure of northbound migration from
the South is not accidental. It is a process which resembles the
shifts of geological strata: against the background of
international social realities lies the desire to construct an iron
curtain around one’s country or along the borders of the entire
Northern Ring; this looks too simplistic and powerless to be
effective.

Would it not be more realistic to give up the attempts to outwit
objective processes? Would it not be better to meet the real
dangers face to face in order to forestall the undesirable course
of events? The problem is that the drama of our times is unfolding
in the economic, social, and cultural areas of this multipolar
world, not in the area of physical contentions. It is there that
the main challenges, which crush border posts and check points, are
growing and it is there that we must concentrate our main
forces.

And if this is truly the case, would it not be rational to
reconsider the entire “migration philosophy” and limit the
undesirable consequences of migration? Should we rather think about
defusing the ethnic bomb and re-channeling the spare energy into
more productive areas?

Patrick Buchanan explains his concern over Mexican expansion in
the U.S. by the differences in culture and race. Most Mexicans
belong to a different race, and history tells us that people of
different races find it more difficult to adapt to one another than
do people from the same ethnic background, he says. Statements of
that kind can be heard in Europe and Russia, too.

Few people would argue that ethnic barriers obstruct mutual
understanding. Nevertheless, misunderstandings also arise between
people born in the metropolises and those coming from rural areas.
Misunderstandings also occur between educated gentlemen and
illiterate workers, and the rich and the poor, although they all
hail from the same nation.

Is it possible to remove those barriers? The process may be
painstaking and span the life of many generations, yet the rural
population is eventually drawn into the city, the illiterate
receive an education, while the poor move into the ranks of the
middle class. These are facts that nobody doubts. Yet, when it
comes to ethnic barriers, there is no unanimous opinion. The
Soviet-era Kremlin ideologists worked hard to accentuate the
significance of those barriers and they played intricate ethnic
games. This was the implementation of the principle of
national-territorial division which stressed a person’s ethnic
identity in their passport along with other such essential data as
date and place of birth. The mandatory listing of ethnic identity
in all questionnaires, and linking human resource policy to ethnic
principles, gave ethnicity the status of something eternal and
extremely important.

Few would venture to deny the importance of the national
historical memory, the native tongue spoken from childhood, the
ancestral native culture or religious traditions for an individual.
All of these are the building blocks of one’s ethnic identity. They
are important as values, but they are just components of the
general system of values and do not occupy the primary place in it.
Furthermore, they change over the centuries. Invariably, life makes
its own demands and pushes out many local values which seemed to
occupy primary positions until fairly recently. Americans, for
example, must reconcile themselves with the fact that emigrants
arriving to their country from China, a country with a
three-thousand-year-old history, retain their language and
traditions. The most important thing for the Chinese immigrants is
to belong to the American nation, to know English, and become
familiar with the local economic and social environment. This is
the way the U.S. melting pot has been working for a long time,
although in recent years the process seems to have been faltering.
Complaints that identities based on blood and creed are posing a
challenge to the national identity of the U.S. and other
nation-states are becoming increasingly louder. The critics as
Huntington argue that those challenges are not being fairly
addressed, partly because the widely spread doctrines of
multi-culturalism and diversity are popular among politicians and
intellectuals.

The Soviet Union witnessed a similar process, to the degree to
which its development converged with other industrialized and urban
societies. The difference was that the Soviet government waved its
slogans of internationalism while discrediting the idea in everyday
practical policies. This did not allow the Soviet melting pot to
heat up as was necessary. Johann Gottfried von Herder, the
forerunner of contemporary ethnic nationalism, claimed that a state
inhabited by one people with its original national character is the
most natural state, and the national character outlives millennia.
Every faithful Soviet citizen would readily sign up to that
statement. According to a person’s upbringing, “national in form
and Socialist in content,” there was a rise of a national
conscience to the detriment of a civic one, which was typically
sidetracked. Russian mass consciousness has never held the notion
of a civic nation as such – there has only been the notion of an
ethnic nation. The Soviet Union was forced to pay for this dearly,
as it disappeared from the political map. But former Soviet
citizens, including Russians, have inherited the Soviet system of
values and carried it over into the post-Soviet epoch.

If that system persists, it will be impossible for Russia to
assimilate large numbers of immigrants. Every stranger with
differently shaped eyes, or a different skin color will be
perceived as an alien, and conflicts will arise as a consequence.
Russia’s melting pot cannot be warmed up without a radical
doctrinal turn from the ethnic understanding of a nation to a civil
one, from a unity based on the past to unity based on a common
future. Without such a turn, the country will mire in endless
ethnic conflicts – even with its current level of multi-ethnicity,
to say nothing of being ready to assimilate millions of immigrants
of different ethnic origins.

But even if a radical transformation does occur, it will not
mean an automatic and smooth solution of all the problems
pertaining to the immigrants’ integration into Russian society. The
main problems lie in the social sphere, which is full of
contradictions. Even in the U.S. – a well-regulated country – there
are apprehensions about losing control over migration. The issue is
all the more topical for Russia, a nation that has no real
experience in assimilating large numbers of immigrants. This means
that developing a far-sighted migration strategy is critical for
Russia.

Russian society will have to build a complex and costly system
for accepting new arrivals, which includes their education and
involvement in Russia’s cultural environment. It would be a great
mistake for Russia to copy Le Pen’s popular recommendations, such
as, for example: “The main task is to make people coming to France
know that nothing will be free of charge for them here – neither
schools nor hospitals. Nor will they have any social benefits. We
have people who created a national heritage, and benefits must be
distributed to them.” It looks like Le Pen has forgotten that
France was the world’s number two largest colonial empire until
fairly recently and people from very distant countries took part in
building the French national heritage. That is why migrants from
Algeria, Vietnam, and the French Equatorial Africa – the way the
region was called before 1958 – may suggest that they, too, have
rights to receive some social benefits in Le Pen’s home
country.
However right or wrong Le Pen may be, he nevertheless offers a
shortsighted approach. Naturalizing newly arrived immigrants and
their children into loyal citizens who share the social and
cultural traditions of recipient countries, corresponds with the
profound economic interests of industrialized nations, as well as
the global community. And this must be paid for.

This strategy does not have anything new in it, as all countries
receiving immigrants have been implementing it for years.
Incidentally, Russia has its own experience in naturalizing the
Germans, Serbs, Bulgarians, Armenians, and Greeks, who chose to
join the “multi-ethnic Russian nation,” as some scholars have
described it. Alexei Kuropatkin, a war minister in the days of
czarist Russia and overt supporter of ‘Russia for Russians,’ made a
remarkable statement 1910 in that connection: “The aliens who
conscientiously adopt Russian as their native language and make
Russia their homeland will only strengthen the Russian ethnos by
their service.”

* * *

There are many factors forcing Russia to develop an active
immigration strategy as soon as possible, and its shrinking
population is foremost. As the Russian population consistently
decreases, the number of immigrants that it is capable of
assimilating is reducing, too. One important factor is the opening
that has emerged in the Russian education system as a result of the
reduction in the number of young students, which could be used to
naturalize immigrants into full-fledged Russian citizens. This
could be accomplished by providing them higher education,
specialized secondary education or professional training for
occupation in industrial, construction and service sectors of the
economy. The descendants of the immigrants could be trained at
Russian schools, as well as childcare centers. Furthermore, a broad
network of Russian language courses for foreigners could be
established. But if there is no demand for such services, this
opening may soon disappear.
We must not let Russia’s anti-immigration sentiments intensify;
they are already strong enough. Russia’s political elite, as well
as the man on the street, should develop an awareness of the
unprecedented and irreversible changes that are now taking place in
the world. In spite of all of its risks and challenges, immigration
offers Russia a chance to survive and to carry out a kind of
peaceful expansion.

A strategy of diehard anti-immigration isolationism, on the
other hand, will lead it nowhere.