The Specter of Immigration

18 may 2005

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

Resume: 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.

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.

Last updated 18 may 2005, 16:43

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