ISSN 2330-717X

Ghettos Without Borders Appearing In Moscow – OpEd

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In Western cities, ghettos have emerged when people of a particular race, ethnicity, or region come into them and form tightly organized communities whose members live in one place and have most or all of the institutions, religious, ethnic or professional, they need in that place.

In Moscow, however, ghettos of that kind have not emerged. People of any particular group do not live together because of the low mobility of the population as a whole and because of the continuing shadow of the Soviet-era propiska system which limited that as well, Yekaterina Demintseva says (lenta.ru/articles/2019/02/10/migr/).

Instead, while people of different ethnicities or religious live intermixed with others, they live “in parallel worlds,” travelling about the city to go to mosques, schools, markets or other institutions that service just their group. “Migrants have their own hospitals, kindergartens and nightclubs, but Russians do not see them,” she says.

These separate worlds are a kind of ghetto without the kind of geographic definition that such places have elsewhere, but they are just as separate, the head of the Center for Qualitative Research on Social Policy at the Institute of Social Policy of the Higher School of Economics continues. 

“When someone first lands in the city, Demintseva says, “he is given support by those not simply from the same country but from the same region from which he came. In Moscow, for example, there are many people from Osh and Osh Oblast in Kyrgyzstan. There are many such flows and people help one another. These ties very often are maintained.”

But these arrivals often do not live together long as they seek housing near where they work both to cut expenses and to avoid encountering officials who will ask for their documents. In reality, the sociologist says, it is often easy for single men to find rooms not far from where they are working.

Few migrants bring wives or children, but when they do, the wives go to markets, doctors, and other institutions where they find people like themselves. The children go to schools mostly near where they live and so are affected more powerfully by acculturation and assimilation than their parents. Pre-schoolers, however, tend to be ethnically specific.

Migrants do have “their own places in Moscow,” Demintseva continues, but these places “are not tied to specific regions” in most cases. There are “Kyrgyz clinics,” for example, where the doctors know how to deal with the national traditions of people from Kyrgyzstan; but mostly they emerge because Kyrgyz migrants don’t have access to government medical care.

The doctors in them “know the traditions” of that community. Traditions in this case does not mean that they engage in some kind of “rituals.” Instead, it means that these doctors know “that it is better for example to speak about venereal diseases first to the husband and only then to the wife.”

One of the clearest examples of “the parallel world” in which migrant workers and their families exist are nightclubs. “Young men and women go to the disco, make acquaintances and dance. It is very difficult for outsiders to get in. My colleague attempted to but was told that you won’t pass face control,” Demintseva says.

These really are places where the young people of one nation or religion or culture separate themselves from others. But they tend to attend ordinary schools whose students come from a particular district, learn Russian, and become acculturated. That is “a big plus” as far as the situation in Moscow is concerned compared to Western cities, the sociologist concludes. 

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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