Nationalism, migration and the FSU (with a splash of EU for good measure)

February 13, 2012

Well there is much in the media and in the social cyberspace of Russia relating to nationalism, migration and surrounding politics of existing policy.

Depending upon which statistical sources you wish to use, anywhere between 11 million and 16 million legal migrants were in Russia during 2011.  Add on the illegal migrants and that number becomes impossible to imagine.  3, 4 or perhaps even 5 entire populations of Norway.

Of that number 2.5 million legal migrants are Ukrainian.  That is about 5.5% of the Ukrainian population and approximately 12.5% of the working aged Ukrainian population, if using Prime Minister Azarov’s latest figures when he discussed Ukrainian taxes.

Quite staggering when you think about it, and quite understandably it is an issue at the fore of the Russian presidential elections.    The rise of nationalism quite obviously will follow even amongst the most moderate of populations with such huge numbers.

It should also be a cause of some concern to the government of Ukraine that so many working and tax paying (if they are paying tax) Ukrainian citizens find Russia a far better prospect than Ukraine.

How many Ukrainians are working illegally in Russia is anybody’s guess but I imagine the number is significant for Ukraine even if not for Russia.

Add on those Ukrainian citizens who manage to navigate the bureaucracy of the EU to work and live there and it can be no surprise that not only is the Ukrainian demographic shrinking but that there is also a significant “brain drain” of the best and the brightest as well as those who are prepared to do the more menial work in possibly far better working conditions.

I have written about the rise of nationalism before, although not in any great depth and my position remains the same as when I wrote that entry.

The rise of nationalism is in no way limited to Russia or the EU but is rising across the entire European continent.  Ukraine is no exception with Svoboda claiming over 5% of the vote in recent regional elections.  When a self-professed fascist party wins that percentage of the vote in a nation where being called a fascist is seen as an insult you know there is cause for concern.  Maybe even more so when that percentage of nationalist vote primarily emanates from one region on the Polish border.

Maybe the centre of nationalist feelings is not the best place for Somali asylum seekers detention centres in Ukraine?

Now there is something to be said for economic conditions playing a part in nationalistic motivation, however even when basking in the most glorious economic sunshine there has always remained a core nationalist movement.  Whilst many people find all the rhetoric that comes from these political parties and associations abhorrent most of the time, those same people will have some sympathy for some of that rhetoric.  Economics and jobs therefore are not the prime driver that many people will accept as a social sympathy motivator in my opinion.

I would suspect that most sympathy with nationalist rhetoric is found amongst the majority when it comes to cultural erosion rather than economic or employment related statements.  It is that multicultural promotion and subsequent rejection by voting populations that have caused politicians such as David Cameron and Angel Merkel to state that multiculturalism has failed.  This despite an aging demographic and shrinking populations if not for inward migration by “others”.

At this point economics are a necessary part of the argument when considering how a shrinking population supports an ever aging one without youthful migration.  We should also consider monetary outflows sent back to “the mother land” and out of hosting economy.

There are other issues such as espionage, subversion, terrorism, crime and other invasive issues hidden amongst “migration” but that is probably best left alone for now.  I will note however, I have yet to see an ACPO report that shows a higher than normal level of criminality amongst Eastern Europeans than natives in the UK whichever way you shuffle the figures.

Now one solution is to somehow raise the domestic birth rates and continue that through the generations to remove peaks and troughs in an effort to regulate and reduce necessary migration for economic reasons.  Whilst I would be more than happy to impregnate large harems of pretty Russian and Ukrainian women in the national demographic cause, my good lady would be less than inclined to allow this.  As disappointing as this may be for me, I can completely understand her undoubted objections.

There is also the matter of just how many offspring that I could produce that I could afford to maintain before they became an expense to the State due to my own financial inability to do so.

The thought of State-sponsored motherhood like battery hens is both abhorrent and regressive when it comes to emancipation and the huge strides made across the continent in this regard.

This really leaves the only demographic stabilser as migration but that brings with it cultural erosion even if that migration comes from a neighbouring nation.  Britain for the British, Russia for Russians, whatever the cry, there seems to be no difficulty in identifying the “Self” and the “Other” when it comes to migrants, and whatever benefits those migrants may bring, they also bring concerns from the “self” over national culture, be that real or perceived.

Now here there is a genuine point.  I am a Brit in Ukraine (and previously Russia).  You can take the British man out of Britain but it is incredibly hard to take the British culture out of the British man.  Despite all my genuine attempts to seamlessly enter Ukrainian society and psychology, there is still part of me that is and always will remain very British and will insist on things being done the “British way” due to my ingrained culture.

No problem when I am a single Brit as my influence is severely limited, but if 2.5 million Brits arrived in Ukraine just as 2.5 million Ukrainians are in Russia as per the 2011 legal migrants figures, that has a cultural effect no matter how close the cultures are, both on Russia and Ukraine.  If the cultural differences are far more apparent, the greater the perceived cultural threat.  Russia and Uzbekistan for example.

Having hardly scratched the surface of the “self” and “other” issues or indeed the rise of nationalism across Europe, there are then other social issues to confront.

The very clever and ever so pleasant Ola Irnazarov (@Aghidel if you are a twitterer) and I (@Odessablogger) had a small tweeting affair only yesterday relating to how Russia can cope with up to 16 million legal immigrants  in 2011.  We both share the opinion that such numbers simply cannot be accommodated by the existing infrastructure.

When I was living in Moscow just under a decade ago, the city was home to 12 million people.  A fantastic and always interesting city of seemingly huge proportions.  It is incredible to think that legal migration into Russia in 2011 exceeds the population size of Moscow with ease.

It is not only a matter of the infrastructure coping with so many immigrants.  There is also the darker side of life and those who exploit those who arrive legally and circumstances dictate their world falls apart or those uncounted millions who arrive illegally.

This affects Ukraine in two ways.  Not only because crossing the Ukrainian/Russian border is easily accomplished legally and illegally but also because of the readmission that exists between Ukraine and the EU whereby any illegals found to enter the EU via Ukraine are bounced back to Ukraine.  What does Ukraine do with them?  Well that’s Ukraine’s problem and not that of the EU.

This creates a perfect atmosphere for manipulation of the vulnerable, the creation of people smuggling, slave labour and sexual exploitation markets (amongst others) for the Slavic brotherhood who work on the “dark side”.  A market that the Turks are hardly removed from either given Odessa’s very short sea journey to Istanbul.

This all adds to the huge black economy from which both Russia and Ukraine suffer and further fuels the nationalist sentiment relating to illegal workers taking national jobs, eroding national culture and sensibilities, thus portrayed as  generally bad for the nation, which it is, but also creates atmosphere where “others” be they forced into slave labour or prostitution are seen as lesser human beings.

Very difficult choices and huge dilemmas face those in government when it comes to national identity, migration, demographics, lawlessness, black economics and serious organised crime.   All these issues are not only FSU issues but EU issues.  In fact they are issues of the entire continent and can be visualised by the ever right shifting national politics of most sovereign nations, some of who are in coalition with far-right nationalist parties.

Why the continuing sovereign slide to the right?  Well I cannot think of one government that instead of ceding ground to the far-right and taking up some of its policies in an effort to deal with the populist rhetoric which finds sympathy with a  silent majority, has confronted the issues of nationalism and migration head-on in an adult to adult conversation with the voting public.

Maybe more worrying for Russia is that the opposition and “West’s” poster boy Alexy Navalny has no problem with the political direction of Hungary or radical political parties being in power.  No hopes of a liberal party assuming control in Russia any time soon despite his pin-up boy status in the Western media then.

Maybe nationalism, modernisation and reform simply don’t fit well enough with democracy?  The EU would seem to think so given its enthusiastic support for technocratic unelected and imposed governance in Italy and Greece.

Anyway the questions remain, how to handle an aging population and shrinking demographic through an economic lens if not through migration?

How to gain growth with real traction if innovation is kept at the border or all low paid, dirty, ugly jobs are left undone?

How to prevent national cultural identity being eroded via managed or unmanaged migration when your own domestic population cannot provide the skills or will not provide the skills required?

How to encourage generations of increased domestic birth rates without a perceived roll back in the emancipation of women or battery hen production through government payments?  Should children be born for the benefit of national demographic or only when they are wanted by the parents?  Can the housing infrastructure and social issues relating to large families cope with a large increase in children per women?  Just how many children plus parents can you feasibly fit in the average sized home?

How can a national infrastructure accommodate 16 million legal migrants in the case of Russia and the deficit of 2.5 million Ukrainians to Russia alone, in the case of Ukraine?  Two different ends of the migration issue.

How, without tackling the nationalist parties head-on and publicly, can the more centralist parties, be they centre left or centre right, strike an acceptable agreement with the voting public over migration?

How, without a concerted effort, can economies and organised crime be pulled out of the black into something more visible when it comes to exploited migration?

If anybody can point to an adult to adult, public and on-going conversation between government and voters (not NGOs or civil society who are often as far removed from the voter as government) over the rise of nationalism and migration,  then please point me in that direction as it is a conversation I would willingly eavesdrop upon over its undoubtedly and necessarily long duration.

I’m not sure if Europe (EU and FSU) is suffering from a lack of leadership, a lack of imagination or both, but the entire continent seems to be unable to deal with practically any serious issue at the moment and that will lead to only one thing – the continued rise of nationalism.


  1. […] I have repeatedly and robustly raised my concerns over the rise of the far-right across Europe and have specifically […]

  2. […] I have repeatedly and robustly raised my concerns over the rise of the far-right across Europe and have specifically […]

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