In the current issue of “Novaya gazeta,” Dmitry Oreshkin not only traces the history of the waves of emigration from Russia since 1917 but also discusses the specific motivations of the current generation of Russia’s “best and brightest” as shown by a poll conducted by the newspaper’s website.
A few days ago, Sergey Stepashin, the head of the Accounting Chamber, noted that 1,250,000 Russian Federation citizens had left the country for more or less permanent residence abroad over the course of the last several years, a figure that is consistent with the estimates of other demographers, Oreshkin says.
That figure is disturbing, the “Novaya” writer says, because it is approximately “the same number of people as those who left the country after the coming to power of the Bolsheviks.” And just as 90 years ago, most of those who left then and who are leaving now are drawn from the ranks of Russia’s most educated strata.
To try to get at the motivation of those leaving now, Oreshkin notes, “Novaya gazeta” conducted an online poll on its website concerning the motivations of those thinking about leaving. While not necessarily representative – “Novaya” is one of the most liberal papers in the country – the results are suggestive.
Of the 7237 people who responded to the online poll, 2.2 percent said they were thinking about leaving because of the growth of nationalist attitudes, one percent because of higher taxes, 28.9 percent because of the preparations for the return of Putin to power, and 62.5 percent for all these reasons taken together.
This “sixth wave” of Russian emigration, Oreshkin says, basically consists of “those who in the 1990s because of their youth an inborn optimist believed that freedom would really come and that Russian at last would become a normal country.” The Putin decade has destroyed these hopes and left these people feeling betrayed and hopeless.
From their perspective, the Soviet system is returning, albeit in a “soft” way. Its return, Oreshkin continues, “is felt everywhere, although still nowhere in a mortally dangerous concentration.” And that is all the more so the case because different groups feel this return in different sectors and in different ways.
“The main thing,” however, the “Novaya” writer continues, is that in the sixth wave “just as in all previous cases, the most independent and qualified peoples, all for the same fundamental cause: the model of the state built by Lenin and Stalin and softly being restored by Putin is flawed from the outset.”
That system is “constructed for the powers and for the lumpen,” whose heads can be turned by the glorious imagery offered by the powers. But those who form what could be Russia’s dynamic middle class, “the strongest and most gifted people,” have no place in this “model.”
Such a pattern repeated over so many years, Oreshkin asserts, “cannot be an accident.” Instead, it is “a long-term and possibly instinctive policy directed at converting Russian into a country of slaves and masters,” people who don’t understand or who benefit from the fact that Putin has failed to keep his promises but has made the situation of Russia worse.
Despite Putin’s promises, taxes have risen, the number of bureaucrats has doubled, criminality has spread, economic growth has not taken place, despite the rise in oil prices, and corruption is worse than ever before. That has left the most talented and educated without the oxygen needed to create.
Russia’s “epochs of liberalization,” Oreshkin says, “create the preconditions for the appearance of economically active subjects and for future economic growth. But at the same time, they create a demand for civil rights, law, and a limitation on the arbitrary acitons of the state.”
That is, he writes, these periods “destroy the foundations of verticalism and autocratic power,” and consequently, they are almost invariably succeeded by periods of repression, when the powers that be use force to ensure that their control cannot be challenged and that they rather than the people as a whole will benefit from any new sources of income.
What is “in principle new” about the sixth wave, Oreshkin says, is that “it is the first” which does not see its departure as “irreversible. “If and when in Russian laws begin to be observed and not only the rulers of the Chekist corporation and consequently if possibilities for self-realization appear, these people will return.”
“They even now do not want to leave,” he writes, but they have concluded that they do not have any choice for themselves and their future if the Russian powers that be continue to act in the way that Putin is. One can only hope, Oreshkin implies, that they will have the chance to return and work for a better future for their country and themselves.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia, he can be contacted directly at email@example.com. You can read all his blog entries at http://windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/