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Visas for guest workers won’t resolve Russia’s inter-ethnic problems, analysts say

October 15, 2013, 15:15 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 15 (Itar-Tass) - Neither visas for guest workers, nor other restrictive measures will be able to resolve the problem of relations between Russia’s indigenous peoples and migrants. This problem is complex, and there is not a single place in the world where a universal remedy for inter-ethnic discord has been found. The movement towards it should be gradual. This is the sole way of teaching people to be mutually tolerant, experts say.

Calls for introducing entry visas for the citizens of Central Asian and Trans-Caucasus countries were made once in a while on other occasions in the past. The latest tide of such demands came in the wake of last Sunday’s unrest in southern Moscow, where nationalist clashes occurred in one of the residential areas. The unrest was sparked by last Thursday’s murder of a young man, presumably by an attacker having the appearance of a Caucasus-born migrant. The Moscow police have said Azerbaijan-born Orkhan Zeinalov was possibly an accomplice.

Russian President Vladimir Putin formulated his attitude to the problem quite clearly on October 9. He said that the process of drawing labour migrants should be made more civilized and organized, instead of introducing visas to restrict illegal migration.

“Introducing visas in relations with the other CIS countries would have only one effect. We shall push away from us the other countries that we once parts of the USSR. But we should pursue a different goal - drawing them closer to us, as close as possible.” Putin said. “The situation is dubious. We wish to attract the former Soviet republics, but we do not how to do that. We are unable to arrange for this process in a civilized fashion. This is precisely what we should seek.”

Putin said that must be done in a way that would not harm the local population and ensure the indigenous residents respond to this process correctly.

In the meantime, opposition figurehead Aleksei Navalny has already declared a sign-up campaign in favour of introducing visas in relations with the countries of Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus. The message was placed on the website of the Russian Public Initiative back on September 27. In an explanation Navalny posted in Live Journal on October 14 he claims that up to 84% of Russian citizens support this initiative.

Moscow’s former mayor, Yuri Luzhkov agrees.

“Visas must be introduced,” he told the daily Izvestia. “Kazakhstan and Belarus are the sole exceptions. As for Ukraine, it is a very delicate matter. We should give thought to this. For all other countries it is a must!”

Before Vladimir Putin’s statement a call for visas in relations with the CIS countries came from Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin.

Many experts tend to share the president’s point of view, however.

“All sorts of restrictions regarding migrants, including visas, would have very short-term propaganda effects,” the deputy general director of the Political Technologies Centre, Aleksei Makarkin, has told ITAR-TASS in an interview, adding that in his opinion this step will not resolve the main problems.

The co-chairman of the RPR-PARNAS party, Vladimir Ryzhkov, is certain that the Russian economy will be unable to survive without guest workers.

“There will be utter collapse,” Ryzhkov told ITAR-TASS. “One must find out exactly how many migrants will be needed, and also take measures for the sake of their maximum integration and involvement in society.”

Introducing visas would be “senseless and ineffective,” agrees Aleksei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station. “Ok, visas have been introduced. But who are those visas against? Do we need workers? We do. Saying we shall be able to fill in the gap on our own is nonsense. We shall not be able to fill anything.”

Besides, as experts say, problems with migrants where ethnic Russians are in the majority develop not only in relations with immigrants from the CIS countries, but also with people from the North Caucasus - Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia. Formally, other Russian citizens. A visa regimen will fail to keep them away, and it is joblessness that forces such people to seek their good fortune elsewhere.

According to the federal statistics service Rosstat, says the daily Novyie Izvestia, in March-May 2013 the highest unemployment levels were observed in the regions of the North Caucasus. In Chechnya about 30 percent of the population are listed as unemployed, and in Ingushetia the rate is still higher - 45 percent. In contrast to this in the economically successful Central Federal District unemployment is as low as 1.6 percent. In the meantime, the share of youth in the Caucasus is higher than in Russia on the average. It is these young people who move to other regions in search of a chance to earn a living.

How can the problem be resolved? Opinions vary. Venediktov believes that no unambiguous solutions to the problem of relations between the indigenous populations and migrants have been found anywhere in the world.

“There is no universal remedy. The issue can be dealt with step by step,” he said.

Makarkin believes it is utterly necessary to teach society to be tolerant towards migrants. As Europe’s experience shows, this is a no simple task.

“Reforms alone will not help. There have to be tolerance classes in schools,” he believes.

The just-started celebrations of Eid Al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice) have put tolerance to test. Contrary to certain fears by migrants’ associations the festivities are proceeding calmly and without incidents in Moscow and in other large Russian cities, and also in regions with predominantly Muslim populations - Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Adygeya, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia and Dagestan, where the holiday has been declared a day off.

As he addressed the parishioners at Moscow’s Cathedral Mosque with a festive prayer on Tuesday, the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, recalled that the essence of Islam was making peace in people’s hearts and in society in general.”