18 January 2012

"Still Russian"

Taki's Magazine | John Derbyshire | Down, But Still Russian

Walking around central Moscow, the thing you notice is the Russians—I mean, the near-total absence of non-Russians. [...]

That small tourist element aside, well-nigh everyone here is ethnically Russian. The cab drivers are Russian. The waiters and waitresses are Russian. The staff in barbershops and nail salons are Russian. The maintenance men in the subway and the ladies issuing subway tickets are Russian. The beggars are Russian. The guy selling fags and candy from a sidewalk kiosk labeled PRODUKTY (“stuff”) is Russian. The girl serving me in the pharmacy is Russian. The models shown in ads for escort agencies and “Private Club and Restaurant” are Russian (just as they are in New York, come to think of it).

Even—good grief!—the lady who cleans our hotel room is Russian. She spoke fluent Russian, anyway, though her features had a slight Mongolian. To make sure, I asked her. Yes, Russian—from Yugra, up in the north Urals somewhere, and so presumably with some Siberian-aboriginal blood contributing to the physiognomy. Where in the Anglosphere nowadays would you have your hotel room cleaned by a native of that country?
Grand Rapids, MI, where everyone from the scullery maids to the burger flippers looked like extras from a Mellencamp video.
Does this tell us that there are Jobs Russians Won’t Do? I doubt it. There are plenty of fair, blue-eyed Russians down there among the Kyrgyz and Buryats doing the drudge work. The overwhelming impression in central Moscow is of a city populated almost entirely by Russians. I have not had the opportunity to call any major firm or government office in Moscow, but I feel fairly sure that if I did, I would not be instructed to press “1” for Russian.

To see how striking all this is, imagine yourself wandering around central London, Manhattan, Los Angeles, or even—more rapidly this past few years, it seems—Washington, DC.
Simple reason: Russia is not an appealing place to move to. Few Ethiopians or Jamaicans or Filipinos or Vietnamese are scraping together enough money to move to Moscow, or hoping their cousin can find them a job in Yekaterinburg, or camping out in the front of a consulate to enter a visa lottery to move to Novgorod.

Russia is only a slightly more appealing place to move to than Namibia and significantly less appealing than Rwanda, judging from world-wide migration statistics.

It has nothing to do with the sinisterness Derbyshire sees in Western immigration policies, it's just that people from elsewhere have no preference for moving to Russia.

Rule of thumb: if you can find numerous immigrant workers from Country A in a developed nation B, you will not find people from B emigrating to A to work.

Derbyshire goes on about how "globalists" and other upper-crust Americans and Brits have encouraged immigration in order to benefit from cheap labor, "smashing up any kind of national feeling," etc. Then he contradicts his own argument by saying the Russian ruling class hasn't gone in for that.
None of this [increased immigration] has got much purchase in Russia—an odd thing, since Russia’s ruling classes are even more corrupt, unscrupulous, and contemptuous of their lower-class citizens than are Britain’s and America’s.
There are four ways to explain Derb's supposed paradox:

1. What benefits posh Anglo-Americans (in this case, cheap immigrant labor) would not benefit posh Russians. Hard to see why this would be.

2. Ruling Russians are far more nationalist and xenophobic over the last several decades than Westerners. This is not in evidence, and also fairly hard to believe.

3. Ruling Russians are unable to implement open borders in the way Americans or Brits have been. Again, why? What's stopping them? Is there some Super-Arpaio that's stopping the famously corrupt Russian oligarchs from throwing open the gates?

(Don't miss that link; it applies equally to explanation #2.)

4. Something else is driving immigration besides the nefarious plots of the upper income groups.

The explanation for this paradox Derbyshire gives is:
Perhaps that’s why Russia’s rulers, as cynical and ruthless as they are, hold off on bringing in Muslims and Africans to break the ethnic back of their people. Nobody has yet managed to make any large number of Russians hate their own ancestors.
My explanation is far simpler: "rulers" in both the West and Russia don't allow immigration for the purpose of "breaking the ethnic back of their people" in the first place. Boom. No paradox to explain.


  1. Some points, which may be germane.

    First of all, one really needs to distinguish between Moscow and Russia-writ-large in these discussions. You focus on examples like Novgorod, etc. but Moscow is practically its own separate country, within Russia. It has plenty of people wanting to move there, and in a very real sense it does too enforce strict immigration rules as if it's a separate country. One can get harassed and have (internal) IDs checked by police for looking dark/from the Caucases/'Southern republics'.

    Not that I'm suggesting Russia would be as appealing to the random immigrant as the U.S. of course. Just that the picture you paint doesn't ring accurate. Which groups actually do end up gravitating to Russia vs the U.S. can depend on geographical proximity/access or historical contingencies more than any difference in the appeal of the two.

    All in all the difference between the two countries' approaches to immigration is pretty obvious and hard to miss - in the U.S., you're racist if you don't want open borders. This concept is practically nonexistent in Russia. Likewise, if you don't see a stark difference in nationalism and xenophobia between the West and Russia, we have clearly seen different Russias.

    The reason/motivation for the West's approach to immigration may not be precisely as Derb paints it, 'to break the back of their people', but that there *is* a different approach, with different effects, than what obtains in Russia is pretty difficult to dispute IMHO.


    1. What I know about contemporary Russian culture is limited. What I know I've gathered from Russian emigrant friends and classmates, and another friend who runs a business aimed at Russians who want their children to be educated in the anglosphere. So I'll admit right now I'm working from limited information.

      The issues you raise all seem legitimate counterpoints to what I said. But importantly, I think they're as big or bigger counterpoints to what Derbyshire said.

      I don't want to suggest that there are no differences in how Russia see or treat immigration. But I don't think those differences support the meta-point I read Derbyshire as making, which is that American & European elites are somehow setting immigration policy in a way which screws up their societies in a way that Russian elites are not.

      BTW I agree somewhat with your statement that opposing increased immigration is seen as racist. But at the same time, opposing increased immigration is very popular in many areas. I've been thinking recently about issues for which both sides can seem to be the dominant cultural position, and I think this is one of those.