|ANTI-IMMIGRATION MEASURES INFRINGE ON
FREEDOM OF TRADE
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov)
The Russian government, the Federal Migration Service, the Ministry of
Economic Development and Trade and other departments involved have opted
for a highly specific approach to restoring order on outdoor markets in
Russia. They have de facto abolished freedom of trade, outlawed outdoor
markets, and deprived the Russian economy of immigrants, who are the main
labor resource in this country.
There is a clear reason behind the decision to set quotas on labor
immigrants (300,000 annually, although the demand is one million) and
establish a minimum required percentage of Russian vendors at outdoor
markets (20%), and to prohibit foreigners from trading at outdoor markets
and in retail stores.
This reason can be summed up in one word: Kondopoga, a town in northwest
Russia where a confrontation between local Russians and Caucasians left at
least two city residents dead and culminated in nationalist riots that
shook the town, as locals demanded that non-Russians be expelled.
The influx of labor and other immigrants into Russia poses a problem, but
another problem entirely is the reaction by some Russians to this
phenomenon, which takes the form of social protests, growing nationalism,
and sometimes attacks on immigrants by young neo-Nazis.
Vyacheslav Postavnin, deputy director of the Federal Migration Service,
said: “There should be quotas for immigrants from the CIS, because we
must prevent the emergence of areas in Russia where Russians constitute a
minority. According to our calculations, the number of non-Russians in any
given area should not exceed 17-20%, especially if they have a very
different culture and religion. Exceeding this norm creates discomfort for
the indigenous population.”
In my view, officials are approaching the problem from the wrong angle.
Ethnic enclaves, or, if we must be frank, ghettos, appear when the
country’s authorities do not take measures to adjust immigrants from the
former Soviet republics to the current economic, social and cultural
conditions in Russia. Prohibitions and limitations only spur illegal
immigration and therefore ethnic agglomerations.
An appropriate regulation of this phenomenon would allow labor immigrants
to obtain legal status and work permits, contributing to the growth of
value-added products and Russia’s GDP.
The number of economically active Russians will start to decline in 2007,
and the problem will be compounded by the aging of the working population.
The Russian economy still has very many low-paid, low-prestige vacancies
(sweepers, market sellers, builders, nannies, babysitters, housekeepers,
and the like), which Russians are loath to fill. Therefore, if we set
quotas on labor immigration, we will soon become badly short of labor.
As for traders at outdoor markets, the issue concerns predominantly people
from the southern republics of the former Soviet Union. Russian officials,
if they ever buy at outdoor markets, most likely visit the most expensive
one, the Dorogomilovsky market off Kutuzovsky Prospekt. There is a roughly
equal share of Slavic and “southern” sellers at other markets, and
Slavic sellers constitute a majority at some of them. However, the
majority of these Slavic sellers are foreigners from adjacent republics.
Therefore, if the initiative of the Russian officials is implemented, not
20% but as many as 90% of stalls at outdoor markets will be vacant.
This will disrupt the economic ties that are the lifeblood of outdoor
markets and vendors, where low-income people go to shop. This could spell
a death sentence to the system of outdoor markets and the structure and
volume of consumption, especially of fruit and vegetables.
The anti-immigration measures will predictably push up prices for fruit,
vegetables and other commodities sold at outdoor markets, which will have
a direct negative effect on inflation. This “inflation tax” will not
affect the rich, but will be a heavy blow to the poor.
In short, there are no economic grounds for this new decision by the
Russian authorities because it infringes on freedom of trade. The legal
grounds are also feeble, because the majority of the measures will be
enforced by bylaws, whose legality is questionable. And there are no
political grounds for the decision at all. Instead of fighting
nationalism, the authorities have decided to remove the “irritant” –
This will not solve the problem. In fact, I view this as a retreat in the
face of a nationalist onslaught that is not economically justified and
will seriously damage Russia’s image abroad. -0-