Why Are You Silent?

August 27, 2013
Vietnamese immigrants held in an internment camp near Moscow - Novaya Gazeta.

Russia has begun a new wave of intense crackdowns against migrant workers across the country. Earlier in the month, hundreds or maybe thousands of Vietnamese workers were rounded up and put into a tent-city internment camp. This action, and others like it, has been defended on humanitarian grounds. However, police, often led by Neo-Nazi crowds, have conducted anti-immigrant pogroms, vandalizing shops and arresting anyone with foreign features or accents. Most recently, Russian authorities have suggested that they might start rounding up anyone with a Ukrainian accent as the latest move in a trade war.

Russian xenophobia is also playing a key role in Russian politics, as anti-immigrant tactics are popular. Below is an open-letter from a group of human rights activists to the Russian intelligentsia to end their silence and appeal for a change in course. – Ed.

We appeal to you – scientists, writers, artists, composers and artists, as we consider you the elite of the Russian intelligentsia – and hope that that the general public who knows you well will listen to you. We appeal to you to intervene by all available means to help reign in the anti-immigrant hysteria, that is on the increase day by day.

Our society is drawn into such impenetrable depths of such hatred, that the only way out of it could be a civil war. The situation in the country is so explosive that all it takes is a match, and this “match” can be inter-ethnic relations – the most flammable material. Authorities, using the xenophobia they instilled in the population, are trying to deflect the protest mood onto the “enemy number one,” the migrant workers. What is going on is a a cynical manipulation of public opinion, and today the sobering voices of people who are well known and respected by the society but are not involved in political game, are ever so important. But unfortunately such voices are almost inaudible.

We understand: you find it difficult to offer a way out of the impasse that immigration has been driven into in today’s Russia. It is a disgrace that millions of migrants who come here hoping for a better life, to be able to earn a livelihood for their families, are forced to work in the informal sector. However, they enter legally, under a visa-free regime, and then once they are here they fall into a trap: it is not possible to register legally, to get work, although there is always a lot of work opportunities out there. Here you have it – a newly made illegal immigrant. It is known that illegal immigration is a Klondike for corruption of all kinds, and it’s hard to imagine that the greedy insatiable corrupt officials would seriously try to fight the very thing that is so profitable for them. But to throw some dust in people’s eyes – that is no problem for them. Any time.

The current surge in the crackdown on illegal immigration is nothing but a pre-election PR action. What exactly happened? What a panic! It looks like hordes of aliens (swarms of locust?) suddenly descended on the capital. And that fight at Matveevsky market. Traders from Dagestan beat up a police officer — that is, Russians were fighting with other Russians — and for some reason they locked up hundreds of Vietnamese in a hastily deployed tent camp (with a regime of a concentration camp), and across all over the country they are catching Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. As to the Vietnamese (who, of course at some point came here on visas, which, as we can see, did not prevent them for becoming illegal aliens), plane-loads of them are sent back home (by the way, it is paid for by the budget, that is with our, taxpayers’, money). Meanwhile, the candidates for the election, setting aside their differences, unanimously demand to introduce visas for the CIS citizens. They know, however, that Russia doesn’t have a real border with these countries, and that the setting up of border-control posts would require expenditures equal to an annual budget of the country, however none of these politicians seems to care about that fact at all.

Anyway, it’s like mixing apples and oranges… In turn, the electorate, blinded by hatred for those who “come in large numbers,” does not notice these heaps of absurdity, and many rejoice: “If only because of the election authority took on the immigrants.” Basically, the electorate doesn’t even care whether or not this is legal: “Kick them all out! What do you think, we, Russians, cannot work as janitors?”

Angry talk shows about the dangers of migrants flooded all the TV channels, newspapers trying to outdo each other baffle the audience with completely made up numbers on crime growth and contagiousness of immigrants (and it does not matter that these horror stories contradict the statistics from the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Health). But none of the journalists preoccupied with looking for sensations, for some reason never bothered to recall such an interesting fact: the detected (all of a sudden) a factory with Vietnamese slave workers and tent camp located in the territory of the same notorious district, Golyanovo, where late last year a group of volunteers freed a group of a grocery store workers. That story made a lot of noise, but so far nobody managed to bring the case before the court, despite the professionalism and tenacity of lawyers from the “Civic Assistance”. And now, it looks like the same district law enforcement officers are fighting slavery that for 10 years “protected” that grocery store (by the way, this shop and its owners are thriving, as before).

Look at what is happening. The whole world is watching how our country is turning into a slave state, while the authorities blame this shame on its victims.

We can’t really recall a single high-profile trial of “slaveowners”, although we know about a lot of cases (sometimes we were the ones who brought the victims to the prosecutor’s office) when migrant construction workers were thrown out in the street after their documents were taken and they were not paid a cent for their slave labor. Gentlemen, don’t you feel sorry for the slaves? In any case, in our time to appeal for mercy and compassion, to try to protect the migrant workers’ rights, it’s like spitting against the wind. Now it’s not just about the rights of migrants, it’s about insanity of our own citizens and about the future of the country. It would be great to make the electorate aware of just this particular number: the Russian labor force is reduced by one million people (every year!). What will happen to Russia once the migrants turn to other, more friendly countries? Numerous studies show: without the influx of migrants the Russian economy will fall into decay, and each of us, Russians, will become poorer. Today migrants’ contribution to the national GDP is about 7%.

In the meantime the campaign is gaining momentum, tough police raids have swept through many cities and villages of Russia. Media with passion of sports commentators talks about the number of captured, the exploits of vigilante teams (helping the FMS), the monstrous local initiatives. In Kronstadt, for example, they installed boxes for anonymous letters in public places, introduced free telephone line to report on those who “came in large numbers”: do not be afraid! Somebody even came up with the idea to put some markers on immigrants’ clothes (right, why not certain yellow stars right away?).

Somehow all this is reminiscent of the methods by which Hitler came to power, won the love of the masses, inspiring and uniting the nation …

Dear celebrities, scientists and artists, don’t you see how the sky over our country is clouded with some acrid brown stench? Why do you keep silent? Don’t you resent this orgy started by the press and television? Why don’t you demand that you are given the podium? Who else but you could reason with our fellow citizens tired of deception? Are you also tired? Have you given up? But today decent people cannot remain silent. Because tomorrow there might be no one who could hear you


Ludmilla Alexeyeva,

Moscow Helsinki Group

Svetlana Gannushkina,

   “Civic Assistance” Committee

Lidia Graphova,

   The “Forum of Migrant Organizations”

Sergei Kovalev,

Sakharov Center

Arseny Roginsky,

“Memorial” International