Politeía Digest

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Why Are They Leaving?

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Russia’s small but educated middle-class is deserting the mother country in search of opportunities and freedoms elsewhere, but the state is waking up to their grievances and reform could be in the air.

By Julian Evans

Konstantin Gaaze is a bright young Russian. The 30-year-old is the political editor of Moskovskie Novosti, a leading daily newspaper, and was previously an adviser to the minister of health. He is a political insider who should have a bright future ahead of him in Russia’s booming economy. Instead, Mr. Gaaze is preparing to leave. “I’m thinking about moving to Israel,” he says. “It’s a question of economic opportunities. The system of state capitalism that has grown up here exterminates the social elevator for young educated people.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Gaaze’s story is far from unique. More and more young, educated Russians are talking about leaving Russia, to live in the U.S., Europe, Israel, Asia, or Latin America. The reasons are myriad: Whether it is the difficulty of setting up a business in Russia, the dearth of political freedoms, poor education or simply better jobs abroad, Russia’s talent exodus is gaining momentum.

“We’re expected to work 10 to 20 years to buy a flat, or five years to buy a car,” says Mr. Gaaze. “There are no chances for promotion. It’s very hard to set up your own business. Loans cost 20% to 30% a year, and the system is very regulated. The most secure job is to work for the government. But I’ve done that, and don’t want to do it anymore.”

The political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin caught the mood among the middle classes with a widely-quoted story in independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in April. He claimed Russia was in the middle of another wave of emigration to rival that which occurred after the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917.

What is disturbing, according to Mr. Oreshkin, is that it is the “strongest and most gifted people” who are leaving Russia, because they feel they have no place in the state capitalist model constructed by prime minister Vladimir Putin over the last decade. In an online poll of 7,237 Novaya Gazeta readers, 62.5% said they were considering leaving because of discontent with the economic and political regime.

Surveys by the Levada Center, an independent research institute in Moscow, find a similar broad trend. The percentage of respondents who were thinking about living abroad rose from 42% at the beginning of Mr. Putin’s presidency to 44% in 2009, despite the rise in living standards during that period.

The vast majority of those who admitted wanting to leave were under 35 years old, lived in a major city, and spoke a foreign language. While only making up a small percentage of Russia’s total population, this demographic also represents the country’s economic, political and cultural future.

“Emigration is growing,” says Gleb Kuznetsov, a 33-year-old political analyst and former campaign manager for ruling party United Russia. “The reason for it is open borders and psychological fatigue caused by the state, which is expressed in disbelief that the system is able to change and become more human. No one believes in the ‘bright future’ anymore, not the opposition, or even people working for the state.”

Mr. Kuznetsov says that it is widely believed, among Russia’s young middle-class, that it is easier to establish a business and realize their ambitions abroad. “My friend, a young businessman, sold his business in the Russian Far East and moved to Venezuela. In his opinion, there are more opportunities to develop there, and the system, although no less corrupt, is more predictable and open than in his motherland.”

Media Control

According to the Levada Center, while the most common reason people gave for considering emigration in 2002 was financial, by 2009, just as common a reason for leaving was socio-cultural. Some educated Russians feel alienated, for example, by the state’s control of television news, film, even the pop music scene.

Natalia Rostova is the 32-year-old media correspondent at Slon.ru and a respected commentator on Russian media. But she too is thinking of leaving Russia, after a spell in California last year learning English. She says: “The state controls the television news, which never criticizes Putin or [Dmitry] Medvedev. Most Russians believe it when the television says the West is our enemy, and that Putin saved Russia from the old oligarchs. They don’t know about the new oligarchs. It’s hard to see how things will change.”

While the state’s control of the media is a turn-off for the 25% to 30% of the population who don’t actively support United Russia, a bigger incentive to leave is the poor quality of life in Russia. Read more in The Wall Street Journal.

Written by Theophyle

June 16, 2011 at 7:49 am

One Response

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  1. Unele lucruri sunt neschimbate de 50 ani: “Whoever becomes president in 2012, the same small group of politicians and security service officers will still be running Russia, according to many of the young, educated Russians interviewed by the Wall Street Journal Europe.” !

    Nu stiu cat este de exact dar finalul este de retinut: “… If nothing changes in the staff policy of Putin’s elite, then the closest comparison for Russia in 2018 will be Tunisia or Egypt in 2011.”

    Ar fi bune cifre cu privire la acest brain drain.


    June 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

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