Russia: Why We Are Leaving Our Country Behind

Recent months have seen a new spin on the topic of emigration that seems to be ever-present in the Russian online space. Several powerful blog posts written by people from different social groups have become a platform for expressing one's take on the present and future of the country and people's place in it.

The issue of massive Russian emigration is more than a century old. In the past, several waves of emigration deprived the country of millions of qualified workers, scientists and writers. Emigration from Russia has never stopped since then. Even with the improving economic situation in recent years, a good number of Russians still dream about leaving the country.

Stamped passport. Image by Flickr user Sem Paradeiro (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Stamped passport. Image by Flickr user Sem Paradeiro (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta reported [ru] that in a recent poll, 22 percent of adults (mainly businessmen and students) had expressed their willingness to leave Russia for good. The newspaper also cited an “official number” of 1.3 million scientists and engineers who left the country in “recent years.”

“Russia is evil”

“Russia is evil in its pure unalloyed form,” began the blog post of well-known Russian author and now emigrant Yuri Nesternko who got political asylum in the United States. Written at the end of 2010, Nesterenko's now famous article [ru] called “Exodus” struck close to the hearts of many Russian bloggers.

Having quickly become a must-read for pro- and anti-emigration factions alike, Nesterenko's post is a cry of frustration of someone who tried to live in Russia but could never bear its realities.

Nesterenko places significant importance on the Russian mentality and argues that it prevented, prevents and will prevent the country from becoming prosperous.

Nesterenko criticized his fellow Russians for historically producing corrupt rulers: “they did not come from Mars,” he wrote, calling Russia and its population hopeless. He dismissed any arguments supporting Russian patriotism and called for massive emigration:

Россия – это не то, ЧТО следует спасать, а то, ОТ ЧЕГО следует спасать. Спасать всех, кого можно спасти, начиная с самих себя. Таким образом, эмиграция является единственным разумным выходом. Хватит уже гробить свои жизни на то, чтобы стать удобрением для российской грязи, на которой все равно не вырастет ничего, кроме чертополоха.

Russia is not something THAT needs to be saved but rather something FROM which one needs to save oneself. [We need to] save everyone who can be saved starting with ourselves. Hence, emigration is the only way out. We need to stop ruining our lives and serve as compost for Russian dirt that will never produce anything except thistle.

To support his argument that nothing good will even happen to Russia, Nesterenko wrote about the indifference of Russians toward the relative freedom that the country currently enjoys:

Доступ к интернету имеет не менее трети россиян […]. И как они этот доступ используют? Заполняют политизированные форумы своей ненавистью к Западу, Грузии, Украине, “демшизе”, ну и “жидам”, само собой […], ностальгией по Совку и славословиями Сталину. Западные радиостанции никто не глушит – но кто их слушает? Ведь по ним вещают “враги, которые всегда против России”[…].

Not less than a third of Russians have Internet access […]. How do they use this access? They fill political forums with hatred toward the West, Georgia, Ukraine, “demshiza” [derogatory term for pro-democracy movement delivered from words “democracy” and “schizophrenia”] and, of course, Jews […], nostalgia for Sovok [Soviet Union] and eulogies for Stalin. Western radio stations are not being jammed but who listens to them? Since those are “enemy” broadcasts that are always anti-Russian […].

“I know only one thing,” Nesterenko concluded, “I will not come back to Russia. And I am happy that now for me it is not only ‘our country’ […] but even not ‘this country.’ Now and forever it is ‘that country.'”

Reasons to emigrate

Blogger Viktoria described herself as a “young woman of 25 years who wants to leave this country.” She wrote a post “Nine reasons I am leaving Russia” [ru] that received 9,000 “Likes” on Facebook, 8,000 reads on popular Russian social network, 1,400 re-tweets on Twitter and more than 2,000 comments.

As the title promises, Victoria outlined things that had made her leave Russia: weak security, mediocre healthcare, poor education, lack of professionalism, high prices for property, widespread corruption, low quality of things produced in Russia, disrespect toward rights and liberties of people and – the most important factor for Viktoria – the mentality of “disrespect toward other people and intolerance bordering on fascism.”

Представьте себе на секунду, что вот так случилось и всё правительство, все чиновники трагически погибли в один день. Что будет через неделю, через месяц? Будут те же самые рожи и на тех же самых местах. Почему? Потому что люди не меняются, потому что по каким-то не вполне понятным мне причинам у нас такие люди.

Imagine for a second that something happened and all the government, all officials tragically died in one day. What will happen in a week, in a month? There will be the same faces in the same places. Why? Because people don't change. Because due to the reasons that I fail to understand, our people are like that.

“You can say that I need to fight for my happiness, fight for my bright future,” Victoria wrote. “Sorry, friends, I am not a warrior, I am a shy system administrator. I don't want a bright future, I want a stable present.”

You shall not leave

During the wave of discussion of emigration on the Russian Internet, blogger armyan-capitan wrote a skeptical post [ru] on why many people would never emigrate. The main reason, armyan-capitan writes, is mentality:

Не смешите. Ваши дедушки по 10 лет ждали, когда их арестовывать придут и не дернулись уехать даже в соседний город. А когда их везли на Колыму, ждали амнистию и собирали шелуху у лагерной помойки. И это не «быдло», офицеры, чиновники, интеллегенция… Быдлом стали их внуки. Жирные менты, офисная шваль, путинская гвардия спиногрызов. Никуда вы не уедете. И не потому что у вас денежек нету.

Don't make me laugh. Your grandfathers waited for 10 year when they would be arrested and did not leave even for a neighboring city. And when they were taken to Kolyma [en] [region in Siberia known for its Gulag camps], they waited for an amnesty while gathering peels in prison garbage. And they were not even “cattle” but officers, government officials and intellectual elite… But their grandchildren became “cattle.” Fat cops, office riff-raff and Putin's army of freeloaders. You won't leave anywhere. And not because you don't have money.

The blogger continues with other two reasons why people who want to emigrate never do: difficulties in obtaining immigration status and an inability to adapt to new cultures:

Вам не выжить там, где правит закон, а не ваше любимое БАБЛО. Вам это не понять. Уже на генетическом уровне. Вам не выжить с вашей вселенской злостью среди нормальных людей. Они вас не поймут и не примут. Вы это почувствуете сразу, как приедете жить, а не в отель пожрать включенного халявного пива.

You will not survive in the country where the law and not MONEY is above all. You will not understand it. On a genetic level. You will not survive among normal people with your universal hatred. They will not understand you and will not accept you. You will feel it right away when you come to leave here and not stay at a hotel so you can drink free inclusive beer.

The enormous popularity of those blog posts on the Russian Internet shows how many people cannot stay indifferent toward this topic. It is also a good indicator of how many netizens are dissatisfied with current situation in Russia.

Popular Russian polling service Levada-Center reported [ru] that fewer and fewer Russians think that their country is moving in the right direction. The number of citizens who approve of the job of the government has also been steadily declining.

Mentality may be an easy target to blame for many problems in the country and emigration may seem like a fast solution to many young people. But admitting “mentality causes” of Russian reality may also be a small step toward changing the centuries of silent obedience in the face of oppressive kings and corrupt governments.


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