09/29/2022, 09.37
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Military mobilisation: the white migrant complex in Central Asia

by Vladimir Rozanskij


Thousands of Russians flee the call to arms and take shelter in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Tensions with the local populations, mindful of the discriminatory treatment suffered by their own migrants in Russia. Many, however, show compassion for those who arrive.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The mass exodus of Russians from military mobilisation to the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia is revealing a resounding paradox in the historical habits of these territories.

Former and post-Soviet Asians have always been Russia's 'labour migrants', treated as second-class people and often the object of derision and vaguely racist epithets, the 'darkies' (černota) or the 'narrow-eyed' (uzkoglazye) who were often barred access to certain clubs and hotels ('please do not enter people of Asian appearance'). Now, in revenge, many Kazakh or Kyrgyz bars and restaurants hang the sign 'no white people allowed'.

Over the past week, more than 50,000 Russians have crossed the borders of Kazakhstan, passing through the northern 'Russian' regions of Uralsk and Petropavlovsk. Many locals are actually ready to welcome the fugitives, while others are preparing picket lines to prevent them from crossing, because 'they do not integrate with us', 'they do not respect our culture', and 'they are not fleeing from the war, but from conscription, they just want to save their skins'.

Radio Azattyk collected various testimonies from the field to understand the climate of these chaotic days in Central Asia. According to Maržan from Almaty, 'these individuals have been sitting on the sofa eating peanuts since February, and they only moved when we started to address them directly... they run away from us leaving their wives and children behind, they are afraid to go out on the streets and protest'. From these arrivals 'there will be no benefit for us, better to close the borders'.

Many Kazakhs are trying to help the Russians, organising humanitarian initiatives for them, arousing the reaction of others for whom 'there is a lack of work here and students are sleeping in the streets, because they can't pay the rent, other than giving houses and work to the Russians'. Others fear that 'now they come here crying, then they will send tanks because we did not serve them in fluent Russian'. The arrival of the Russians has already caused steep increases in rents and food, especially alcohol.

Another interviewee insists that 'those who arrive are not refugees, they are not bombing their homes, they are just cowards, let's put them on Russian military ships'. Umay from Biškek explains that 'the Russians who have arrived in Kyrgyzstan can be divided into two waves, starting with those who left immediately after the start of the invasion in Ukraine, mostly young people of liberal orientation and humanitarian activists, who call themselves the "relocated" (relokanty). The second wave is that of the defectors, there is no other way to call them, a catastrophe befalling us'.

The 'relocated' have somehow tried to fit into the new context, asking locals for advice on how to behave and also participating in joint actions of protest against the war and the Russian 'colonial occupation' itself. The 'defectors' are only provoking strong social tensions, with the mentality of those who consider the local population 'a bunch of nomads who should go back to their yurts [tents] and leave the houses to the whites'.

The Kazakhs spread many negative reactions to the descent of the Russian fugitives on social media, but Alina from Karaganda argues that 'we are not all like that, there are many Kazakhs who know the meaning of compassion and welcome, and understand that if the situation were reversed, we would all have fled to Russia'. Many freely welcome Russians into their homes, overcoming mistrust and perplexity rooted in history and current events, and showing the best face of humble and proud peoples, but rich in humanity and spiritual values.

As Tamerlan from Biškek says: 'Spontaneously, you say 'you cooked this soup, now eat it'; we have our own problems, they attack us from Tajikistan... then a Russian on the run, a friend of my mother's, came to our house, we talked for a whole night, and now we start living a new life together'.

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