'Russia needs half a million migrants a year to stop natural decrease in population'

Sociologist Natalia Mastikova on the average Russian who sees migration as a threat

'Russia needs half a million migrants a year to stop natural decrease in population'
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On February 20, Rosstat published 'The information on the socio-economic situation of Russia in 2019', which shows that the increase in migration (arrivals minus departures) from the CIS member states in January-November last year was almost twice as high as in the same period of 2018 — 234,000 people against 123,000. A day later, the information appeared on the draft bill on simplified Russian citizenship for the citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Kazakhstan, which will be submitted to the State Duma before the end of February, and Superjob.ru published the results of its own study showing that more than half of citizens (52%) believe that only highly qualified professionals from abroad should be allowed to work in Russia. Realnoe Vremya spoke with Natalia Mastikova, the senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, about how acute the issue of the relations between Russians and migrants is.

“Men are more negative about migrants than women are”

Natalia, what are the reasons for the negative attitude of Russians to migrants?

I am studying the attitude of Russians to migrants based on data from the European Social Survey (ESS). This is a fairly large-scale serious study that is conducted in different European countries every 2 years. Russia has participated in it since 2006. The analysis of this data is limited by the number of factors that were originally included in the questionnaire by the developers of this study.

There are various scientific explanations on the basis of which I build mathematical models to test theoretical hypotheses. In general, the topic of the reasons for negative attitudes towards migrants was actively studied in the 1950s as part of the socio-psychological approach. This approach is associated with the names of scientists such as Gordon Allport, Theodor W. Adorno. They assumed there were certain personality traits that predestined negative attitudes. For example, based on the situation described by Adorno, men are more likely to have authoritarian personality traits, and now research shows that men are more negative about migrants than women are. There are also other theories that explain the negative attitude towards migrants, such as contact theory, social identity theory, ethnocentrism, and others.

At the moment, the group threat theory is most often used. It is based on the idea that competition for limited resources between groups acts as a catalyst for increasing negative attitudes towards external groups. Within this theory, the assumption can be verified that, for example, in the countries with low GDP and low living standards the attitude towards migrants will be worse than in the countries with high living standards and GDP. That is, we can expect that the more unstable the economic situation in the country, the lower the level of wages, the more indigenous people will see a threat, competition in migrants for jobs. In fact, this is what most studies conducted in European countries show.

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That is, we can expect that the more unstable the economic situation in the country, the lower the level of wages, the more indigenous people will see a threat, competition in migrants for jobs

However, my analysis, based only on Russian data, suggests that the factors that, as I assumed from the group threat theory, will affect the negative attitude towards migrants do not explain much. There is a mathematical analysis of data called regression analysis. As part of this analysis, we can select some factors that affect attitudes to migrants based on theoretical assumptions (for example, values, income level, level of trust, socio-demographic characteristics, etc.). So, the analysis showed that the factors I have chosen do not explain the negative attitude towards migrants in Russia.

Now I am planning to apply for a grant to conduct my own research, create my own tool to cover more factors. I hope that it will answer the question of what affects the negative attitude of Russians.

"60% of Russians have a negative opinion of the changes brought by migrants to the country's culture, economy and life”

Can we assume that negative attitude to migrants is an artificially created and inflated problem?

I don't think there is an element of artificiality here. According to the European Social Survey I have already mentioned, over the past 10 years, Russia has had a predominantly negative attitude towards migrants of other nationalities, migrants from poorer countries. About 60% of Russians have a negative opinion of the changes brought by migrants to the country's culture, economy and life in general. Studies of other sociological services and research centres, although performed using different methods, but still also record this trend.

In this state of affairs, can we say that this attitude will result in some open clashes? Or can we say what specific consequences this will lead to? No, we can't. But this attitude definitely doesn't contribute to a favourable environment on the streets of our country. And we have repeatedly seen how people mobilise when there is a clash on national grounds. Suffice it to recall the riots in Biryulyovo in 2013. So I don't consider this problem exaggerated, it really exists. We need to think about how to integrate migrants into society.

As for the artificially created problem, I consider the media to be responsible for it to some extent. I haven't conducted a special analysis of the content they provide about migrants, but such analysis was carried out by my colleagues from the Federal Research Sociological Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and they established that the media hardly covered the positive effects of migration, but negative facts are being actively discussed. The last thing that comes to mind is the example of women being raped by migrants in Cologne. This topic was discussed for several weeks on all federal channels.

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According to my observations, there is no constant regularity in the question of the influence of age on the attitude towards migrants. In different countries, in different conditions, in different studies of different years, this dependence may change

Young people seem to be more radical about migrants than other groups of the population, doesn't it?

In fact, there is an opinion in society that young people have a more negative attitude to migrants. There are different explanations for this. Some researchers say that young people go through the processes of socialization and self-realization, so for them, inter-ethnic tension and conflict manifestations that turn into open clashes are most characteristic. The propensity for conflicts is also explained by age-related features, which are manifested in the sharpness of judgments and opinions, what is known as youthful maximalism. Besides, today's young people were formed in the post-Soviet period, when inter-ethnic relations became more complicated, and inter-ethnic tensions increased. If we recall the most high-profile outbreaks of tension on inter-ethnic grounds, for example, the resonant murder of Yegor Sviridov or the riots in Western Biryulyovo in connection with the murder of Yegor Shcherbakov by a migrant, it is easy to see that the main actors are representatives of a youth group.

My colleague, well-known migration researcher Vladimir Mukomel, in his research based on RLMS data received the following conclusions: among those who are positive about migrants, the largest number is older respondents — this conclusion he explains by nostalgia for the friendship of peoples. And the most negative attitude towards migrants is among the group of 25-29-year-olds.

As for my research on ESS data, I get an inverse relationship — the older the person, the worse the attitude towards migrants. There may be different explanations for this. For example, older people may be most active in watching TV, where migration is negatively covered. Another explanation is related to the effect of the life cycle, which is that at a young age, a person is full of energy and sees everything in a different light than an elderly does, who, due to lack of health, is more prone to irritability and negative attitude, in particular to migrants.

According to my observations, there is no constant regularity in the question of the influence of age on the attitude towards migrants. In different countries, in different conditions, in different studies of different years, this dependence may change. A lot depends on the context — when and where the study was conducted.

Photo: rscf.ru
According to demographers, in order to stop the natural decrease in the population in Russia, it will be necessary to receive 500,000 migrants a year, or even more, in the near future. But here, of course, the question arises — what consequences will this lead to?

“In European countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia have the most negative attitude to migrants”

On the one hand, the state benefits from cheap labour from the CIS countries, on the other, it gets a problem in the form of inter-ethnic conflicts. How to find a balance? What number of migrants doesn't bother the population?

Indeed, it is profitable for the state to accept migrants for various reasons. Russia is facing an acute problem of the decline of the working-age population, which is currently being addressed, in particular, by attracting labour migrants. This situation may worsen, since the population of Russia decreased by 5,2 million in 1993-2008, and if there were no migration, the reduction would have been 13,2 million.

According to demographers, in order to stop the natural decrease in the population in Russia, it will be necessary to receive 500,000 migrants a year, or even more, in the near future. But here, of course, the question arises — what consequences will this lead to? Is our society able to integrate such a large number of migrants? I think that the problem is reaching a level when it should be seriously addressed at the state level because it is unlikely that our country will be ok with the strategy chosen for migrants, for example, in Germany. It is necessary to invite scientists who understand the specifics of our country and its cultural characteristics to discuss this issue in order to form a policy on migrants that suits both the state and the population.

Do you give any recommendations in your articles on how to improve the attitude to migrants?

First of all, to understand how to improve the attitude towards migrants, we need to understand what increases the negative attitude to a greater extent. It is the key question of my research, this will be the subject of my doctoral thesis. In addition to mass surveys, I'm going to conduct interviews with Russians, in particular with those who have radical views on migrants. I will also conduct interviews with migrants themselves to understand how they themselves are aware of the reasons for the negative attitude towards them.

Based on what have already been analyzed, scientists such as Ronald Inglehart and Shalom Schwartz emphasize that a sense of security, high standard of living and meeting the basic needs and so on are necessary to achieve the goals of improving attitudes towards migrants. Besides, improving attitudes is impossible without purposeful activities to convey information to the population about the positive effects of migration. It is important that real measures to achieve these goals are included in the proposals for Russia's migration strategy until 2035.

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In European countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia have the most negative attitude to migrants

What countries of the world, in particular in Europe, have the most negative attitude to migrants and why?

In European countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia have the most negative attitude to migrants. Despite that Russia is outside the migration flows that created the European migration crisis, it is one of the three countries with the most negative attitude to migration to their country, as well as in terms of assessing the changes they bring.

In Russia, this attitude is influenced by the low level of quality of life and propaganda coverage in the media of the European migration crisis. Negative assessments of Hungary and the Czech Republic can be explained by that these countries are transit countries for migrants to the most affluent states in Europe. They do not have enough resources of their own to cope with the problem of housing and maintaining transit migrants, as well as ensuring the security of their own host population.

The Scandinavian countries are the most positive about migrants: Iceland, Sweden and Finland. These are countries with a high level and quality of life, with a high level of trust.

By Matvey Antropov