For the past 160 years, Russia has been more formidable in flinging her people from her borders then in bringing them back in. We now stand at a critical cross roads, where
the opportunity, the chance for change and an escalation of Russia's potential is once again being allowed to float away like a branch on the swift current of history. Though at least in this case the government has actually made some noises about change....regrettably that is all they have been.
Through famines, wars and the years of Soviet repression, Russia finds itself with one of the largest Diasporas in the world. In America alone, there are an estimated 38 million people of Russian blood, birth or roots, a figure that has been growing since the 1840s. For the most part, this diaspora, especially the first generational ones, are highly educated and successful. Many are equally longing for a return to their motherland, this writer included. Even amongst those who are second or third and even fourth generation outside of Russia, there is an almost mystical connection and longing to know more about their ancestral lands. Many have even retained, to one degree or another, their language abilities.
This diaspora is critical to Russia on several major levels. To begin with, they are a critical source of support for Russia in the foreign circles and issues it finds itself in. If one observes the behavior of smaller states, such as the Greeks, Israelis or Armenians, for example, one notices that they enjoy a very strong and vocal support from their diaspora. This often translates into cultural ambassadorship that counteracts any local governmental propaganda. It further translates into action and pressure groups that push through beneficial relations between the host nation and these Diaspora's ancestral governments. Finally, they provide something that Russia is desperate for: money and talent.
Money comes in one of three forms: the diaspora likes to vacation back in the home land, especially where close relatives or strong former experiences are a major draw. Coming from richer nations and with more disposable income, they pump in hard currencies into the local economies. Secondly, the aged diaspora, often times with considerable amounts of monies saved up for retirement, like to return to their homelands to live out their days. While they may not produce, they do spend a lot.
Finally, and this is most critical to modern day Russia and the Putin drive to double the economy: the diaspora provides a ready source of business savvy professionals, many of whom are more then willing to immigrate back. Not only are they a major boost for the Russian business world and economy but often times they are willing to start their own businesses, thus furthering economic growth. A side benefit is the fact that many of the diaspora have more children then the local population on average, thus providing for the next generation.
With all of these advantages, what has the government of the Rodina done to further the Diaspora?
On the side of mobilizing the Diaspora, nothing really. The local Houston consulate, for example, does little to organize the vast Russian diaspora. Does little to spread the culture or the point of view, allowing many local Russians to be swayed by the likes of Berezovsky and other scoundrels. This lacking in establishing ties will further hurt the follow on generations who loose their connection with Russia.
On the front of travel: even worse. While earlier it was possible to get or keep a double citizenship, those doors closed effectively in 2004. So not only does Moscow discourage the diaspora from coming back easily and quickly, they make it even more difficult with constantly rising visa regimes and tariffs. Just because America is taxing Russians coming to the US more does not mean it is a good idea for Russia to tax incoming Americans, when the majority of those incoming Americans are actually Russians. Ties must be close and those Russian diaspora visiting Russia often are more apt not only to spend their monies in Russia but eventually the remainders of their lives too.
Furthermore, the artificial home/apartment ownership rates in Russia, coupled with the astronomical prices of apartment rental and the absolutely non-existent support of the Russian government, outside the provinces, for those wishing to return, has made it impossible for diaspora wishing to return to do so. From personal experience, as an work-experienced MBA professional, I can not afford to return to Russia, even though I and my wife both desire it. Why? Well, while there is some government support for those who wish to move to the Chinese border or the rural provinces, my professional expertise in supply chain/logistics dictates that I work in a major transport hub: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov, Vladivostok...and while a $3,000 salary in Moscow is an excellent salary for a Muscovite who is not bound by apartment rental payments, it is a poverty sentence to any diaspora who is forced to now pay $2,000+ for an 100sq meter apartment.
This cost of housing and the absolute lack of governmental support, dooms Russia to loose out on a major chance to bring in a rather large chunk of its diaspora.
What should be done?
There are several key steps and investments that Russia should take immediately that will pay huge dividends in the long run.
1. Create Russian culture centers in each of the major cities where the Diaspora is present. In many cases, these can be staffed by volunteers from the local communities and require only the cost of setting up and maintaining them. This will in turn increase tourism in Russia and make Russian foreign relations an easier thing. It is harder to sell Russia as a bogyman to people who are in love with her culture.
2. Establish close ties with Russian organizations established by the Diaspora.
3. Establish close links to the children. Israel is a prime example of how this is done and how it continues to pay huge dividends for decades after wards. Children are the best investment anyone can make it, over the long term. Each child in the Jewish Diaspora can, upon reaching his or her high school years, apply to travel on an expense paid trip to Israel for the summer. The Israelis treat these kids first rate, taking them to see their ancestral homeland, to various camps and in essence making them feel a bond of more then just distant blood or Biblical verse to the State of Israel. At the very minimal, this entails a new generation in foreign countries that will aid Israeli foreign policy and national needs. Many even travel to Israel to serve in her army.
Russia, with her vastly deeper culture, greater diversity and appeal and much deeper pockets, would benefit greatly from following the same course of action. It would endear a new generation of Russians abroad with a sense of loyalty to Russia
4. Assist the professionals. While no country can survive without the common working man, the farmer or the miner, it is not these men, in the modern world, that provide a nation with its technological and business savvy. Instead it is the professionals. However, even with all the loyalty that lies in many men to Russia, no young or middle aged professional can afford to bring himself or his family to any major Russian city without abandoning any and all prosperity and material comfort in a quest just to put a roof over his head. What to a Muscovite is a splendid salary, say $3,000 per month, is pittance wage to one who first after taxes has to still pay $2,000+ just for the monthly privilege of living in Russia.
To this end, the Russian government should start buying up apartments to use as a signing bonus of sorts to attract proper professionals to Russia. These can be done in the form of either a given apartment or a stipend for an apartment, the level of which would depend upon the personal wealth and salary of the individual. Obviously conditions should be set. The person must be of Russian or Soviet birth or of ancestry of the old empire. The person must prove that he is degreed, hire able and of sound mind and body. Alcoholics and drug addicts need not apply. Equally any applying who are married with less then 3 children should have the condition of becoming parents of at least 3 children within 5 years.
The benefits brought by these individuals will greatly out match any governmental cost of the apartments.
5. Lastly, all peoples in the Diaspora, who can prove birth within the Soviet Union and are presently living under a none CIS citizenship, should be given the right of accepting dual citizenship/passports. By allowing easier travel, more money will be generated back into the Russian society, economy and government, for a relatively minor bureaucratic exercise.
In short, Russia is once more at a critical point in her history that can be harvested to her success, but only if Moscow realizes and acts upon it.