On September 14, when the Moscow metro introduced signs inside two of its stations in Tajik and Uzbek, migrants from those countries rejoiced. With the decision, Moscow government was acknowledging their existence — they number around 800,000 according to the 2020 estimates, after all — and was apparently willing to make their lives easier with a little gesture such as putting up signs in their native languages.
Three months later, on December 7, the head of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Committee under the President of Russia, one of 16 consultative bodies, requested the mayor of Moscow “fix the situation” with non-Russian signage as it was reportedly irritating locals.
The main reason why the Prokshino and Lesoparkovaya metro stations were chosen for the new signs was because they offer bus services to the Multifunctional Migration Center Sakharovo, where labor migrants from predominantly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan apply for, and renew, their work permits. The work permits allow migrants from Central Asian countries, who perform mostly blue-collar work, to work in Russia by paying a tax.
After the appearance of the new signs in the Tajik and Uzbek languages, metro officials reported that the amount of people in the lobbies of both stations decreased by half, the queues at the ticket offices were reduced by 40 percent, and they received fewer requests from foreigners for reference information.
Nevertheless, none of the practicalities seem to matter when it comes to responding to anti-immigrant sentiments among the local population, but most importantly among Russian officials. On December 7, the head of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Committee under the President of Russia, Valery Fadeev, asked Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to “fix the situation” with the signs in Uzbek and Tajik. The signs, according to Fadeev, cause “special irritation of the residents” and are “inconsistent with the requirement for labor migrants to speak Russian.”
Two days later, on December 9, Fadeev, in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, spoke about the country’s migration policy that prioritizes and protects Russian citizens by preferences to employ Russian citizens and welcomed recent activities, such as reducing the number of migrants in Moscow’s construction projects. In the same meeting, Putin supported Fadeev’s concerns and spoke of starting large-scale state controlled recruitment that can further assist in reducing the number of immigrants and prepare migrants to work in Russia back at home by teaching Russian language, law, and history.
Russians officials and citizens overall do not hide their anti-immigrant attitudes, but the prevalence fluctuates year to year depending on developments inside the country. In the latest 2019 poll by the independent opinion poll center Levada Center, 72 percent of those polled favored limiting labor migration, a jump from 58 percent in 2017. The jump was explained as a result of dissipating distraction and euphoria from the Crimea annexation in 2014 and increased negative economic outlook of the country and individual household situations.
The increasingly anti-immigrant mood among Russian citizens is not necessarily reflected in the perceptions of migrants of being unwelcome in the country. In a recent study, more than half of the polled Central Asian migrants, 55.9 percent, responded that they do not feel negative attitudes from Russians and 57 percent of those who had been living in Russia for at least five years wished to remain in the country forever.
The anti-immigrant statements from what is supposed to be an impartial body, the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, which is expected to remove itself from partisanship and be on the side of underrepresented groups, show that the council instead views its role as a protector of Russian citizens from a siege of encroaching immigrants.