The Fourth Wave

6 November 2012

By Tatyana Rabinkova

This is about emigration. I am afraid of losing count, but the First Wave, unquestionably, was caused by the Revolution or, as they say nowadays, the October Coup. It is a questionable term, but let us leave that to the conscience of today's historians. Then there was "the exodus of the Jews from Russia", which was the Second Wave. The Third, in the nineties, was also a mass exodus. And I suspect that the Fourth Wave is now on the rise. In one interview, Vladimir Menshov (director and actor, his films include the Oscar-winning "Moscow does not believe in tears" and one of Russia's best-loved films "Love and Pigeons") said that he had been mulling over an idea for a film about why Russians who have the opportunity to leave do not do so. He still does not know the answer. 

Nevertheless, the Fourth Wave is on the rise, although it has not yet reached the Tenth. Years ago the elite bought property in Europe and America, their children studied abroad and they themselves will almost certainly go back there sooner or later, and one does not need to look hard to find examples. And what about those people who are not quite that well off - they are also trying to buy somewhere to live in Europe, those who have that kind of money, that is. But even for the price of a rather poor flat in Moscow it is possible to buy fairly decent apartments in Europe. There is yet another option: Muscovites rent out their apartments and use the money to live the life of Riley in Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia, while some travel to more exotic countries (India, Thailand, Egypt) where the climate and environment are much better and life is cheaper. From the Russian regions many travel to Europe illegally, live and work, and then somehow manage to obtain legal status. And then there are the refugees - a special case - including from Russia (but first and foremost from Dagestan, Ossetia, Ingushetia and Chechnya).

It is a popular belief in Russia that it is the best that are leaving, that there is a "brain drain". But all sorts are leaving, often those with nothing to lose. The latter are happy to move to a new place. Those people who failed to realise their full potential due to age, language and other restrictions can console themselves with the fact that it is calmer in Europe, the environment is better and there is still a strong social security system.

As for the "brain drain", it seems it could soon resume with renewed vigour. Firstly, Russia's youth are striving to achieve an education abroad, whereupon many stay to work and live. I do not mean those "high-spirited" (to use a half-forgotten word) boys and girls, I mean those who are intelligent and talented, who are educated at well-known universities where they were accepted, first and foremost, due to their abilities and efforts. They are not prone to television zombification, for the simple reason that they do not watch television as they are too busy. This is also the reason why they are not interested in politics, although the information space is filled with it. They are unable to think about day-to-day realities, including political ones. They also master a foreign language, sometimes more than one, and the world opens up (for the time being). And so "fly, little bird, fly”, and they fly. Will they come back? Although the streets are not paved with gold, life abroad is appealing. The colours are brighter, the people cheerful and welcoming, and there is a feeling not only of mutual human respect, but also respect for the individual from the government. In Russia we have the timid shoots of a courteous attitude towards each other just emerging at the grassroots level, but at the state level there is still insolent and cynical tyranny. It is enough to glance quickly at the text of the Constitution (the Basic Law, in other words) to get a sense of the abyss between what was declared and what is really happening. And those people who are unaccustomed to living by double standards feel it, and many even protest. The latter organise rallies and go into politics, adding to the opposition, while the former "vote with their feet". If the powers that be carry on "tightening the screws", these groups will merge and make a move for the border. The wave will billow and surge and that is far from the best outcome for Russia.