Sunday, July 9, 2017

Russians Don't Leave

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- The overwhelming vast number of Russians don't want to leave Russia for
good. Or at least that is the conclusion of a recent poll undertaken by the
All Russian Center for Studying Russian Opinion which found that 89 % of
Russians would rather remain in their own country. While 10 % of those
polled would like to live abroad, 43 % of them are uncertain whether or
when this would be possible. This survey appears to represent the highest
percentage of those polled found in favor of remaining permanently in

The survey also indicated how the motives of those seeking to go abroad
has changed over the last few years. While a survey two years revealed that
more than half of those wanting to leave were motivated by the dream of
a higher standard of living, better pay and benefit, this has declined to 33% !
More respondents appear to be citing ecological reasons as a prime source
for wishing to leave [ 4% in 2016 , 12% in 2017] and Human rights { 0% in
2016 , 10 % in 2017} Most of those who want to emigrate tend to be young
and from cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The favorite destination
appears to be Germany.

What are we to make of those findings ? I personally welcome them but don't
find it too consoling because my personal experience does not always tally
with this survey. For whatever reason, I keep encountering people wanting to
get out. Moscow is even beginning to remind me of poor Moldova. It is
unpleasant to stay in a country when you keep meeting people who tell you
" I hate this country and want to get out " Or as an accountant in an American company
SAS , told me : " If every employee had a chance , they would live abroad." This
turned out to be an overstatement as some employees told me they did not have
such a dream. In Moldova I was constantly asked for advice on how to obtain
citizenship in Britain. Now when I told those people I was happy to stay in Moldova
or Moscow rather than Scotland, they thought I was mad . It was disconcerting.

When I asked how they imagined life in Britain I found a highly unrealistic view
of Britain which did not echo any of my experiences in Scotland. They spoke of
highly paid jobs, a fair legal system and great medical care system. Where did
they get those high expectations ? Did it spring out of their imagination or word
of mouth ? A Russian artist from Moscow once bumped into me on the streets
and asked me : "Don't you get sick and tired of living in this country ? I'm surprised
you are still here ." She has visited and worked in New York and dreams of
permanent American citizenship which appears elusive. And how did she find
America? She adored New York ! She told me she found the people friendly, nice
and helpful. This is why I 'd never make rash judgments on a person's dream. Who
am I to break a person's illusions ?

I came across person, a student called Olga who could not get used to living in America.
She told me : "I went to live in America with my husband, who was a scientist. Although
he loved it I could not stay and missed Russia. I longed for my family so we split up.
I returned to Russia. .... What I found strange about America is that whenever I went for
a walk some driver would pull up and offer me help. They thought my car had broken down
or I needed a lift. But I only wanted to go for a walk. Americans seem to like driving

The worst attitude you can come across is people who think that to leave your country
is to abandon it and betray it. This attitude not only exists in Russia but Scotland. It is
summed up by the self righteous attitude of a poem : 'I never abandoned my country'
suggesting those who did were deserters of an army. This is not the best of Akhmatova's

Whatever we can conclude about the findings of this survey , it at least explodes the crude
myth that most Russians are dying to leave Russia , or that they find dwelling in their country unbearable. Whether they have lowered their expectations about life abroad in terms of becoming disillusioned remains an open question. They might well be heeding the old Russian proverb : 'Life is better where you don't live'. It is one thing to enjoy a holiday in Greece, quite another to live there ! They don't always take this proverb to heart in Scotland. When I last visited Scotland , many Scots I met asked how they could come to Russia to live. "It must be better than Scotland " they told me . The last person to phone me up and asked if she could come to stay permanently in Russia was my sister. I wonder what the Russians would make of this?

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