Russia’s Suitcase State of Mind

Russia’s Suitcase State of Mind, by Artemy Troitsky in the Moscow Times.

Two recent headlines put it this way: “Number of elite Russians leaving for Europe has doubled,” and “Country hit by wave of emigration: people lack reason to return to Russia.” …

Getting an official count is complicated by the fact that most emigrants retain their Russian passports. … As a rule, estimates place the number of emigrants between 200,000 to 500,000 annually. The State Statistics Service counted 350,000 in 2015, which is 10 times more than in 2010.

Both the number and the types of people leaving are changing.

Back in the 1990s, when emigration reached 250,000 per year, it was mostly the “losers” who packed up and — people who could not integrate into the new wild capitalist reality and who fled the rampant unemployment and social insecurity.

During the booming 2000s, their numbers dwindled to a statistically insignificant 30,000 per year.

But now we see an entirely different picture, with successful and accomplished professionals leading the exodus, despite the fact that many will lose their economic and social status by starting again abroad.

Why is emigration increasing again now?

The reasons are obvious: the worsening economic situation, Russia’s growing international isolation, the well-founded fear that the authorities might close the doors to the West entirely — as they did during Soviet times — the “tightening of the screws” on ideology and political life, on freedom of speech and internet access, and an increase in all forms of repression.

But in my opinion, even more important is the intangible and yet increasingly oppressive sense of hopelessness. The belief that Russia has hit a dead end and that change under the current system is impossible.

It is as if the country itself is ill, steeped in a dreary present, endlessly glorifying its bloody past but completely lacking any vision for its future. …

Packed and ready to go:

15 percent of all Russians are “packed and ready to go” at any time. Of those, 3 percent — or 4 million Russians — have definite plans to emigrate. The remaining 12 percent say they will “probably” leave the country. … An enormous 32 percent of Russians aged 18-24 are ready to move abroad, according to the Levada Center survey. …

An exodus of that size would, by itself, deal a serious blow to the country. But it is compounded by the fact that many of those 15 million are Russia’s best and brightest, its educated specialists — doctors, engineers, computer programmers, teachers, bold businesspeople, members of the fashionable “creative class” and the most ambitious and mobile segment of the country’s youth.