ROAR: “Foreigners will live in Moscow according to local standards”

The authorities in the Russian capital are preparing the Muscovite’s Code, or rules of conduct for visitors and guest workers.

The document will recommend foreigners coming to Moscow a code of behavior in the city that “is based on Russian traditions.” However, the code is not expected to be mandatory and will contain only recommendations, Mikhail Solomentsev, the chief of the Moscow City Government's department for Inter-Regional Ties and Ethnic Policy, told media.

According to the official, the code is being drafted not as a legislative document and is rather a set of highly recommended rules of conduct accepted in the city. The authorities also want to hold consultations with representatives of ethnic communities before the document is adopted.

“Whatever human rights activists say, diasporas support the development of rules of conduct in Moscow," the official stressed. The government attracted historians and cultural figures to work on the document, which will later be presented to Muscovites for discussion.

The rules of behavior will concern languages, clothing and religious practices. As a result, the slaughtering of sheep in public places and barbecuing on balconies in apartment blocks are expected to be banned.

All the rules will be included in a brochure to be distributed among those coming to Moscow. One of the main recommendations will concern the language. “Russian is the language of communication in this city, and it is better to speak Russian in Moscow,” Solomentsev told Interfax news agency. “But it is a recommendation,” he said, adding that nobody will prevent ethnic groups from speaking their own languages.

According to different estimates, there are 84.5% of the Moscow population are ethnic Russians, Rossiyskaya Gazeta said. The situation with the relations between different ethnic groups in the Russian capital is better than in other world’s megapolises, Solomentsev told the paper.

At the same time, he noted that the city needs fewer guest workers than the current number. Most of them arrive from former Soviet republics and work as builders, street cleaners and are engaged in unskilled labor.

Some people have phobias “caused by aliens coming with strange ways of life; unknown traditions,” the official told the daily. But he blamed the great number of foreigners on “the state migration policies” rather than on the city authorities’ work.

Moscow managed to halve quotas for guest workers to 250,000 people, Solomentsev noted. But the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to the contrary, is introducing permits for guest work starting in 2011, he added.

The mayor’s office recently adopted a new conception of national policy and interethnic relations which states that Moscow is a Russian city. That means that the city’s way of life “is based on Russian culture and traditions that have developed for ages,” Solomentsev explained. “Everyone who comes here should take this into account,” he noted.

“Different cultures have intertwined in Moscow,” the official said, but added that educational programs in schools will be the same for different ethnic groups. Children will be able to study their native languages after lessons in school, he added.

There have been mixed comments about the proposal of the city government, with some observers calling it another “meaningless project” of the Moscow government. Aleksandr Brod, director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau and a member of the Public Chamber, described the idea as “artificial.”

“Russia is a multinational state, and it is fixed in the Constitution,” he said. It is better to concentrate efforts on such real things as preventing cases of racism and xenophobia, educational programs and social advertising, he told Interfax news agency.

Some representatives of different ethnic groups may take offence because “people already know how to behave in society… and no additional documents are needed,” he noted.

Member of the Moscow City Duma Anton Paleev agrees that the capital does not need special legislation regarding the interethnic relations. But he supposed that the authorities mean not exactly the code, but rather “certain rules that take into account the high cultural level of Muscovites and living conditions in the city.” However, if the document is still adopted, it will not have a legal effect, Paleev told online newspaper.

At the same time, this code may aggravate interethnic relations, as many people could be forced to “limit themselves by the framework of their national diasporas,” the paper said in an editorial. More than 150 ethnic minorities living in Moscow account for 15 per cent of the capital’s population, and that means that the problem not only concerns guest workers, it said.

“Moscow as a big European city and, as a capital of the country that claims a special political role in the world, including the role of intermediary between the Muslim and Christian worlds, should demonstrate an example of multiculturalism and ethnic tolerance,” the noted. Such ideas as the one proposed by Mayor’s Office may lead to a “further psychological split of the country according to national and religious lines,” it stressed.

If the Muscovites’ Code was based on the principles of priority of human rights and ethnic tolerance rather than on “mythical national traditions,” it would become “a significant breakthrough in our authorities’ perception of the very essence of inter-ethnic problems,” the paper said.

“Moscow is the capital of the former USSR,” Garik Samanba, chairman of Abkhazia’s Defense and National Security Committee told K2K website. “I do not think this code will be adopted,” he said.

“We consider Moscow our capital too,” Samanba said. “Everyone may speak their own language, and we will also speak Russian. It is impossible to limit this democratic approach.”

The idea of the Moscow authorities is “interesting and positive, but it is unclear how it will be realized,” said Elena Omelchenko, director of the Center of National Education. Those living in Moscow and representing different ethnic groups are obliged to observe rules of behavior, but they have the right to speak their own languages, she told the website. As for wearing national clothing, the ethnic style is now fashionable even among the youth, she added.

Answering possible critics, Solomentsev stressed that the Moscow government, in its national policies, highlights “what unites people rather than what divides representatives of different ethnic groups.”

The code may be prepared by the end of the year, and foreigners coming to Moscow will start living “according to Moscow standards,” the official hopes.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT