Monday, September 4, 2017

‘Fewer than 10 Percent’ of Russian Capital’s Residents are ‘Native Muscovites,’ Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 3 – There is no legal definition of what “a native Muscovite” is but that has not quieted discussions as to just who is and who is not, especially at a time of the largest in-migration into the Russian capital in its history, according to Russian scholars who have examined the question.

            Some historians say that “no more than 10 percent of the population of Moscow should be called ‘indigenous Muscovites,’” but estimates range widely depending on whether anyone born there is one or whether he or she must be able to trace ancestors there back six or even more generations (

            The site of Moscow was first settled at the end of the first millennium CE, initially by Finno-Ugric peoples who gave it its name, and then by Slavic tribes like the Vyatichi and Krivichi.  Beginning in the second half of the 12th century, the city began to assume its central role not only because of the intersection of transportation routes but also because of state policy.

            Since that time, Moscow has been flooded with immigrants at some points – as when the Golden Horde made its advances or when Novgorod was conquered and suppressed by Ivan the Terrible – and has lost population – as during the oprichnik period, the Livonian war, and the Time of Troubles.

            Beginning in the 18th century, Europeans began to arrive; and after the end of serfdom, peasants from rural areas.  As a result of all these changes, experts say, about 20 percent of Moscow’s population at the end of the 19th century consisted not only of non-native Muscovites but of non-Russians.

            Since 1917, Moscow’s population has changed even more: During the Civil War and World War II, it lost a large segment of its permanent population; and Muscovites formed more than 20 percent of Soviet citizens who emigrated from the USSR at the end of Soviet times.  But an influx of people almost doubled the size of the city between 1956 and 1991.

            The Soviet authorities restricted who could come by the propiska system; but despite that, many non-Muscovite and non-Russians formed their own diasporas or landschaftsman organizations. Since 1991, the registration system has broken down, and in-migration from Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus has expanded.

            Between 1989 – the year of the last Soviet census – and 2010 – the date of the second Russian one – the number of Azerbaijanis in Moscow rose 500 percent, Chechens 700 percent and Tajiks 1200 percent.  There was also a significant influx of Vietnamese and Chinese into Moscow.

            As a result, “the share of the ‘non-Russian’ population in certain districts of Moscow now exceeds 30 percent,” a development that has triggered anti-immigrant attitudes and more concerns about defining who is a Muscovite and who is not and even led to the notion that there should be a “Moscow codex” to guide new arrivals on how to behave.

            That hasn’t solved the problem; instead, it is a reflection of the continuing turbulence of the population of the Russian capital.

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