I am writing this blog from Moscow, the place that my website (now almost fully functional) is about. I find it appropriate to discuss all the ways that I have seen migration play out over the course of my various stays here. I first came to Moscow in June 2011 as an undergraduate with one year of Russian under my belt. I’m not sure what I expected when my plane took off from JFK that summer evening, but I was shocked by the streets of Moscow. Growing up in the Bronx, I feel more at home in urban environments, but Moscow’s streets had kiosks everywhere. You could buy everything: fast food, cigarettes, beer, newspaper, SIM cards. It is probably more accurate to say that there was nothing that you couldn’t buy. It seemed to me that Russians ran many of these makeshift shops, but clearly migrants from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union had joined them.
It wasn’t until several years later when I had already chosen my dissertation topic that I found out that I had been right. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the introduction of capitalism, opening kiosks was more than a job for the entrepreneurs. It was a means of survival in a time of scarcity. Markets had existed in the Soviet period, relying on collective farmers from the warmer climates in the south to bring fruits and flowers to the streets in the north. One scholar, Jeff Sahadeo, has studied the formation of trade and migration networks among Soviet citizens from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Sensing the need for such items in cities such as Moscow, they worked in such markets, often in addition to other jobs or courses of study.
The kiosks, the legacy of both the late Soviet and early post-Soviet periods, have largely been demolished. Sometime between my trips in 2011 and 2014, the kiosks that sold beer and cigarettes closed, largely in association with a movement to curb underage drinking and smoking. On a winter night in 2016, many of the remaining kiosks were razed to the ground as part of an effort to “clean up” the city. I was surprised that many kiosks were places that I had considered buildings that had electricity and water through the city’s infrastructure. Although city officials questioned the structural integrity of these buildings, the move was widely seen as a means to Europeanize the city before the start of the 2018 World Cup.
Preparations for the World Cup share many similarities with preparation for the Olympics (something covered in my website). In both cases, migrants both renovated and built from the ground up the stadiums to be used in both events. In the Soviet period, many migrants came to Moscow, hoping that their contributions for the Olympics, and therefore their contributions to building socialism, would help them find permanent residency and housing and Moscow, facilitated by shared Soviet citizenship. Today, migrants preparing Moscow for the World Cup have left the countries of the former Soviet Union, but the lack of shared citizenship has often limited their rights, particularly when compared to their predecessors. Instead of being praised as the builders of socialism, they are criticized for threatening the physical and economic security of Russian citizens. They are most likely more comparable to the migrants who police removed from the capital in 1980 to “cleanse” the city before the games.