Those Who Don't -- Home Grown Illegal Aliens
If someone has to be at the top, others lie at the bottom. Someone has to get shoved out of the way when a New Russian's pet flathead opens the way for this boss. Many at the bottom were the new poor. These included the old who lost their savings and were unemployable, workers dependent on the state or unreliable firms, or children forced onto the street because of dysfunctional families. No wonder 60 percent of the country's youth were in poor physical or psychological health. Just hovering above this was a huge mass of the working poor people struggling to get by. This group was not completely miserable but they have clearly lost ground in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, this is majority of Russians.
Beyond poverty, Russia had other outcasts, one of which was the legacy of the propiska system. In Moscow, those without a residence permit were subject to arrest. Racism also plays a major role in enforcement. If you looked like you were from the Caucasus or are otherwise swarthy or black, the identity checks were even more ferocious than for "Russian looking" people. Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Dagastanis and especially Chechens needed to be careful. Thing were even worse if the person checked had a Muslim name. Things often got nasty for them.
All Caucasian minorities faced widespread discrimination, even the relatively wealthy Armenians. As a sign of their disdain, Russians use the extremely pejorative word "churka" to refer to people from the Caucasus or someone from the Middle East. Caucasus peoples were seen as backward, violent, traditional people who work as taxi drivers and in rynoks. The stereotype attaches them to their traditional village "Aul" and they supposedly like to say "kiss-kiss-kiss" as a way of attracting women (who supposedly they just lust after and won't marry). The stereotype is reinforced by the sexual aggression of a small minority of Caucasians. As usual, the reality was far more complex. However, these stereotypes dominated Russian thinking and prejudice was very widespread, especially within the police. Most reviled of all were the Chechens who were sometimes detained and even beaten by Moscow police just for being Chechen. The dreaded propiska system was the justification for grabbing anyone and shaking them down for cash or beating them up.
I spoke with Atlan, a taxi driver from the violent region of Dagestan who bemoaned how things changed in Moscow since he came here 15 years ago. The police constantly stopped him and accuse him of carrying weapons and drugs. He complained that Russians focused more on his "nationality" (ethnic origin) than his ability and character. He said that in Soviet times, there was more of a sense of brotherhood -- and salaries were better. He only made between 2-3,000 rubles ($72-$108) a month, which was much better than what they made in Dagestan, which was around 500 rubles or $18 a month. Although life is worse than it used to be another nice side benefit of Moscow was that he did not run the risk of getting drawn into the blood feuds endemic to his home turf. In Dagestan, people die for the slightest insults to another family. There is no fear of death in Moscow: Assaults by nasty Moscow cops is better than dead at home. No wonder Caucasians pour into Moscow.
Another time, I saw an Asian-looking person picked up for a propiska violation. He was summarily put on an ancient police bus and taken out of town while his friend paced furiously and yelled, "...and they call this a democracy". The propiska system turns everyone from out of town a potential illegal alien subject to deportation while creating a privileged class of citizen, the Muscovite with propiska. The fact that this contradicts the Russian constitution was irrelevant. Others from outside live with the fines if they have the money or on the fringes of society if they don't.
Africans are disliked but are better off, especially after the first generation. Unlike the U.S. when any trace of black features often defines a person as black, people of mixed background mostly identify themselves as Russian, not African-Russian or Something else-Russian. A half black born in Russia is Russian. People don't follow America's bad tradition of being ultra-sensitive to the presence of black features. Despite this nicely assimilationist tendency, the police are not always so open-minded. By the way, in Russian the word "Nigr" is a normal and polite way of referring to a black person. One African American visitor took great offense when an old women looked at him and said, "Oh, Nigr". He couldn't believe that he flew half way around the world to hear a Russian use the "N-word". In Russian, there is no insult meant -- it simply means "black".
Some Muscovites defend the propiska system because it keeps outsiders from overwhelming city services. As one woman from the regions complained bitterly, "Muscovites don't even want to let us eat". Sometimes the police will use a propiska check as a way to find a date. I can imagine the line: "You can pay the fine, get on the bus, or join me for a beer". Unfortunately, Caucasians and those without propiskas lived difficult lives and were relentlessly targeted by the authorities. One wag remarked that they were the new "Jews" of Russia.
Note: This is only a partial excerpt of the book, which is available on request. I will be adding photos to this page in the near future.