Vladimir Putin @ RT, 2013.06.12

Daniel Bushell: Mr. Putin, I’d like to hear your opinion on multiculturalism. Not long ago, the leaders of the European Union admitted reluctantly that their experiment with multiculturalism failed. When I lived and studied in England, and then worked in France and Belgium as an RT reporter it was evident that the local residents and immigrants had little in common. Over the last years Russia’s been facing the same issue of mass immigration. I’d like to ask, how can Russia avoid the same mistakes that the EU has made in the issue of immigration?

Vladimir Putin: We have different starting positions with the West. In the Western Europe and, by the way, partially in the United States all these migration problems are, in my view, more severe; they are more explicit and more dangerous. As we know, Western Europe and the United States have to deal with people who come from different countries and who find it difficult to assimilate in their new homeland. They fail to learn the local language, they fail to speak it, and they fail to find their way in the labour market.

One of my Western European counterparts once told me that immigrants from, say, North Africa would live in a new country for ten years and still fail to speak the local language. In that instance he was referring to Spanish. And what about Russian immigrants? I guess they’re doing better now, but those who immigrated to the United States back in 1980s and 1990s… Someone I know once was visiting an area where Russian immigrants have been settling…

[Comment: Brighton Beach.] 

Vladimir Putin: Exactly. So there was an old lady who’s lived there for 15 years, and didn’t speak English. She was telling her guests that tomorrow she would go shopping in New York. She didn’t even realize she was living in New York.

So it is a general problem which is related primarily to the economy and to the need to attract a cheap labour force. Actually the same thing is happening in Russia. But in our country, despite how acute this problem is, it’s still not as severe and dangerous as it is in Europe and in the States. Why?

If we speak about immigrants, i.e. citizens of other countries in Russia, most migrants come here from different parts of the former Soviet Union. This new generation might not be speaking good Russian but their families do one way or another. We still do share a common mentality, a common historic memory. Some of them or perhaps their relatives may have lived in the regions of Russia. These factors make it much easier for these people to integrate in the lives of those ethnic groups where they are resettling for permanent residence.

Nonetheless, even in Russia we should make more efforts in preparing those people who are willing to come and live to Russia. As we’ve said, we should set up Russian language and history classes in those former republics, in those new states – so far we haven’t done a very good job at it. This way we would help people understand each other better from the start.

And of course we need to educate our citizens or those aspiring to become Russian citizens in a sense of responsibility. We have to help them realize that they are in a different country now and so they have to observe our traditions and our laws; they have to respect our culture and our history.

This is an entire separate field of work. It used to be ignored in the past but now we need to pay attention to this matter, and we need to contribute more centralized efforts to it.

As for the domestic migration, it also is a complicated issue. Back in the Soviet Union, there used to be a domicile registration (propiska). Those who violated it were thrown in jail or banished beyond 101 km from large urban centers.

This situation is much more complicated now. The Russian Constitution delegitimizes propiska, so we need more modern mechanisms to regulate this matter. But let me repeat that we do have an advantage in our country that we are a multiethnic people, and we are an integrated civilization as a whole.

Margarita Simonyan: Speaking of immigrants… We have an immigrant in our midst - Jelena Milincic. She works on RT Spanish, but she is actually from Serbia.

Jelena Milincic: Yes, I am from Serbia, and I have lived in Russia for 11 years. I can say that Russia has become my second home, but I still don’t have Russian citizenship. And if I file for citizenship now, the process will take at least 5 or 6 years.

But in order to do that, I need to own an apartment, for example. In order to get an apartment, I have to take out mortgage, but I have to be a Russian citizen for that. It is a vicious cycle. So seems that in the West, where this is a more serious issue, like you said…

Vladimir Putin: It’s easier to get citizenship, than in Russia

Jelena Milincic: That’s why it’s a more serious issue, because it’s easier to get citizenship. Will anything change in Russia in this respect?

Vladimir Putin: We have to be very careful here, making sure we protect the interests of the majority. Our country is Russia, and 85% of our citizens consider themselves Russians. Other people groups living on our territories are closer to us than those living outside Russia. These are our indigenous people. And there are over 120 ethnicities indigenous to Russia. You’ve lived here for 11 years? But it takes 5-6 years to get citizenship you said. You should’ve filed already.

Jelena Milincic: I have to have residence registration for that.

Vladimir Putin: You could’ve bought some basic housing…

Jelena Milincic: But how can I take out mortgage?

Vladimir Putin: I think if you really wanted to become a citizen, you could’ve bought a room in an apartment outside Moscow, just to meet necessary requirements to file for citizenship and observe the formalities.

Jelena Milincic: Isn’t the fact that I have’s lived and worked here for 11 years enough?

Vladimir Putin: It is. I think you are right. We do have to adjust our immigration policies in some cases.
We have to welcome professionals like you. You are a young and beautiful woman. I am sorry, but it is true that you are a woman of childbearing age. Your boss here sets a good example, by the way… Some countries, Canada, for example, have special programs to attract certain categories of people from other countries. Unfortunately, our system is very outdated in this respect. There have been some developments in this area. There are initiatives to make the citizenship procedure easier for certain categories of people from the former Soviet Union. But as a whole, our immigration policy lacks flexibility. It has to protect interests of Russian citizens, but it also needs to allow for an inflow of specialists that our country needs. So you are absolutely right, and like I said, the government is working on that.

Jelena Milincic

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