Moscow – “Emigration, it is a kind of Russian national sport. The one we are seeing now is already the fourth or the fifth wave,” says Konstantin, smiling and drinking a cup of tea in a cafe in Moscow. Konstantin, a manager, has moved its family to Prague long time ago.
Konstantin’s case is symptomatic for today’s Russia: in spite of the strengthening of the state, favorable macroeconomic indicators and the increasing importance of Russia in the global politics, Russians keep leaving their motherland.
Clientelism and other ills
The main reason of the flight is that the success of Russia outlined above has its serious drawbacks: Russia’s democracy has significant authoritative flaws, clientelism is far-reaching and the economic growth is mostly based on exports of natural resources with other sectors neglected. Even the Kremlin itself is now speaking about the necessity to reform and diversify the economy.
According to the Russian statistical office, 106 thousand have left the country in the last 5 years. However, the real number might be much higher, given a wide variety of residence permit types.
In the Czech Republic, this phenomenon is very visible. The Interior Ministry says the Russians constitute the Czech Republic’s third largest expatriate group.
Until recently, the only city with a significant Russian minority was, somehow infamously, Karlovy Vary, a spa-town in Western Bohemia well-known also for its annual international film festival. Recently though, the Russians begin to appear in other parts of the Czech Republic as well.
Looking for “safe harbors”
People who imagine that most of the Russian immigration is constituted by refugees from war-torn Caucasus, poor people from heavily underdeveloped zones, or dissidents repressed by the regime would be surprised upon learning that most of the Russians that move to the Czech Republic are middle class entrepreneurs keen on continuing their business in their new „home”.
However, what makes the Czech Republic so attractive for an average Russian entrepreneur?
Corrupt officials, court-backed hostile takeovers, ever-present organized crime – Russian entrepreneurs have to deal with all of this, and more. That is why many more well-off Russians create „safe harbors” in foreign countries with more developed rule of law. And, according to Konstantin, the Czech Republic has no problems with law or police, so many Russians are moving there.
Konstantin goes on, telling a story of one of his acquaintances – a wealthy owner of a company that lives in Kutuzov Prospekt, one of the most elite residential zones of Moscow. „He got sick of it all,” Konstantin says, referring to the constant interest of greedy state officials his friend was subjected to while living in Moscow.
Economic, not political emigration
Konstantin stresses out that the harassment has purely economical character. „He (Konstantin’s friend) has nothing to do with the anti-Kremlin opposition or the Dissenters’ March. On the contrary, he kept saying until very recently that one cannot betray his own country, that one has to have principles and honor, and he criticized me for moving my family to Prague. Now, he is moving there too,” says Konstantin.
Igor, an entrepreneur from Saint Petersburg, agrees. According to him, the current wave of the Russian emigration has economic character – the emigrants are leaving Russia to protect their fortune.
„In Russia, nobody can be sure he will not be stripped out of the money he has earned. 99 percent of the recent Russian migrants moved abroad in order to hide their fortune in a safer place,” Igor says.
„If borders start to close, I am out of here”
The owners of the smaller businesses prefer Continental Europe over Great Britain, he explains. „Everyone who wants to transfer money to England has to pay a tax that equals one third of the sum in question. This is affordable only to those who are so rich that they do not care,” explains Igor. The rest choose other EU countries that fit them in terms of culture and mentality.
Igor himself is involved in the Czech Republic – he decided to invest in the country thanks to his associate who knew the Czech cultural environment and language. However, he sees his investments as a mere experiment, and he is not considering leaving Russia so far.
„I like Russia more than Europe. After two weeks abroad, I get homesick and want to go home. As far as the borders stay open, I am not going anywhere. When they start to close, I will leave in an instant. I do not want to live in any cage,” Igor adds.
All Russian entrepreneurs the author of this article spoke to say their looking abroad is not motivated politically. Electoral machinations and civil rights deficiencies in Russia is not what make them want to leave. Rather, they look for a solid free market environment, personal security and property protection. In the Czech Republic, they seem to be finding this.