Uzbek Guest Workers in Russia


I love Russia. I say this with mixed patriotism and cynicism. There is nothing that makes me prouder than telling people I’m Russian, which is immediately followed by an apology of what a messed up country we are. Even Israel, I think, is less messed up than Russia on a scale from one to Stalin. The types of stories that come out of that country are amazing. Like the time when I was almost chased by a pack of hungry dogs that were once domesticated, but now organized and roamed in the wild. Or the time I got my tonsils taken out without Novicane (this was still in the Soviet Union days…I’m sure there’s Novicane now for the children of oligarchs.

Anyway, here is another story coming out of Russia, and one that hasn’t been new for a while: the plight of guest workers, particularly from countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. To understand this story, you have to understand that all Russians are racist. Hell, we’re even racist against Russians who are from different parts of the country. We’re racist against Ukranians, but the pretty much only difference between Russians and Ukranians is that Ukranians use the Roman letter “i” instead of the Slavic “и” in their words, a fact for which we will never forgive them and continue to cut off their supply of natural gas. So, obviously, we are RIDICULOUSLY racist against people that don’t look like us, people that possibly look like they’re from Iran or China, like many people of the Caucus/Asian former Soviet states are.

We are even more racist about the fact that they continue to do menial jobs, and that the only place they can do them in is Moscow, where there is a lot of work, kind of like the Mexicans in the United States. Except, while Americans may discriminate against Mexicans with ethnic slurs, Russians usually kill people. That’s where this Diary of an Uzbek Guest Worker comes into play. It’s a very powerful piece about what it’s like to be discriminated against in Russia, a fact that my mom’ side of the family, as Jews, knows only all too well.

Everything changed after 1991, when the Soviet Union disappeared and the former Muslim colony of Uzbekistan became independent. If life in the Uzbek provinces was bearable in the early years of independence, by the mid-1990s everything had collapsed, from industry to agriculture. Destitution forced millions of peasants to leave the republic. The majority went to Russia.Among them was Shukhrat Berdyev. He began writing a diary in August 1998, when he came to Russia for the first time after the collapse of the USSR. What follows are highlights from that diary.

I feel bad for Shukhrat already. If you’re going to Russia to get some help with your problems, things are not looking up for you

Almost 20 years have gone by, and I am in Moscow once more. For the third day running I’ve been sleeping under an enormous, filthy KAMAZ lorry. I made a bed out of wooden boxes, and bedding out of pieces of cardboard.

This diary is a pretty heartbreaking read. Here’s some more on the situation.

Russia hosts 1 million Tajik migrant workers, according to authorities there; unofficial figures are much higher. Any significant cut in the number of Tajiks allowed to work in Russia could have disastrous economic repercussions for the Tajik economy, as 98 percent of remittances currently sent home by Tajiks originate in Russia, according to Asian Development Bank figures. Last year, $1.8 billion was transferred into the country through official banking systems, more than twice the size of Dushanbe’s national budget.

Here is a video on the issue