'Restore Moscow to the Muscovites': Othering 'the migrants' in the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections

Book title: Russia before and after Crimea: Nationalism and Identity, 2010-17

Publisert: 7. feb. 2018

Today, the Russian Federation has the second largest migrant population in the world in absolute numbers. The chapter looks at what role these migrants – and migrantophobia – play in Russian contemporary identity discourse through the lens of the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections. On the eve of these elections, Muscovites identified the large numbers of labour migrants in the capital as the most important campaign issue. This chapter explores how 'the migrant issue' was addressed at the candidate level as well as how it was perceived by ordinary Muscovites. First, it traces what images of 'the migrant' the candidates presented; how they assessed the potential for integration into Russian society; and what measures they proposed for regulating the flow of new migrants. Next, drawing on survey data, the chapter discusses to what extent campaign promises reflected the positions of the electorate on the same issues. It concludes that the Moscow electoral experiment of allowing semi-competitive elections contributed to pushing the borders of what mainstream politicians in Russia perceived as acceptable positions on migrants and migration policy, for at least two reasons: Firstly, incumbent mayor Sobianin faced stiff competition from the rising star of the non-systemic opposition, liberal-nationalist Aleksei Navalnyi, and had to find a way of outbidding him on the migrant issue. Second, in this more competitive environment, Sobianin could not rely on administrative resources alone, but had to respond to popular demands, to ensure an acceptable win: therefore, he had to appear as 'tough' on migrants. The experiment with semi-competitive elections in Moscow in 2013 thus demonstrated the limits of the Kremlin’s ability to fully control Russian nationalist discourse and also contributed to reinforcing the idea of 'the migrant' as the new 'Other' in Russian identity discourse.