A parable on expat privilege

Yesterday was, oddly enough, the first time I got a look at the area near Pushkin Square in front of the Izvestia building since the destruction of the shopping centers that used to stand there. My immediate reaction was very positive. The area looked much more open, far less cluttered. And that’s when I caught myself doing it, giving into that expat privilege.

As it turns out, this little vignette provided a example of how this mindset works. Sure, a less cluttered space was nice for me, and no doubt many Muscovites agree. However, the city authorities have failed to prove their claim that these structures were in fact illegally built in most cases. This was being disputed when the authorities suddenly started destroying dozens of shops and shopping centers in one night.

As an anti-capitalist I have no intention of weeping crocodile tears over someone’s property rights, but on the other hand I acknowledge that a functioning capitalist system is far preferable to a dysfunctional one, and for that system to function you have to have well-defined property rights and a state that defends them. What is more, there is speculation that many of these structures will be replaced by new structures owned by other, better-connected businessmen. So it’s not like their property was expropriated and socialized by the workers they were exploiting, but rather bigger capitalists managed to use the state to squeeze out smaller ones.

Getting back to the lesson on privilege, we see how many Russian citizens are just a few steps away from having their livelihood destroyed almost on a whim. While the city had warned these business owners about their paperwork in advance, many other changes in the Russian law have been made with far less warning time. Imagine, for example, if you’d had a business based around importing European food products from EU countries back in 2014. Imagine you’re an independent trucker in Russia.

Oftentimes foreigners prefer life in Russia because it is more exciting than back home. Some expats who took advantage of Russia’s weakness during the “wild 90’s” would later lament about how “boring” the country had become by the mid-2000’s. What they fail to realize is that if you are actually a citizen of a certain country, and you have no plans to emigrate, “boring” is good. Boring is stability. Boring means that your business doesn’t get knocked down in the middle of the night in spite of your legal documents being in order.

Putin’s regime managed to provide a certain level of boring in the mid-2000’s with the help of high oil prices, foreign investment, and far less batshit insane policies, but he never made the country truly predictable, i.e. boring. Now the roller coaster has crested the hill and is plummeting downward. It’s hard to predict exactly when, but soon the “excitement” will return to Russia like it did in the 90’s. No doubt a great many expats, keen on exploiting Russia’s suffering, will rejoice that they too can now live or re-live the adventures they read about in publications like The eXile. Hopefully I won’t have to witness it.

6 thoughts on “A parable on expat privilege

  1. henk

    What is it with Western journalist when they write something about Russia its al doom and gloom,
    Even during the economically booming years in the mid 2000 nothing good or positive could be said
    about the country in the western media, and when there is someting positive written about Russia it is eclipsed by all the
    unrelenting negative news,Russia is not going back to the chaos of the 90s, that seems to be just
    wishful thinking from you,maybe because you have some Ukrainian heritage or something that you are
    so negative about Russia.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      There were plenty of positive things written about Russia in the mid-2000’s. Where do you think all these BRICS/emerging market ideas came from?

      Already indicators from official Russian state agencies are starting to achieve 90’s levels. People aren’t writing positive news because there’s virtually none to report unless it’s about urban construction in Moscow.

      Furthermore, the idea that Ukrainian heritage would motivate me to write anything negative about Russia is simply absurd. The vast majority of Ukrainians in Ukraine would have had nothing against Russians at all were it not for the war and the aggression of the Russian government. Still Ukrainians and Russians are able to get along on a personal level in spite of this.


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