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The Permanence of Russian Migration

Today, most people in “the West” look at the Russian Federation as the “bad guy” that brutally invaded Ukraine. In the course of the current conflict, many people have migrated, not only from Ukraine as war refugees, but also from Russia, some because of their political opposition, others because of ideological pressure and censorship, still others to escape mobilization. There is, in fact, nothing new in this phenomenon: a long tradition stretches from Aleksandr Herzen, who founded the first oppositional journal, The Bell [Kolokol] in London in 1857, to television station Rain [Dozhd’] which now broadcasts from Amsterdam. Throughout history, Russia (the tsarist Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, the post-Soviet Russian Federation) has known several periods when intellectuals, politicians, philosophers, priests, and artists left their motherland, on their own initiative (emigration) or because they were expelled (exile). Many of them continued their literary, intellectual or political activity abroad. Many also at some point returned, often to find their country changed profoundly. More importantly, most of them thought of returning and therefore maintained and developed their language and cultural identity. Because Russia is a large country with a highly developed culture (think only of its famous writers, painters and composers) and with a high level of education, there has almost always been a sizeable Russian migrant population abroad in many places in the rest of the world, including Berlin, Paris, New York and Amsterdam. Many people in Russia also have often seen migration as a real possibility in case the political climate at home would change, while many migrants try to remain connected, have an impact, and await better times.

We can therefore regard “Russian migrants” as a quasi-permanent socio-cultural phenomenon that can be approached from many disciplinary perspectives: humanities [literary studies, history, linguistics, philosophy, religious studies], social sciences [psychology, sociology, anthropology, social geography, international relations], law [migration law], medical science [traumatology].

During the project, students will be introduced to the topic by expert lectures by academics in the Netherlands as well as by Russian experts who will give guest lectures.

The client of the project is the Dutch Institute in St Petersburg [NIP] which is part of the University of Amsterdam, and partnered with, among others, Radboud University. NIP aims at better mutual understanding and “building bridges” between the Russian and the Dutch academic communities.

For that reason, it is interested in answer to the question: how do Russian migrants accommodate, how does their culture take root, and how does it develop? Participating students will gradually develop their own project and work towards an end product that can be presented to the client. Interviews with experts as well as migrants and their organizations are an obvious part of the project work. A field trip to Russia is, at this point in history, impossible, but an alternative will be found in one of the neighbouring countries (Finland, Estonia).

This project will, first of all, aim at a better understanding of this phenomenon: who is migrating, what do migrants seek, what is their identity, how do they form networks, how do they integrate in their new environment, what are their hopes and expectations? Secondly, in order to better understand the current wave of migration, it is important to look at the past and try to detect patterns and repertoires. Finally, it is important to understand why Russian migrants often prefer “the West” as their destination and what this tells us about the way in which Russian culture and society are different from, yet also deeply connected with the rest of Europe. Irrespective of one’s political orientation or evaluation of the situation in the world today, it will be relevant for any possible future to have a clear idea of Russian culture and its past. Ideally, the project group would consist of both Dutch and international, possibly Russian students.

Kick-off weekend
The kick-off weekend of this think tank will be in October (exact dates will be announced later).

Weekly meetings
After the kick-off, weekly meetings will take place on Tuesday from 18.30-20.30.

Study trip
A study trip lasting up to three or four days is also part of this think tank. The dates and location will be determined in consultation with the group.

Prof.dr. Evert van der Zweerde, political philosopher and expert in Russian studies.