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Book Review: Migration And Social Upheaval As The Face Of Globalization In Central Asia

Uzbek migrant workers in Moscow. (file photo)
Uzbek migrant workers in Moscow. (file photo)

Qishloq Ovozi is pleased to welcome Joanna Pares Hoare and her review of a book edited by Marlene Laruelle on the always important topic of migration, both within Central Asia and to destinations outside the region. Joanna's bio is below but her work made its way to the Qishloq via CESMI. Please visit their website.

Laruelle, Marlene, ed. (2013), Migration And Social Upheaval As The Face Of Globalization In Central Asia, Leiden and Boston: Brill

On August 27, 14 young women labor migrants from Kyrgyzstan were killed in a fire at a print works where they worked in Moscow. The tragedy of their deaths brought home the enormous risks facing many labor migrants when they leave their homes to seek work and other opportunities in Russia and elsewhere. In Kyrgyzstan, this tragedy has also prompted much soul-searching and public discussion. What does it mean to be a nation that cannot offer its young people a viable future within its own borders, and has to send them abroad in order to ensure their and their families' survival?

Published three years ago, this edited collection does not seek to answer difficult questions of this sort, brought into such sharp relief by this tragic event in Moscow. It does, however, go a long way toward providing the contextual analysis needed to begin to address them. Divided into four sections -- Flows, Remittances, And Government Policies; Migratory Strategies As Patterns Of Adaptation To Social Upheaval; An Evolving Social Fabric: Mobile National And Individual Identities; and Impact On Gender Relations: Masculinity And Femininity In Flux -- the book presents a series of fascinating studies of the processes, from the micro up to the macro, that are fueling the mass movement of people within and beyond Central Asia.

At the macro level, every chapter includes analysis of the harsh socioeconomic conditions that constitute the principal 'push' factors for migration in the region's three "sending countries" (i.e., countries that send economic migrants abroad) -- Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- both from village to city, and outward to Russia, Kazakhstan, and further afield. Given the timing of this book it is not surprising that two chapters look specifically at the effects of the 2008-09 financial crisis on migration and remittance flows.

Drastic Impact

Erica Marat, in her chapter Labor Migration During The 2008-2009 Global Economic Crisis, assesses these effects at the regional level, while Saodat Olimova considers the Tajik situation in To Stay Or Not To Stay: The Global Economic Crisis And Return Migration To Tajikistan. Both conclude that the downturn in the Russian economy had a drastic impact on the level of remittances sent back to the sending countries Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, although remittances had returned to pre-crash levels by 2010-11. However, this was not brought about by a mass return of labor migrants to their home countries (as many experts had predicted would happen), for the simple reason that most could not afford the journey home. In fact, Marat's analysis found that the number of people leaving for Russia actually went up in 2009, as families in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan suffered the effects of the crash on remittances and on domestic economies.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

At the micro level, Nafisa Khusenova's chapter on The Feminization Of Tajik Labor Migration To Russia explores the role of traditional institutions of migration such as avlod (a patrilineal line of descent uniting an extended family, traced back several generations) in Tajikistan in determining who leaves for Russia and when at the level of the extended family. Khusenova also considers the way that women in Tajikistan are now being "pushed" into migrating by difficult socioeconomic conditions, despite the fact that gender norms in Tajikistan mean female migrants face condemnation and disapproval.

Aspirations, Social Status

Elsewhere, in two chapters on migration within and from Uzbekistan, (From Uzbek Qishloq To Tajik Samarkand: Rural Depopulation As A Migration Of Identity and Economic Migrations From Uzbekistan To Moscow, Seoul, And New York: Sacrifice Or Rite Of Passage?), Sophie Massot considers how individual and family aspiration -- for increased social status as well as material gain -- shape the decision to migrate, factors also considered by Stephanie Belouin in her chapter on Projects And Migratory Strategies Of Women Belonging To The Tashkent Intelligentsia.

Interwoven are accounts of the effects of migration from and within this region on these societies, considering a wide range of factors. In her chapter, Sophie Hohmann draws together an assessment of the various impacts of migration on health in Tajikistan, encompassing the heightened risk of labor migrants in Russia contracting HIV and various sexually transmitted diseases, the "brain drain" of doctors from Tajikistan that has left the health system on the point of collapse (a theme taken up again by Khusenova), and internal migration as a factor in poor infant and maternal health outcomes, as young married pregnant women move between village and city and fall between health-care providers.

Madeleine Reeves' fascinating exploration of Migration, Masculinity, And Transformations Of Social Space In The Soh Valley, Uzbekistan "considers ... the way in which migration decisions are shaped by situated understandings of appropriate male and female behavior on the one hand and, on the other, how migration itself becomes constitutive of normative ideas about masculinity and femininity" (p. 308). In a community where the majority of families have at least one person who has migrated, migration affects every aspect of social relations, right down to how a son is seen to be fulfilling his duties toward his parents, and to intimate relations between wives and husbands.

Sense Of Identity

Several chapters deal with the profound effects of migration -- or of the desire to migrate -- on an individual's sense of identity, who they are and where they belong in the world, including those by Adeline Braux (Azerbaijanis In Russia: An Imagined Diaspora?), Luisa Piart (Transition, Migration, Capitalism: Female Uzbek Shuttle Traders In Istanbul), and the chapters by Sophie Massot, Sebastien Peyrouse, and Stephanie Belouin.

The historical context is also given due consideration throughout, reminding the reader that Central Asia has long been a region of migration, voluntary and forced. This has included the seasonal movements of nomadic populations, and the waves of migration from other parts of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

The exodus of "Europeans" from Central Asia in the early 1990s and today's mass movement of migrants from village to city, and to Russia and further afield, are the outcome of these earlier movements, as well as representing their continuation. For instance, one "pull factor" drawing internal migrants to cities in the 1990s was the availability of cheap urban housing that had been vacated by departing Russian-speaking populations. These themes are explored in depth in chapters by Aida Aaly Alymbaeva (Internal Migration In Kyrgyzstan: A Geographical And Sociological Study Of Rural Migration) and Sebastien Peyrouse (Former Colonists On The Move: The Migration Of Russian-Speaking Populations).

As Marlene Laruelle points out in her introduction, Central Asia has until now mainly been overlooked in international studies on migration. This edited collection is an important first step in rectifying that omission, and will also be of great interest to any reader keen to further their understanding of contemporary Central Asian societies.

Joanna Pares Hoare holds a PhD in development studies from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her doctoral research considered gender and civil society in Kyrgyzstan, and how these concepts have been shaped and 'operationalized' by international development actors. Currently, she works as a researcher at Amnesty International.
The views expressed in this book review do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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