Good morning, PineTreeRepublic citizens! This week’s Front Page News includes the following stories:
- A set of migrants’ perspectives on the current crisis in the Mediterranean
- Strikes in Russian factory towns as the country’s economic condition deteriorates
1. “The Real Reasons Why Migrants Risk Everything for a New Life Elsewhere“, by Doug Saunders (Globe and Mail); “European Dreams Become Nightmares: Africans Seeking New Life Make Epic Trek through Balkans’ Back Door“, by Dalton Bennett and Shawn Pogatchnik (Associated Press)
The Story: Both of these articles provide a migrants’ perspective on the crisis currently afflicting individuals seeking to make the perilous trek across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Doug Saunders places this week’s sobering headlines in historical context, and challenges several of the assumptions that are guiding reaction to the issue, including the misplaced belief that cracking down on human smugglers will stem the tide of illegal and dangerous migration to Europe. Bennett and Pogatchnik provide a complementary perspective by tracking a group of migrants as they make their perilous journey from sub-Saharan Africa, across the Mediterranean, through the Balkans, and into the European Union (EU) through Hungary. Both articles demonstrate that despite full awareness of the journey’s risks, large numbers of individuals continue to make the journey to Europe as part of a long-standing migration network. And while the EU has attempted to control this network, its efforts have thus far only contributed to fuelling a more dangerous and clandestine system.
By cracking down on these informal and seasonal movements – something that began in the early 1990s with the formation of the EU – Europe turned migration into an all-or-nothing proposition: Once you were in Europe, legally or otherwise, you stayed, because you might not get in again. As a result, Africans now come in, do some agricultural or service work, and then knock around the continent, without opportunities, once they’re done.” – Doug Saunders
Context: Each of these articles is worth reading in full in order to better understand what is driving migration to Europe, despite the risks associated with the journey. Saunders’s article makes the case that the capsized boats of the past few weeks are just the latest incidents in a decades-long pattern of migration from African countries to Europe. The key differences over the past couple years have been the influx of Syrian refugees, and a lack of willingness among European countries to accommodate the natural flow of migration between Africa and Europe. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Saunders points out that most migrants are firmly part of the middle and upper classes in their home countries, often paying the equivalent of a year’s salary to chance the journey. Furthermore, the migration journey often works in both directions – rather than seeking to settle permanently in an EU country, many migrants look to work for a limited time in order to make enough money so that they can materially improve their families’ lifestyles back home. Ironically, European countries used to take a much looser approach to migration before the Schengen Agreement established the free flow of people within the EU in the late 1990s. Since then, attempts to impose a more uniform policy towards migration across the EU have led to a less flexible system, pushing many people who don’t want to wait for limited permanent resident slots into the underground systems that enable human traffickers, at sea and on land. Both articles question whether a coordinated EU approach to combat human traffickers will address the root causes of this system without also revisiting how its member states can better accommodate the flow of migrants that have come and gone from Europe for decades.
2. “Unpaid Russian Workers Unite in Protest Against Putin“, by Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times)
The Story: As the Russian economy struggles with low oil prices and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, factories across the country have been postponing payments to their workers, in some cases for several months at a time. Kramer notes in this article that Russian factory managers often refrain from laying off workers, even in difficult economic times, as their performance is often judged by regional and national officials based on the number of people they employ. As a result, more and more workers have been given reduced or unpaid wages, or forced vacation time. While discontent over these economic struggles was partially masked by a rise in nationalism last year, workers are now becoming more vocal in expressing their displeasure, leading to an increased number of pop-up strikes in several Russian provincial towns. This increasing trend even prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to address the economic issues in his recent national call-in show, typically reserved for highlighting positive and nationalist messages.
The labor actions are putting forward financial demands, and are being staged in Russian rust-belt towns where the government is unlikely to find easy economic solutions to resolve the grievances… [A teachers’ strike] went ahead even though a regional governor had implored the teachers to work unpaid for patriotic reasons, which suggested some waning of the nationalist pride over the Crimean annexation.”
Context: The current round of strikes in Russia appear to be fairly small and dispersed in scale for the moment. However, it will be interesting to track whether and how these seemingly ad hoc events evolve, should the country’s economic situation continue to deteriorate and lead to even more workers losing pay. That the strikes are taking place in towns and cities far from Moscow suggests at least two possible interpretations: either strikes at these factory towns are at the forefront of a burgeoning wave of dissatisfaction across the country, and have been allowed to fester there first because they are farther from the institutions of power in Moscow; or that Putin and his government have already been successful in preventing these events from growing into a larger movement, through its near-ubiquitous control of the country’s media. Either way, the key test for whether this preliminary round of strikes grows into something larger will be whether it is echoed by the on-again, off-again anti-government protests in Moscow. Given the reportedly high degree of nationalist sentiment there since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict (which many blame for the recent assassination of Boris Nemtsov), the current political environment may not be conducive for broader challenges to the government at this time. Yet, as Kramer claims in his article, the initial nationalist “shine” that would typically distract political discourse from taking on other issues seems to be waning in the Russian provincial towns. Depending on how well Russian citizens can communicate outside of state-controlled media, it may be just a matter of time before the shine wears off closer to Moscow, as well.
- How has the establishment of a European Union common zone affected the patterns of migrants from the Middle East and Africa? How can the diverse member countries of the EU establish a unified framework for managing the migration system?
- What role do Russia’s factory towns play in the country’s political system? How will the current strikes evolve if Russia’s economic situation keeps deteriorating?
Last Week’s Results: The PineTreeRepublic community was split on the establishment of municipal counterterrorism teams in Canada. However, all respondents expressed some reservations with combining municipal policing with counterterrorism surveillance powers; at the very least requesting more information on what new powers these teams may be granted.
I look forward to hearing your comments and perspectives on this week’s news.