Xenophobia in Russiaposted by MR WAVETHEORY at 11/14/2006 06:08:00 AM
When Vladimir Shiryaev bought Ayatskoye, a near-bankrupt farm in the Urals, in 2000, he wondered how he would ever get the harvest in. Most of the local labor force was either too old or too drunk to work.
So he sought rescue from a group of Chinese laborers, led by a woman from Inner Mongolia named Meng Dani. He leased them about 50 acres, and within a few months they were growing tomatoes and cabbages on land that had stood untilled for years.
Mr. Shiryaev is delighted with his hard-working new tenants. "They've got a really serious operation going here," he says. "I really hope they can inspire the locals to work harder." Regional officials are so impressed they're now planning to turn millions of acres of long-uncultivated fields over to Chinese peasants like Ms. Meng.
But among many natives here in Russia's heartland, the idea has proved controversial. "Those farmers are a landing force," says Igor Vyaginsky, a crew-cut local activist from the Movement Against Illegal Immigration with a penchant for military terminology. "They'll establish a bridgehead and then spread out. We could end up losing our territory."
I have to say that the jealousy in those words really strike at the heart of the cultural difference between the Protestant ethic and entrepreneurialism which America stands for and everything else. History shows that openness can lead to many economic rewards and that protectionism can lead to economic ruin. When America tried to become protectionist in the 1920s, it led to the worst economic depression the US had ever seen. You have to ask yourself, why are the Russians blocking foreign investment when everyone else is so eager to attract it?
Even when the Chinese try to invest in less-sensitive sectors than energy, the relationship can be fractious. In St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, local politicians have campaigned to block a $1.3 billion real-estate development by a conglomerate of five Chinese state-owned companies. The concern: that the 553.5-acre project, which would include housing, schools, hospitals, recreation and retail, would become a "Chinatown"-style enclave for illegal immigrants.