Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | November 23, 2011

The politics of paper planes : Youth activism and the ‘Tajik question’

Elena Omel’chenko and Nastya Min’kova, MYPLACE team members at Centre for Youth Research, Higher School of Economics (St Petersburg).

For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE

Labour migrants from Tajikistan have become the object of close attention of young activists in Russia’s capital city. On 12th November, representatives of the ‘Young Guard’ movement, an offspring  youth branch  of ‘United Russia’, conducted a picket outside the Tajikistan Consulate. The reason for this protest was the sentencing of two pilots (one a Russian citizen), who made an emergency landing  on Tajikistan territory in the Spring of 2011 and were arrested by the authorities. They were sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.

‘Freedom for the Russian pilot’ (

In addition to slogans calling for the release of the pilot, the Young Guard members made placards with deeper, political content.

‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!’ (

Some of these slogans might be interpreted as a threat to the relatively prosperous Tajiks who have come to Moscow to earn money, as they warn, ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!’.

The wider implications of this were made clear by movement activist Oleg Ptashkin talking to television and press; in issuing this sentence, he suggested, the authorities of Tajikistan had forgotten what benefits friendship with Russia brought with it. Ptashkin declared that the annual revenue returned home by labour migrants from Russia was equivalent in value to the whole national budget of Tajikistan.

‘Young Guard’ activists pledged to regularly remind those in the diplomatic service of the injustice of the sentence and to maintain such pickets. And they have kept their promise. Two days, later together with representatives of the youth movement ‘Locals’ (‘Mestnie’), they launced paper planes at the Consulate ( and waved slogans like ‘Rahmon[1], stop messing around!’ outside its windows.

By this time FMS (Federal Migration Service) officials in Moscow and other cities of Russia had initiated document checks on labour migrants. The media reported thousands of Tajiks being prepared for immediate deportation, although the agency consistently refuted one report after the other and declared the checks to be routine and to have affected, at most, hundreds.

In Moscow activists of the Orthodox patriotic youth movement ‘Blessed Rus’ (Svetlaia Rus’)  took part in the FMS raids. On the 8th November they had already disseminated on their Live Journal page (, the text of an address to the head of the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, in which the Tajik side had been warned of the immanent raids. On the social network site ‘Vkontakte’ there is a section dedicated to the ‘Cordon’ (‘Kordon’) project (;  amongst the main aims of the project is encouraging young people to  do whatever they can to help the FMS and other power structures to uncover places of residence of illegal migrants.

The FMS nonetheless denies that nationalist volunteers have participated in its operations (!mI9tZJTKgkQBM/), while Dmitrii Medvedev called the rising number of document checks specifically among labour migrants from Tajikistan, to be a coincidence. It was less than a week before a political party was ready to declare itself on the ‘Tajik’ question – ‘A Fair Russia’ (Spravedlivaia Rossiia) proposed introducing a temporary ban on the free movement of citizens of Tajikistan on Russian territory (

A reaction from the Tajikistan authorities inevitably followed;  after a meeting with President Emomali Rahmon, the Russian ambassador reported back to Moscow that ‘mutual understanding has been reached’.  And, on Tuesday 22ndNovember it was reported in the Russian media that the court in Tajikistan would ‘review’ the severity of the sentence received by the pilots.



  1. it is remarkable how youth movements turn into an extension of foreign policy! Thanks for describing this in detail.

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