‘Muscovite code’ tells foreigners to blend in

As foreign moles in suburban America, the "Murphy’s" of Montclair — two of the recently exposed Russian "illegals" (read: spies with boring long-term assignments) — were charged with the difficult task of acting less Russian. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, migrant workers have been forced to take on precisely the opposite challenge: acting more Russian. Ire ...

As foreign moles in suburban America, the "Murphy's" of Montclair -- two of the recently exposed Russian "illegals" (read: spies with boring long-term assignments) -- were charged with the difficult task of acting less Russian. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, migrant workers have been forced to take on precisely the opposite challenge: acting more Russian.

Ire toward foreign arrivals in Moscow is nothing new (double-digit murders of foreigners are standard each year in the capital city), but the recent proposal of a "Muscovite Code," a set of measures designed to encourage cultural assimilation, highlights just how intense the pressure to conform truly is. The rules, to be developed by city officials with input from local residents, would outline the "dos and don'ts" of traditional Russian culture; everything from speaking Russian-only in public (a do) to turnstile-hopping "like goats" (a don't). Supporters of the new measure note that these rules would not be mandatory, but would instead serve as a helpful resource for foreigners unfamiliar with the city's unspoken code of conduct. As Mikhail Solomentsev, head of the Moscow city government's Department for Inter-Regional Communications and Regional Policies explained:

As foreign moles in suburban America, the "Murphy’s" of Montclair — two of the recently exposed Russian "illegals" (read: spies with boring long-term assignments) — were charged with the difficult task of acting less Russian. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, migrant workers have been forced to take on precisely the opposite challenge: acting more Russian.

Ire toward foreign arrivals in Moscow is nothing new (double-digit murders of foreigners are standard each year in the capital city), but the recent proposal of a "Muscovite Code," a set of measures designed to encourage cultural assimilation, highlights just how intense the pressure to conform truly is. The rules, to be developed by city officials with input from local residents, would outline the "dos and don’ts" of traditional Russian culture; everything from speaking Russian-only in public (a do) to turnstile-hopping "like goats" (a don’t). Supporters of the new measure note that these rules would not be mandatory, but would instead serve as a helpful resource for foreigners unfamiliar with the city’s unspoken code of conduct. As Mikhail Solomentsev, head of the Moscow city government’s Department for Inter-Regional Communications and Regional Policies explained:

"At the moment, there are unwritten rules that residents of our city have to adhere to… For instance, people shouldn’t slaughter sheep in a courtyard, make shashlyk on their balcony or walk around the city in their national dress – and they should speak Russian."

Many, however, don’t consider the proposal quite so benign. The new rules, they say, are simply one more way to reinforce Moscow’s already entrenched culture of xenophobia. Of course, after Monday’s revelations, Moscow officials might be wise to consider another (unintended) use of the Code: a how-to guide for "illegals" doing their best to blend in…

Clare Sestanovich and Sylvie Stein are researchers at Foreign Policy.

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