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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 April 2007, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Trading ban targets non-Russians
A shopper in a market in Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific coast
Markets are a part of everyday life for millions of Russians
Russia has banned all foreigners from working as retailers in its shops and markets under a new law which came into force on Sunday.

Up to 20,000 non-Russians currently work in Moscow markets alone in a tradition going back to Soviet times.

President Vladimir Putin said earlier that the interests of Russian citizens were at stake.

Migrant groups have condemned the law, passed after ethnic violence last year, as unfair and unworkable.

The dirty job I was doing will not be taken over eagerly by locals
Zafar Firouz, Yavan, Tajikistan
BBC News website reader

While foreigners will not be allowed to sell directly they still have the right to work in markets as loaders, cleaners, wholesalers or managers, according to an official from the Russian Federal Migration Service, Vyacheslav Postavnin.

The law was introduced after a number of incidents, but chiefly unrest in the northern town of Kondopoga where two local men were killed in a brawl with ethnic Chechens.

Price rise fears

This law has changed the face of retail in Russia, the BBC's James Rodgers reports from Moscow.

Markets provided jobs for people from poorer countries if they were willing to work long hours, often for low pay,

But that is now illegal. Anyone working in a shop or on a stall has to hold Russian citizenship.

Officials responsible for enforcing the law say they are not planning any major operations to coincide with the new deadline.

They believe market administrators will make sure the law is observed.

Russian media reports have warned of price rises as a consequence of the new law but the authorities insist that any increases are due to inflation.

Migration clampdown

The new law is the latest in a series on immigration.

On 15 January, migrants from CIS member-states coming to Russia under a visa-free regime were banned from selling alcohol and pharmaceuticals.

Ahead of 1 April, the number of foreigners working in Russian markets was reduced to 40% of the workforce.

Mr Postavnin said the new legislation was aimed at combating the shadow economy.

"People have really begun to emerge from the shadow - it's very good," he told Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

Your comments

The vegetable and fruit stall that I had here in Sennaya Square market , St. Petersburg, is empty now. I am one of the thousands who are kicked out of the Russia by the new law. Almost 70% of the market stalls are empty also, with long queues at those stalls whose owners managed to get citizenship legally on time. We found our way to Russia after 1994, fleeing the civil war in Tajikistan. This market has become our saviour, with remittances we sent home, our families survived. For the last 9 years , I was selling competitively priced potatoes and onions, that was affordable to the city's lowpaid pensioners. That's why they never swapped spacious supermarkets for a crowded market. The dirty job I was doing will not be taken over eagerly by locals.
Zafar Firouz, Yavan, Tajikistan

It's true that many of the (dark-skinned) non-Russians working in the markets are involved in criminality. However, the (mostly white) Russian police happily turn a blind eye in return for bribes. And white Russian gangsters are involved in the same kind of activities and much worse, but officials practically work hand in hand with them in many cases. This is clearly a racist and populist initiative designed to win votes in the forthcoming election.
CH, Reading, UK

I have personally seen many people from Tajikistan going to Moscow for work, and nobody can deny the fact that migrant workers do contribute to the development of the economy, even developed countries have accepted it. Banning workforce is not a solution, but the need of the hour is proper regulation that promotes interest of all parties. Russia is already facing a demographic crisis, and I don't feel it is a right move. The government should clamp down on the vested interest and protect the right and livelihood of poor migrant workers, who once belonged to part of grand old USSR.
V.Balaji Venkatachalam , Dubai

I am an Afghan in Australia and I know too many Afghans are working illegally in moscow, and they have families back in Afghanistan, who are in desperate need of money for their living back in Afghanistan, and I know it would hit them hard if they lose that income. Apart from that I don't blame Russian authorities for this action, because there are too many Russians who are jobless. I hope they would find a solution for both.
reza zamani, sydney australia

I am resident in Canada but originally from Southern Africa. What I do see is that if Southern African Governments had to copy what the Russians have done then there is bound to be total chaos in the region. Take Johannesburg as an example, almost all of the retail sector flea markets, restaurants and street vendors are supplied and manned by foreigners of Chinese, Lebanese, Russian, European origin and of course Africans. I also know in Zambia there is a big problem with Chinese, Indian and Lebanese traders in the retail trade including markets which were originally meant for indigenous Zambians but the new government gave the contract to operate these markets to foreigners. The whole idea may sound good but it is savagely discriminatory and undemocratic in this global 21st century economy. Trade should not be limited to exchange of goods and services alone but also the exchange of cultures is even more important... Just imagine, you wake up one day and go to London, Paris, Brussels or New York and all you see are English, French, Belgian, White Americans in shops and markets and so forth. The whole place would look spooky! Unreal! Just like a flower garden with a one colour code. Totally meaningless.
Professor Mwiine Lubemba, Ottawa, Canada

The friendly kebab vendor on my street corner left two weeks ago, and despite the heavy traffic his stand always enjoyed, no ethnic Russians have stepped up to open a stand selling this non-Russian food, nor does anyone seem likely to. His was the only independent, non-chain food stand - now they're all franchises. This is not a victory for "the little guy." Alex, when "foreigners" have formed criminal syndicates, isn't the real problem here crime rather than ethnicity? When produce mafias are allowed to exist, with police accepting bribes for looking the other way, why do you expect this whole system to change just because the ethnic makeup of its participants is changing? Nor does it make sense to quell ethnic violence by getting rid of all the "foreigners."
Chris, Moscow

As a Briton living in Moscow, it was apparent from when I first arrived that foreigners as they're called, formed a large percentage of the food and retail market. And when I first arrived those same foreigners were publicly known to have formed criminal syndicates, regulating by means of intimidation or worse just who could sell in Moscow and beyond. There were several incidents shortly after I arrived of shootings and beatings of native Russians being forcibly prevented from setting up shop, or producing goods in their own country. Since then, and more recently, there has been a marked improvement in the mix of native Russians to foreigners, as a result of the Russian Government's crackdown on corruption, and criminal gangs. It may seem hard to outsiders, but a balance is being restored in this country... Unseen to the press, or simply unreported, is a large slice of native Russians who are expected to follow the rules in manufacturing and food standards up to a European level Quality Control, with stiff penalties for non-compliance, and yet they are constantly undermined by the black economy, who have shipped in cheap and often inferior goods, (or made them here in sweat shops) then flooded the market with these goods at inflated prices, with brutal intimidation if challenged by locals. This has hindered natural economic growth, and made things very much harder for native Russians determined to make a success of their lives... Another important consideration is: The foreigners tend to employ their own and very few native Russians, and to a large extent, ship the profits out of the country, paying little or nothing into the Russian economy or tax system... I am in no way an apologist for this country, and know everything's not perfect here...but simply a Briton who has seen the real situation through the eyes of objective 'fair play'...
alex stone, Moscow

Actually in the retail markets in Moscow and other Russian cities work people who came from former USSR republics mainly from Azerbaijan (they are owners or managers of the business), Uzbekistan (mostly they are salespeople) and Tajikistan (they work as a cleaners and loaders). I know some market guys here in Moscow who had been deported back to home because of absence of permission to work legally in Moscow (but real reason was that they refused to pay bribe to local policeman). They had their own fruit selling business and they hired even Russian woman to work as seller. I wonder why Russian authorities try to prevent such hardworking people for whom Russia really need, who can be basis of fuel to develop small business and whole economy as well.
Anz, Moscow

As a citizen of Slovenia, living in Moscow for many years, I can witness that dominance of non-Russians on local Russian markets is main reason for high prices. Ethnic mafias prevent local producers to sell directly.
Just Rugel, Moscow

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