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A Diaspora Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Since the beginning of this year, cultural figures and highly skilled professionals have been departing Russia on a scale reminiscent of the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. The question now is whether the West will tap this community's immense potential.

ATLANTA – There have been diasporas ever since the Old Testament, and, leaving aside their tragic nature, no two mass exoduses have been alike. In the twentieth century, the world witnessed Jews escaping from pogroms, the Bolshevik revolution, and then Hitler; African-Americans migrating en masse out of the Jim Crow South; and Vietnamese fleeing a war-torn country. In this century, Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans have fled failed liberations and brutal sectarian wars; Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans have been walking away from poverty and violence; and, now, millions of newly arrived Ukrainians in Europe and elsewhere are wondering when or even if they will ever go home.

For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year.

Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking. Compared to the first quarter of 2021, Russian arrivals in Georgia and Tajikistan increased fivefold, and they grew fourfold in Estonia, threefold in Armenia and Uzbekistan, and twofold in Kazakhstan. Moreover, Latvia and Lithuania together took in some 74,000 Russians, and popular tourist spots like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey welcomed just under a million. Nearly 750,000 people crossed into the Georgian region of Abkhazia, one of Putin’s vassal territories.

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