COVID-19 in Russia and Eurasia panel at Think Corner

On June 11, Aleksanteri Institute organized an online discussion panel at ThinkCorner oft he University of Helsinki on COVID-19 in Russia and Eurasia. The event hosted three speakers – postdoctoral researchers at the Institute – Margarita Zavadskaya, Sherzod Eraliev, and Olga Zeveleva.

Sherzod Eraliev, a member of the research project “Migration, Shadow Economy and Parallel Legal Orders in Russia,” discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the lives Central Asian migrant workers in Russia and their remittance-dependent countries in Central Asia. The full record of the online event is available at the Aleksanteri Institute’s channel on Youtube.

The life of a researcher – Sherzod Eraliev

As we start the year 2020 with a new blog-page “Global Process and Flows in the Eurasian Space”,  this blog will become a channel for all our projects. We start by introducing our researchers, to give you a glimpse of the hectic academic life in our field.

To get an understanding of the life of a post-doctoral researcher, our researcher Sherzod Eraliev is a good example. His career has already landed him on three different continents and several cities. There is no time to stop, if one wishes to stay in the game. And a lot, of course, also depends on good luck.

After leaving his home country, Uzbekistan, he arrived in the United Kingdom where he studied International Politics at the University of Manchester in MA programme of the Faculty of Humanities (2009). After having worked in several international organizations in his home country, he then continued to his doctoral studies in the University of Tsukuba, Japan, where he also defended his thesis “Securitized migration? Russian policies vis-à-vis Central Asian labour migrants” in 2018.

A post-doctoral career opened for Sherzod in the Migration, Shadow Economy and Parallel Legal Orders (MISHA) project, at the University of Helsinki. Our senior researcher Rustam Urinboyev was granted a Marie Curie Fellowship for 2018-2019, which meant that our project was able to open a position for a new team member. Currently, Sherzod works as a post-doctoral fellow, funded by the KONE Foundation grant. His background and research interests have allowed us to expand our activities in the Eurasian studies beyond the MISHA project.

Last year, Sherzod Eraliev participated in a two-month fellowship at the George Washington University – Elliott School of International Affairs’ Central Asia Program. He participated in tailor-made programs and was introduced to U.S. policy and expert communities in Washington, D.C. His research during the fellowship focused on the return migration of highly skilled Uzbek migrants. He delivered a speech at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on his research findings. He gave an interview to Voice of America’s Uzbek Service on Russia’s migration policies, Uzbek migrants in Russia, latest changes in Uzbekistan. Sherzod also published an op-ed at The Diplomat about the return perspectives of highly skilled Uzbek migrants. His research findings on this topic was later published in an e-book by the above-mentioned. In June, he participated in the Russian Readings at Oxford, where he delivered a lecture on the religiosity of migrants in Russia.

In the fall, Sherzod travelled to Moscow for a two-week fieldwork to interview both migrants and migration experts. He reported on his adventures in our project Facebook page, attracting interests in our page followers.

This year, life is getting busier still. He has ongoing works for several publications and plans to travel to conferences, workshops and meetings.  He is also the Coordinator for the Aleksanteri Conference 2020: Eurasia and Global Migration in October, which means working together with the organizing committee during the spring and fall.

And what about his personal life? Finland is now the third country where he has settled, this time with a family of two children. Finding an apartment, getting paper work in order, arranging children´s schools and day care, and language courses – it also takes time. On the first day of 2020, his family welcomed a new addition. So, there is certainly life outside of one´s work!

Policy expertise and media appearances

The year 2018 has included several tasks related to policy expertise and media contacts for the Migration, Shadow Economy and Parallel Legal Orders in Russia team.

Kaarina and Anna-Liisa were invited to participate in the making of a Finnish government research report on Russia´s security developments. The insights which we have gained in the MISHA project have been utilized in the making of the part ”Internal security” in the report to be published by Finnish Ministry of Defence in early 2019. Russian migration and its connection to wider security issues are recognized as important matters for Finland as a neighbouring society.

Meanwhile, Rustam has been invited to serve as an expert on corruption and governance for the newly established Expert Council “Buyuk Kelajak” which aims to assist Uzbek government in designing the long-term development model of Uzbekistan until 2035. He participated in an international conference  “Uzbekistan 2035” in Tashkent on the 28-29th of June, where his talk on anti-corruption reforms prompted great interest by the Uzbek government, among others the Ministry of Justice and the Academy of General Prosecutor’s Office. It is very gratifying to see how our work bears fruit at this level of societal relevance!

Media has approached us several times this year. This has given us an opportunity to participate in wider societal and political discussions on Russia´s developments. The year started with an appearance in a Finnish broadcasting company YLE´s political talk show (5.4.2018, A-Studio:Talk, journalist Jan Andersson) in which Anna-Liisa discussed difficult Russia-EU relations.

Because of Mr Trump´s and Mr Putin´s Helsinki Summit on the 16th, July became a hot month – and not just because of the unusually long humid and hot weather in Scandinavia. During the summit, Anna-Liisa participated in the yearly SuomiAreena event, organized by the  Finnish broadcasting company MTV in the city of Pori. This was followed by commentaries in NBC Digital News (journalist Jon Allen), later used by several US and Canadian media outlets,  and in Finnish media outlet  STT (journalist Mari Areva), later used by Turun Sanomat, Lapin Kansa, Kotimaa and Keskisuomalainen. During Rustam´s  late July trip to Moscow, he participated in the BBC Uzbek direct sending and gave an interview for the Radio Free Europe. Finally, in the end of July, two delegations from Japan´s House of Representatives visited Aleksanteri Institute to discuss Russian security policy, hosted by the directors of the Institute and our project PI, Anna-Liisa. She was also invited to participate in the making of an article about Finland´s defence policy for the newspaper Tokyo Shimbun.

Media visibility and expert work have gained more importance in our work, and finding a right balance between fundamental research and other activities can be a challenge. ’Societal relevance’ takes time and energy away from reading, writing and thinking – and from holidays! Anyhow, there are hardly any dull moments or lack of surprises in this line of work.

Migration and Informality 360 degrees

On 26-27 of March, a new network of Migration and Informality in Central and Eastern Europe was launched in a workshop organized by Rustam Urinboyev, Rano Turaeva-Hoehne and Abel Polese.

The venue was in the beautiful city of Lund, at the Department of Legal Sociology of the Lund University. Altogether 29 scholars and experts gave presentations and participated in lively discussions on our topics. We covered governance of migration and politics, informality and legal system, economy, health and religion related to migration and informality, migration and displacement, and comparative aspects of informality in the post-socialist world.

Our team members gave presentations on the effects of the shadow economy on Russian security policy, smartphone transnationalism in the lives of Uzbek migrant workers and religious informal networks and solidarity among Moscow´s Central Asian migrants.

The two-day intensive event proved that there is a need for the continuation of this cooperation among people who are studying various sides of informality and migration in the globalized conditions of the post-Soviet space. We also need to include experts who work with migrants and tackle challenges of informal administrative cultures in professional capacity. Comprehensive outlook on these topics is necessary and timely.

The questions raised are not easy, and we don´t have simple solutions. What is the root cause of everyday corruption in the law enforcement, for instance? How to facilitate integration of migrants into the receiving societies? What type of criminal activities both the official and unofficial structures create around migration and displacement? How should we understand informality? Should we have new theoretical and empirical approaches in its examination?

We came back from the workshop with new inspiration, which will hopefully help us in our own project. The main bulk of our new empirical material, which we collected in Moscow last year has now been transcribed. It is time to look at what empirical and theoretical dimensions it contains.


From research to teaching – Russia in the global context

A new year – new tricks!

Rustamjon has started his two-year Marie Curie Fellowship in the Aleksanteri Institute, in the University of Helsinki, but keeps commuting back and forth between Helsinki and Lund, where he has ongoing projects as well. One of them includes a survey on legal culture in Uzbekistan, which he is conducting with colleagues from Sweden.

Meanwhile we are all busy taking part in the development of the new International Russian Studies Master´s Program in the University of Helsinki.  Take a look at the home page here:

The program offers English language teaching to students wishing to acquire in-depth knowledge of Russia through a global perspective. This implies that we do not merely study Russia as such, but use Russia as a prism through which we can understand globally important challenges, such as climate change, inequality, technological change, etc.

Our team members design and teach several courses in 2018-2019. These include ‘Global Processes and Flows in Russia’, coveríng global migration, technological and resource flows in Russia, which we will teach together with post-doctoral researcher Saara Ratilainen and associate professor Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen from the Aleksanteri Institute.   We are also involved in the design and teaching of the course on ‘Global Indicators of Governance and Law in Russia’, with associate professor Marianna Muravyeva and post-doctoral researcher Freek van der Vet.  Finally, we have designed a course on ‘Globalized Frameworks in Russian Policy-making’ with post-doctoral researchers Meri Kulmala, Anna Lowry and Marina Khmelnitskaya from the Aleksanteri Institute.

The new MA Program will mark a shift in the life our team members, as we assume more teaching responsibilities. It gives us an unique opportunity to design new courses in line with the goals of the MA program. It is a priviledge to have such an avenue for the dissemination our research and knowledge to new generations of students. It is going to be a mutual learning experience!

In addition, all of us have been preparing for this new chapter in our lives by taking several pedagogical classes both in the Lund University and in the University of Helsinki. ‘Constructive alignment’ has become a new motto in our understanding of learning, course design and assessment practices. The fall semester of 2018 will tell how our new ideas  work in reality.


Religion and law

Back in Moscow where the weather is rainy and foggy, but life is full of colours.

Yesterday, our first full day here started with a discussion over breakfast about the roots of administrative theory in European and Central Asian countries. It seems that Max Weber, with his ideal type bureaucracy, has had predecessors in Islamic theorists, who also dealt with the best way of organizing public administration.

Next, we visited a mosque to get a better understanding of the religious aspects of migrant life. It was interesting to hear teaching about proper behaviour with regard to propiska (residence permit). ‘Before entering a home, a good Muslim asks for a permission to enter for three times’, the sermon advised. The believers were reminded that they should focus less on complaining, and instead worry more about their own choices in accordance with their religion. It seems that both the practical role of religious institutions in Russia, as well as the different legal traditions of sending countries need attention in our research.

Later we were provided a first-hand possibility to observe an important side of our research topic. While sitting in a popular restaurant to have lunch, we witnessed an investigative operation by Moscow law enforcement authorities, who ordered all present to stay put and provide identification. In the end, the situation was resolved peacefully and our passports were not checked. However, we felt the tension of persons under suspicion. At the same time, one also wonders about the complexities of law-enforcement as well.

All in all, an interesting start for our second field work period!


Legal culture and integration

Summer break is almost here! It is time to relax a little bit before we start preparing for our next field work trip to Moscow.

On the 13th-15th of May, Prague hosted the third European Summit ( in the beautiful Lobkowicz Castle. In this third gathering of academics, think tank experts, civil servants and politicians, topics included also migration. The panels gave unanimous support to successful integration as the key to societal security in the EU, where member states have different political and social histories with regard to migration.

Our project deals with one dimension of integration in Russia, which is micro level integration to a new legal culture. A simple definition of legal integration at this level sees it as a learning experience in which new arrivals accept and follow new norms and regulations. We also use this definition in our effort, as we look at the rules, which govern migration and Russian labour market, and examine what these rules are, how they are enforced and followed. However, we are also looking beyond the fast changing surface by examining how migrant communities contribute more generally to the shaping of the legal environment in Russian communities and institutions.

This is also a reason for our interdisciplinary approach. As we examine ‘living law’ vis-á-vis ‘law in books’, we do not separate different ways of looking at the law, often used in academic studies. The perspectives of ‘law in’, ‘law and’ and ‘law as’ will be included in our analysis. Examination of migration to Russia  would be articifial without taking into account the historical legacies of the post-Soviet regions. Our key methods include ethnography which is  connected to the empirical tradition of legal-sociology. It underlines the relationship between law and society and utilizes both social and legal theories in analysis. In addition, we try to understand how migrants, who live in the intersection of different legal cultures, construct the meaning of law  in their new Russian surroundings. This implies that we try to find out what kinds of understandings of societal life their legal thinking includes.

This brief description may already give you an idea of the intellectual and practical dimensions of this project. This spring we have had the chance to talk about our work to different audiences and to get feedback on important points. We will continue this part of our project in the fall, with plans to visit Germany and Spain. Then – back to Moscow!



First week of Moscow field work

The first week for the MISHA team in Moscow is over. As we have enjoyed the 1st of May sunshine, we are also taking a look at the experience so far.

This has been an intensive week, both in terms of collection of interview material and as a learning experience. We have met migrants of different ages, professions, experience of life in Russia, and financial situation. Interview situations are often demanding for various reasons.We are discovering that certain questions, words and expressions are ambiguous or sensitive to the people we meet. This in itself is rich material, of course, since it gives us a possibility to investigate our key concepts from a cultural point of view.

We are also becoming more aware of our own limitations and try to develop in the process, as much as it is possible. Getting connected with our main informants is an art form in itself. The approach has to be adjusted in every case. The practical conditions make research also an emotional experience, since not everything can be controlled. We have to reflect on our expectations, our ways of working and the material continuously.

Does a researcher of migration and shadow economy become an activist? This is one of the main ethical questions of our work and something that we also had to think about during this first week.  From the beginning of our project, we chose to remain neutral and keep an academic distance to our topic. Hence, we are not promoting policies or political perspectives. Our original attempt was to look at Russia in a global context which includes a possibility to make comparisons.  Such an approach is not easy, but we believe that in the end it provides important insights which might otherwise be overlooked.


Our blog and new project plans

A new year of 2017 has started with active planning of our field work. Our Migration, Shadow Economy and Parallel Legal Orders research project team spent a week together in the Aleksanteri Institute on the 23-27 January to decide timetables for field trips and to organize other practical matters. Among these matters is this homepage, which we will be using actively to tell you about our progress. During February and March, Rustam Urinboyev will be working on the questionnaire for our theme interviews. Our first trip will take place in April-May in Moscow.

During our week, we discussed various aspects of conducting interviews and surveys among our future informants. Our team member Rustam Urinboyev´s  substantial experience in the field and his ability to teach the rest of our team about cultural differences has already proven valuable.  You know – almost anything can happen when you are conducting field studies!  You can face all sorts of unexpected situations, some slightly funny, others possible more serious. So, we have to really think about all details very carefully and be fully aware of doing everything right. This involves having proper documents and making sure that our position is that of a researcher. It also involves being sensitive to cultural differences and expectations from our informants. We cannot just walk into somebody´s life and use them for our own benefit.

During our joint week in Helsinki, we found out that Rustam had received a Marie Curie Fellowship!  His funding will start next year. This is great news, as it further strengthens the study of migration, shadow economy and legal culture.