How Muslim Migrants Are Reshaping Russia’s Dying Countryside, One Village At A Time

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ROZHDESTVENO, Russia -- Nazim Soliev is confident that he's good for Russia.

Or more specifically, the 35-year-old native of Tajikistan, the most impoverished of Central Asia's five former Soviet republics, says his presence here, 200 kilometers northwest of Moscow, is good for his adopted homeland.

"'Better you than the Chinese,' that's what my ex-boss told me," the small-framed Soliev says between double shifts as a stoker at the village school, earning him around $250 a month, nearly twice the average Tajik wage.

The "you" is a reference to Soliev, who speaks fluent Russian and also routinely quotes ancient Persian thinker Omar Khayyam's poems in Farsi, a linguistic sibling of his mother tongue, and 46 other families whose resettlement from Tajikistan over the past decade almost doubled Rozhdestveno's aging population of about 200.

Half of the students in Soliev's school are their raven-haired children, and their wives, in long skirts and head scarves, shop for groceries at a store next to the Orthodox church.

The arrival to urban centers and the countryside of Soliev and millions of other mostly Muslim labor migrants from Central Asia is at the center of what could emerge as Russia's most radical ethnic makeover in centuries.

And some residents of Rozhdestveno and nearby villages speak caustically of the immigrants and forebodingly of an uncertain future.

"In 10 years, the village will either disappear or become foreign," says retiree Viktor Yerofoeyevich, declining to give his last name. He is a resident of the neighboring village of Bortnikovo, where a paltry 12 houses have full-time residents.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.