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How It Was: The Great Brain Drain from Russia in the 1990s
How It Was: The Great Brain Drain from Russia in the 1990s

Twice in the history of Russia, a huge number of scientists left the country - in the 1920s and in the 1990s, and in the second case, much more.

Emigration from Russia - how much and where

The "Iron Curtain" was raised during the years of Perestroika. Now there was no need to flee the USSR, quarrel with the authorities for years or come up with clever ways to leave legally. Between 1987 and 1988, the USSR simplified the exit procedure for its citizens - fewer formalities and more permits. In 1988, more than 180 thousand people took advantage of the right to leave the country, and this was only the beginning of the émigré "avalanche". In 1989, 235 thousand people left, in 1990 - 453 thousand people.

How many people left Russia in the 1990s - no one will say for sure. Russians, Russian Germans, Jews and representatives of other nationalities left for work, to see relatives, to their historical homeland in tens and hundreds of thousands annually. We went to Germany, Israel, USA, Canada …

The statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs only partially recorded this process, since only those who openly declared that they were leaving Russia for good were called emigrants. Those who left on work contracts for a while, but then stayed abroad, were not included in this statistic. For example, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, only 110 thousand citizens emigrated from Russia in 1995, but only Germany alone accepted 107 thousand Russians for permanent residence in the same year; then another 16 thousand moved to the United States, another 16 thousand to Israel, and another thousand to other countries. Germany - one of the most popular places to move - took in 1992 - 1998. 590 thousand people from Russia.


According to the UN report on international migrants from 2020, in 2019 more than 10 million immigrants from Russia lived in the world (more migrants - only from India, China and Mexico). Of these, about 4.5 million cu were khali from 1989 to 2015 (at least 32.5 thousand emigrants were recorded in 2009).

The emigrant flow today remains quite significant, but most of these 4.5 million left Russia in the dashing nineties. The country had faced such a massive exodus only once before - after the 1917 revolution and the establishment of Soviet power. And just like then, Russia has lost not just labor resources, but has faced a "brain drain", that is, the most educated citizens and scientists.

How many scientists are there in Russia

Western countries quickly appreciated Russia's potential as a supplier of scientific and labor personnel, and willingly accepted such people. More than 85% of emigrant scientists in 1992-1996 settled in Germany, the United States and Israel. If after 1917 in several years a quarter of all scientists and teachers of higher education in Russia left - more than 2.5 thousand people (including 11 academicians), then in the 1990s - about 45 thousand (according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and researcher A. G. Allahverdyan).

It would seem that this is much more. This time, the emigration of scientists did not seem to be such a serious blow: the number of scientific personnel in the USSR was so great that 45 thousand in 1990 was not 25% (as 2.5 thousand in the 1920s), but only 4%.

However, not all so simple. Young people, the most enterprising people, ready to adapt abroad and integrate into world science, left the country. To scientists, you can also add engineers and highly qualified workers in various fields. For example, in 1990 alone, the United States accepted eight hundred Russian citizens with advanced degrees and about 10 thousand more with high qualifications in their industry.


High salaries in science in the West, of course, also became an attractive factor, but the idea that scientists left only for money is erroneous. The humiliating conditions of science in Russia were not limited to unfairly low wages.

A study of the sentiments of emigrants in 1990, the data of which is cited by A. G. Allakhverdyan (note: the reference to his work at the end of the article) showed: respondents were most dissatisfied with the working conditions in Russia - the lack of critical equipment and equipment for the natural sciences; this was followed by a catastrophic decline in the prestige of scientific work; after the survey participants named the impossibility of giving a good education to children and the lack of normal ties with foreign scientists. And only then, in fifth place, was money.

All these factors today stimulate people of science to look for work abroad - where there are more opportunities to implement scientific ideas, and, I must admit, the peculiarities of the political system and everyday life are often more pleasant.

In the 1920s and 30s.the Soviet government managed to overcome the consequences of the brain drain, the number of scientific personnel recovered by the end of the 1920s and then grew. The new Russian government did not even manage to preserve what it inherited from the USSR.

The number of scientists declined not only and not so much because of emigration - for the most part people left science altogether and went to other areas. In 1990, there were 992.6 thousand researchers in Russia, and in 2000 there were already 425.9 thousand. In the 2000s, the decline slowed down, and in the first half of the 2010s. the number of scientific personnel even grew, but in 2015 it began to decline again. In 2018, there were 347.8 thousand researchers in Russia (there are no more up-to-date data in the public domain). Losses in recent years concern primarily technical and natural science specialties.


All of this looks pretty depressing. In 2019, the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences A.M.Sergeev noted that there are three times fewer scientists in Russia (50 per 10 thousand employees) than in the leading countries of the scientific world.

The latest government decisions to cut funding for science through leading scientific foundations (RSF and RFBR) and to cancel the most massive grant competition promise a further decrease in the number of scientists and the loss of Russia's scientific potential. The brain drain seeking, as in the 1990s, the opportunity to do research and lead a decent life, will continue to gain momentum.

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