Restrictions on exit in post-Soviet countries:  the right to go abroad a quarter century after the USSR

                                                                     Matthew Light

                                    Associate Professor of Criminology and Sociolegal Studies

                                                               University of Toronto

 

The talk will present research in progress on the state of restrictions on exit—the right to leave the country—in the fifteen states that correspond to the former Soviet Union (USSR).  The USSR and most other communist governments imposed severe restrictions on citizens’ right to leave for residence or travel abroad.  In Russia and some other post-Soviet states, the abolition of these blanket restrictions represented a significant gain for individual freedom of movement in the region.  Yet although western and Soviet émigré scholars analyzed Soviet exit restrictions during the Cold War, there is little scholarly research on the trajectory of such policies in the post-Soviet period.  A preliminary assessment of data from post-Soviet republics indicates that a variety of restrictions on exit remain, or have been reintroduced, in the last quarter century.  There is also significant regional variation.  Central Asian states, notably Uzbekistan, feature the most restrictive policies on exit.  Western post-Soviet states use such restrictions more sparingly, and mainly on an individual basis, and for purposes of domestic political repression or geopolitical advantage.  I consider to what extent post-Soviet policies continue to exhibit Soviet institutional legacies, or instead correspond to those in other countries with similar economic and political conditions.  I also ask whether greater freedom of exit is irrevocable in the contemporary post-Soviet region, and if not, what conditions might lead to more severe restrictions being imposed.  Finally, I consider the extent to which the right of exit has been conceptualized as a distinct aspect of individual freedom in the post-Soviet and broader international discourse.

Matthew Light is associate professor of criminology and sociolegal studies at the University of Toronto.  Light received his doctorate in political science at Yale University in 2006.  His research concerns migration policy, law enforcement, and criminal justice in post-Soviet countries.  His book, Fragile Migration Rights:  Freedom of Movement in Post-Soviet Russia, was published by Routledge in 2016.