The census in Russia, the first since 1989, is expected to find more than 2 million immigrants in residence. The Macedonian Ministry of the Interior, based on initial census figures, estimates that there are well over 20,000 foreigners in this country of 2 million people.
It is a little known fact that the polities of east Europe - let alone central Europe - are the targets of mass immigration from even poorer regions of the earth like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Africa and central and east Asia. Wealth is relative, though. Even destitute Macedonia is home to at least 200,000 migrants from the impoverished nether lands of Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia.
The denizens of deprived members of the former Soviet bloc - such as Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Albania, Yugoslavia (Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, or the "stans" of central Asia - flock to the greener pastures of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Croatia, Greece, Austria and Germany. Add to these at least 500,000 permanent refugees - mainly from Croatia and Bosnia.
Most of these economic immigrants are unskilled and uneducated. They are employed in menial jobs in agriculture and services. They remit the bulk of their income home, thus contributing little to the local economy. They are ineligible for education, medical treatment, or social benefits and services.
The majority of them being illegal aliens, they rarely pay taxes. They do not enjoy the protection of the law and fall prey to rapacious organized crime gangs and avaricious indigenous policemen, judges and bureaucrats. Child labor, prostitution, drug abuse and other forms of petty delinquency are rampant among them.
Immigrants cause great resentment and consternation among the - always xenophobic - populace in east and central Europe. They compete directly with unskilled and unemployed locals - a sizable portion of the citizenry. Unemployment in the European Union is less than 10 percent compared to almost 20 percent in Poland, 30 percent in Macedonia and twice that in Kosovo.
But east Europe is target to another kind of immigration - from the rich West. Hundreds of thousands of expatriates and their dependants pepper these territories. Most of them are employed by non government organizations (NGOs), multilaterals, or international financial institutions.
They come for stints of a few years. Many stay longer, beyond the call of tenure. They spend their bloated salaries locally. This, usually, is their only input to their newfound domicile - a poisoned chalice driving up prices beyond the means of most inhabitants. These foreigners rarely pay taxes and are beyond the reach of native law. NATO peacekeepers, for instance, can be tried only in their countries of origin where flippant lenience is secured.
There are three categories of Western parvenus in the Wild East: the hustlers, the bureaucrats and the corporates.
The implosion of communism in central and east Europe has immediately sucked in an assortment of foreigners with checkered pasts and shady businesses. They colluded with emerging organized crime in their adopted countries, serving as a vital link to the financial infrastructure of the West. In cahoots with corrupt managers and venal cronies and insiders, they stripped the assets of state-owned enterprises and benefited from speculative bubbles.
Foreigners employed by multilateral organizations - such as the IMF, the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, the European Union and a veritable avalanche of acronymed NGOs and academic outfits - are notorious throughout the region for their shameless conspicuous consumption and capricious meddling. Some of them have been implicated in corrupt dealings.
Usually with mediocre skills and a poor record back home, they join multilaterals for lack of options rather for any altruistic fervor. They hold in contempt the hapless sovereign hosts in which they serve as the omnipotent procurators of the West. Many of them hail from epitomes of good governance and civil society like Pakistan, Egypt, or India.
These emissaries of rectitude serve as a fig-leaf for the suborned politicians of this region behind which office-bearers hide their thefts and their incompetence. Often, the "international community" (euphemism for the United States and the European Union) turn a blind eye to the egregious looting of the state by pliant and cooperating bigwigs.
But there is a third - and welcome - type of foreigner.
These are advisors and managers who cater to the needs of multinationals and local companies. The market dictates their fees and their continued - or discontinued - employment. Scores of Western consultancies set shop in central, east and southeast Europe - accountancies, law firms, the odd professional.
Western know how on anything from wood processing to canning, from intellectual property to real estate and from publishing to brewing is transferred by these outfits to eager companies and a new cadre of management. The newcomers often assist local firms to obtain finance, construct projects and market products. In due time, foreign managers give way to locally trained ones. This is the real process of transition.