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Undocumented Citizens: The Legacies Of The Propiska System In A Post-Soviet City

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posted on 01.12.2019, 00:00 authored by Ajar Chekirova
Being “undocumented” is most often referred to immigrants who reside in a host country without authorization but little is known about contexts in which citizens become undocumented, too. In many cities of the developing world, particularly in communist and post-communist states, rural-to-urban migrants constitute a sizable group. They face challenges to their citizenship rights as economic and social underclass due to long-standing residence registration policies, such as propiska, which is the main topic of this dissertation. Propiska, a system of permanent residence registration, is perhaps the most enduring communist policy that has survived through democratization and liberalization processes in the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Previously used as a Stalinist tool of population control and repression, propiska now functions as a mechanism for political and economic exclusion of rural migrants in urban centers. Although the policy has been incrementally reformed to allow free movement, but to this day rural migrants who lack local registration have not gained access to the same social and political rights as their urban counterparts. Despite being full citizens, unregistered rural-to-urban migrants are excluded from participation in local elections, as well face barriers to welfare due to lack of propiska. However, they are able to obtain social services through informal everyday interactions with street-level bureaucrats at state institutions, such as offices of public agencies, public schools, and health clinics. These interactions often involve informal arrangements that may take forms of exchange of favors, gifts, and bribes. As a result, we observe a peculiar form of urban governance, where the state restricts formal distribution of welfare yet simultaneously tolerates the informal and at times extralegal arrangements between the people and the street-level bureaucrats. In order to illustrate why and how registration policies are resilient this research is based on a case study of propiska system in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Using historical-intuitionalism approach and qualitative methods, this dissertation seeks to illustrate the paradox of “undocumented citizens”. It attempts to explain the process of adaptation of one policy in three completely different political and economic regimes, where timing and sequence of certain events determine who is affected by the policy and how. This dissertation also demonstrates how old inequalities produced by the old system and the new inequalities produced by the new system are layered on top of each other; thereby thickening the lines between deserving and undeserving, members and strangers, visible and invisible.



Tepe, Sultan


Tepe, Sultan


Political Science

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Zhang, Yue Kostadinova, Petia Cole, Kathleen Paller, Jeffrey

Submitted date

December 2019

Thesis type




Issue date


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