EXCLUSIVE: Unlikely social media activist @moscow_cabang_bali on illegal workers, personal threats, and the focus on Russians

Photo: IG @moscow_cabang_bali.
Photo: IG @moscow_cabang_bali.

Foreigners working in Bali without a proper permit is a tale as old as time. But they are once again in the spotlight thanks to one anonymous Instagram account.

Since its emergence last month, @moscow_cabang_bali (which roughly translates to Bali being a chapter or extension of the Russian capital) has found prominence in the public consciousness in Bali after it regularly called out, with much cheek, allegedly undocumented workers (particularly Russians) on the island. 

The account describes itself as a provider of “free marketing service” to micro, small, and medium enterprises — a sarcastic dig at Russians making a living in Bali without the proper documents. Many of its posts are screenshots of advertisements by foreigners who appear to be offering illegal commercial services in Bali such as tours, surf lessons and villa rentals. 

Locals are praising @moscow_cabang_bali for standing up against undocumented workers on their behalf, while those who feel targeted accuse the account of provoking a witch-hunt against them.

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So why the focus on illegal workers from Russia? Could it be that they’ve become desperate after sanctions placed on their country due to its invasion of Ukraine compromised their sources of income? Why call out undocumented workers at all?

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These are some of the questions that the person behind @moscow_cabang_bali agreed to answer in an exclusive with Coconuts Bali. In order to protect their safety, Coconuts Bali has agreed to their request for anonymity. 

The interview was translated from Bahasa Indonesia and has been edited for clarity.

How did you get the idea to start this account? 

In addition to hearing stories from friends who feel unsettled because many jobs had been taken over by foreign nationals, I started this account because I was fed up with seeing Instagram ads by foreigners who blatantly promote their businesses, which, by the way, are clearly illegal. Advertising things like tattoo businesses, tours, motorbike rentals, laundry services, cosmetologists, yoga classes, photography, driving lessons, cults, and even poker betting – they have the audacity to promote it all. 

Sik mbok ya (a Javanese phrase to emphasize a point), if it is illegal, it’s better to just stay silent and know your place. Instead, they put up banners, Instagram ads, and even spread pamphlets. 

I feel the government does not have a presence and these practices are just allowed to go on. It gives the impression that our law is toothless and easily undermined.

I came up with an idea to “promote” them because the way the government turns a blind eye is akin to them supporting the violations. And it’s not just me doing this – I crowdsource information and reports about violations from the public, and the volume of these I get has assured me that this issue needs to be put under the spotlight so that there will be no more law-breaking.

Could you elaborate on how foreign nationals in Bali are being unruly and are working here illegally? 

First, there is a “Russian Bubble” where they (Russian nationals) prefer to shop with “their own people” via Telegram, carrying out transactions using cryptocurrency or the Russian ruble.

Then, due to insufficient law enforcement, we can see that they dare to promote themselves blatantly because they feel entitled to do so since they have KITAS (temporary stay permit). They have also been known to install Russian license plates on their vehicles.

There seems to be a misperception between the temporary stay permit and the work permit. [Some people think that] having a KITAS means [they] can work whatever job they want. There are reports of people using the KITAS for multiple purposes. For example, one may have a KITAS for their job as an art director, but then they work other jobs – as photographers or tattoo artists. In another case, one person had a KITAS that entitled them to invest in the country, but then they worked as a DJ.

There’s also a phenomenon of “normalizing” the Russian language as a subculture in Bali, where, in some restaurants, they have begun to use Russian in the menu and signages. 

And then there are unscrupulous visa agents who assist foreigners in exploiting legal loopholes. One report tells of a PMA (foreign investment company) that was established “collectively” among 15-20 shareholders. We also received a report about a PMA that has, on paper, invested IDR10 billion, but that investment was never verified.

Without an ISCO (International Standard Classification of Occupations) in place regulating what jobs are available to foreign workers, and with general ignorance about the legality of the topic, the matter of whether or not foreigners may work in Bali now occupies some kind of a gray area.

Property prices are skyrocketing because no one has been looking into fraudulent Russian property brokers who rent at low prices before subletting to other Russians. This even happens on the kos-kosan (boarding rooms) level.

It is interesting that the page focuses mainly on Russian nationals (or at least seems like that – correct us if we are wrong). Why is that? Surely there are other nationalities who do this sort of thing – why not target them?

Incorrect. I target and post about all nationalities – Ukrainians, Indians, Australians. But unfortunately, the reality is many of those who blatantly promote themselves in Bali are Russians. And from the reports that I receive, the majority of them are about Russians. 

Well, the name of the account is quite pointed.

Moscow is a character on Money Heist. See Tokyo and Berlin (also Money Heist characters) on [my Instagram highlights]. That is why my profile picture is of Moscow wearing udeng (Balinese head cloth). You’re just being presumptuous (smiles). 

What are the common professions that you come across or get reports about? Are there perhaps professions that maybe only foreign nationals can do, for example, Russians who offer Russian language courses?

I will put it in order based on the number of reports. So far there are no reports about Russian language teachers. They are:

  • Photographers
  • Tattoo artists
  • Cosmetologists (botox injections)
  • Tour and travel agents
  • Car and motorbike rentals
  • Yoga teachers 

What do you think is the root of the issue?

Toothless law enforcement and blunders in the drafting of travel policies, such as the visa on arrival (VOA) and the  B211A (business) visa, which “facilitate” people from conflicting nations to enter Indonesia. And protection of illicit activities AKA cor-rup-tion.

Tell us about the reactions/responses that you have received so far – from Indonesians, Russians, and foreigners in general.

All Indonesians support the account, and many have thanked me for addressing their grievances towards the ignorance. Almost all Indonesians who respond to me want this page to stick around and grow.

As for the Russians, many of them have called me names, threatened me, and said that they have felt slighted because they, too, contribute to the local economy.

Many other foreigners support us because they are disappointed and feel it’s unfair that they’ve had to adhere to regulations, while those who work here illegally are often getting away with it.

What are your ultimate goals with the account?

  1. For this issue to be noticed by President Joko Widodo and Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno, The Director of the Immigration Office of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights Silmy Karim, and the relevant ministers
  2. A reexamination of VOA and B211A visa for citizens of countries in conflict
  3. Stronger law enforcement
  4. For this account to continue dishing out social sanctions against illegal workers so that they know their place in Bali.


Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. The Russians and Ukrainians (and Romanians etc) aren’t in Bali escaping the southern war. They are just like every other foreigner, life is easier in Bali and they want to stay but run out of visa time and money. Many of the hot Euro girls around Canggu and Ubud are prostitutes, some of who also work in Jakarta and Surabaya in the high-end clubs. They all have Russian (or similar) pimps who may or may not also be their boyfriends. It’s all about money so when you end up liking a hot Euro girl and she’s all for it, you will definitely pay big-time one way or another. Look out.

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