Human Rights, In Focus, World

Xenophobia blowing around in Russia?

The recent disturbances that occurred in the very heart of the Russian capital, incited by right-wingers and their principles, threaten to open Pandora’s Box on the subject of interethnic relations, something which many view as a danger to national integrity.

Antonio Rondón García

A few incidents of a similar magnitude to those that occurred last Saturday in Manezh Square had been registered previously in 2002, in the same place. A huge screen was installed for people to enjoy the football World Cup match between Russia and Japan.

After the final whistle of the match blew, which Russia lost, a crowded group of nearly 10 thousand people surged down Tverskaya Avenue and destroyed or set fire to some hundred cars or so, trolley buses and more than 40 shop windows, whilst two people died and dozens more ended up injured.

It was the first sign of any aggressive and right-wing behaviour sparking off amongst extreme football fans as well as marginalised youths.

What happened in Manezh Square, where more than 30 people were injured after clashes between anti-riot police and a wave of extremist and nationalist youths, was partly to do with the tolerance these groups have sustained lately after the public expressing their views about them.

The newspaper Komersant recalls that on the 4th of November just gone, during the Russian unity bank holiday, which tries to divert attention away from the celebration of the October Revolution (7th of November), hundreds of neo-fascists and nationalists demonstrated without causing any problems in Tverskaya Avenue.

On this matter, Mujammed Amin Madjumer, president of the Russian Federation of Immigrants, indicated that in this particular occasion the organisation he represents warned of the possible consequences of allowing these marches to go ahead.

On the other hand, the press lately reinforced the point in televised debates over whether to rely or not on the immigrant work force before the demographic crisis the country was facing and its illegal nature.

Likewise, last Wednesday, on the 8th of December, the police kept themselves on the periphery of the crowds when 10 thousand youths, many of whom were carrying xenophobic signs, blocked Leningradski Avenue in order to demand that the authorities arrest those responsible for the death of the Russian Egor Sviridov.

But as the Komersant reports the story, Sviridov died after a fight that broke out between six Muscovites and six Caucasians, in which one of them, Aslan Sherkezov, fired four times at the aforementioned Russian, with a pistol that fires “Strimmer” rubber bullets. It was found on him afterwards by the police.

The consequences of these outbursts are beginning to be seen: beatings instigated by ultra-right wingers in tube stations, including the murder of a Kyrgyzstan citizen. It has to be said that the anti-riot police should have closed off the Manezh Square that evening.

Various groups from the Caucasian Nations and other ex-Soviet states in the South described the advertisements about the possible march in the capital against their fellow countrymen on the internet as provocation.

The situation already motivated many people with Caucasian traits to avoid going out, going to work or even sending their children to school, the digital newspaper “Gazeta.ru” comments.

However, for Andrei Isaev, member of the government party “Rusia Unida” (Russia United), there is no danger of a right-wing body existing, or of politicians who can lead such an entity.

But other experts regard this lack of visible leadership amongst these extremist groups (mainly marginalised youths moved by the idea of xenophobia) as precisely what makes their organisations and possible courses of action less predictable.

Behind the incidents last Saturday there may have been various right-wing groups called “Firmas” among which it is common to hear discriminatory speeches dominating the scene and whose leaders may have organised the demonstration, belives the Komersant.

The danger of this manipulating of xenophobic behaviour led the Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev to insist that the police act with a firm hand and use all necessary legal means in their reach, with no exceptions, in order to finish with “the chaos in the streets”.

Some analysts such as Gleb Pavlovski, director of the Effective Politics Fund and legendary electoral strategies advisor for the Kremlin, speculates that behind the nationalist marches there could be some political sectors involved, but no one can prove this.

Russia has taken special care to maintain the delicate co-existence between its ethnicities. It is a country with more than 120 nationalities, whose relations in the past have been of love and hate, a balance that can be broken easily by unnerving right-wing views blowing in the wind.

(Translated by Piers Jarvis – piersjarvis@hotmail.com)

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