Staunton, March 20 – Russian media have overwhelmingly treated protests in Yakutsk as an exclusively ethnic phenomenon, the outpouring of anger among the indigenous population at reports that an immigrant from Kyrgyzstan had raped a local woman, and officials have taken steps to suppress what they see as an outburst of dangerous nationalism.
And there is certainly plenty of evidence over the last three days which shows that Sakha residents are angry about the increasing presence of immigrants and are prepared to engage in actions that can certainly be described as pogroms. (For a relatively balanced report on what has taken place, see lenta.ru/brief/2019/03/20/yakutsk/).
But as so often is the case, the report that a Kyrgyz had raped a Sakha was more the occasion for this display of popular anger than its fundamental cause, a point that has been made by several local people, mostly prominently and pointedly by the major of Yakutsk, Sardana Avksentiyeva, on the Yakutsk city portal (якутск.рф/press-tsentr/news/?ELEMENT_ID=81962).
She says that “anti-immigrant” actions in Yakutsk are rooted in economic rather than nationalist problems. “The economic situation in the country as a whole, inflation, the low incomes of the population, and the high level of unemployment have generated dissatisfaction among a significant part of society.”
“I have frequently said and repeat once again,” the mayor told a visiting Kyrgyz delegation, “that crime has no nationality. Any people unfortunately includes those who commit horrific crimes and also those whom every people can be proud of.” But those who commit crimes must be punished by the judicial system and not by lynch mobs.
Avksentiyeva’s argument is almost certainly true, but one can fully understand why Russian officials and the Russian media don’t want to hear it. It is far easier to blame the national feelings of a numerically small people far away from Moscow for problems than to face up to the fact that the Russian government’s economic policies have hurt so many.
To stress the latter as the Yakutsk city head does is to raise the possibility that what happened in distant Sakha could happen anywhere in Russia. All that is required is some action that can serve as a trigger to what is an increasingly explosive situation and one that will only grow worse if the government gets its way and brings in millions more immigrants.