Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Inter-Ethnic Conflicts in Russia Reflect the Erosion of State Power, ‘Vedomosti’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 10 – Russian officials have long sought to dismiss ethnic conflicts as being product of the everyday disputes people have rather than clashes between two nationalities, but today the editors of “Vedomosti” offer another and more disturbing diagnosis by suggesting that such conflicts “above all” are a reflection of “the continuing erosion of the state” itself.

            According to “Vedomosti,” “popular uprisings like those which are taking place in Pugachev in Saratov oblast risk becoming typical for all the cities of south Russia.” While most people identify them as “ethnic,” they “above all” reflect the decay of state institutions (

            In recent months, there have been conflicts like the one in Pugachev in Stavropol kray, Kirov oblast, Sagra in Sverdlovsk oblast, and Moscow; indeed, such conflict between members of different ethnic groups who take things into their own hands rather than rely on the government have been going on since at least Kondopoga in 2006.

            The “Vedomosti” editors say that the reasons that in considering all these events, “it is worth remembering that the sides of the conflict have different relations with the state.”

            “The typical Chechen or Daghestani as a result of the special social-economic situation of the Caucasus in contemporary Russia is accustomed to resolve any issue informally outside of the institutions of the state.” But “the typical Russia, although he suspects that he mustn’t count on the state for help, all the same by habit keeps that hope.”

            When life, economic or criminal conflicts between them take place, the approach of the Caucasians often turns out to be more effective – because the corrupt and ineffective state cannot resolve the conflict within the framework of the laws that have been adopted,” the “Vedomosti” editors say.

            “The difference between the sides of the conflict in fact is social-economic, but the conflict very quickly becomes  identified as ethnic because an ethnic conflict has mobilizing potential for both sides,” each of which can use that description to win support from the population because it can’t count on the state to protect its interests.

            Moreover, the editors say, “it is no secret that the level of everyday xenophobia in Russia is very high” and that in the current “political and economic crisis,” the authorities are relying on the rapid “re-traditionalization of the electoral majority” by talking about the central role of the ethnic Russians and supporting the image of alien “enemies.”

            “In the absence of physical contact with ‘the cursed Americans, Russian patriots have increasingly angry at ‘the aliens’ nearby – above all the Caucasians,” the paper says.  “Such conflicts must not become ‘typical,’ and they won’t if there is an improvement in “the quality of state institutions.”

            A related take on the relationship of state power and Russian nationalism was provided yesterday by Lev Pirogov in a commentary on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal in which he suggested that Russian nationalism has not developed because in a certain sense Russians already have a state that is identifiably their own (

            Russians need what all nations need, he suggests, but they cannot mobilize as a nation because such mobilization occurs most easily when the people involved do not have a state. Indeed, he suggests that “the main problem of the Russian nationalist [today] is that Russians are not Yakuts.”

            “For the Russian people to feel itself a nationalist people,” Pirogov argues, “it must feel itself a people without a state.”  That explains the attractiveness of Russian nationalists who support regionalist projects such as Siberia or Ingermanland. But he asks rhetorically whether without a state, Russians will continue to feel themselves a people?

            The answer to that may not be long in coming, the Russian commentator says, because the state Russians do live in “will do everything depending on it” to create a situation where ethnic Russians will feel themselves a nation without a state and then the Russians can become nationalists of the ordinary kind.

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