Sunday, August 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Will Disintegrate if Officials Continue to Treat Nationalities Unequally, Chechen Ombudsman Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 11 – Russia faces first pogroms and then disintegration if  Russian officials and especially police officers continue to treat people not as citizens with equal rights but on the basis of their ethnicity, Chechnya’s ombudsman has warned the Russian Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights.

            In a sharply-worded letter to Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Russian Presidential Council, Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, Grozny’s human rights ombudsman, says that Chechens are worried by “incidents” in the Russian Federation “in which at times the nationality of citizens and not the law determines their guilt or innocence” (

                If such “illegal actions” are not blocked “in a timely manner,” then, the ombudsman says, they will spread and become the norm in the social and political life of the Russian Federation. That will open the way “to pogroms on an ethnic basis” and threaten the territorial integrity of the country.

            Indeed, as Nukhazhiyev pointedly reminds Fedotov, “the Soviet Union collapsed not because of a shortage of nuclear ballistic missiles but when the people populating it ceased to feel themselves citizens of a single country. Today, this same threat hangs over the Russian Federation.”

            To avoid such outcomes, the Chechen ombudsman continues, “the most important task of the state is to form on the territory of Russia a single legal field and a single universal system of values and to strengthen them in the consciousness of citizens regardless of their nationality or religious affiliation.”

                 “In Russian history and even in our time,” Nukhazhiyev says, “there are sufficient examples when the authorities in a critical situation and responding to destructive nationalist forces begin to blame all difficulties on people of a specific nationality. How such games ends is well known from the name history.”

            Given such dangers, Russian law enforcement personnel must be especially “vigilant” and “maintain the letter of the law.”  But “in real life, unfortunately … the actions of the law enforcement organs often are directed not at the protection and defense of the law and citizens but on the satisfaction of the ambitions and illegal demands of the crowd.”

            The Chechen official gives as an example the way the authorities and the police behaved recently in Pugachev in Saratov oblast where, he says, “a Chechen was somehow already guilty by the fact of his nationality” alone.  Some officials there were led astray by their desire to satisfy the crowd rather than follow the law.

            However “banal” it may seem, Nukhazhiyev continues, the foundation of Russian statehood is “its multi-national and poly-confessional nature.” Those who forget that and discriminate along ethnic or religious lines, he argues, “become co-conspirators” in the crime of undermining the Russian Federation.

                An analysis of reports coming into his office from citizens and from the media “gives us complete basis for saying that there have been cases of groundless detention and arrest during preliminary investigation of criminal cases” as well as other formers of discrimination against “citizens of the Russian Federation of Chechen nationality.”

                In the current situation, he says, it is especially important that “government organs of power, judicial and law enforcement organs see in front of them in the first instance a citizen and not a Chechen, an ethnic Russian or a Yakut.”

            One of the reasons that this constitutional and legal principle is so often violated, Nukhaziyev argues, is the desire of the official involved to protect himself. For example, police in Nizhny Novgorod oblast recently violated the rights of Chechens in order to demonstrate their commitment to law and order.

            The mass media have made this worse, he suggests, by picking out “from among thousands of crimes committed every day on the territory of Russia,” those in which “those coming from the North Caucasus republics” are involved, and thus implying that “all Daghestanis, Chechens, Ingushes, and other people from the Caucasus are criminals or potentially ready to commit crimes.”

            If the media’s behavior is understandable – they profit from doing so, Nukhazhiyev says – the increasing tendency of official agencies to support such reporting is unacceptable and even more dangerous.  Not long ago, for example, the interior ministry site in Volgograd oblast talked about Chechen involvement in crime in ways that “recall reports from the field of battle.”

                This might be “funny” if it weren’t “so serious,” the ombudsman says.  But what is especially of concern right now is that Moscow, which often serves as a model for the rest of the country, is doing the same thing, a pattern that means the subordination of citizenship to ethnicity and religion appears likely to spread.

                Whatever any official or commentator thinks or any ordinary citizen may feel, Nukhazhiyev concludes, “there are no goals which could justify playing on the national feelings of citizens” especially in country with the diversity and the history of the Russian Federation.

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