Monday, October 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Biryulevo Violence Only Latest Pogrom in Putin’s Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 14 – The ethnic violence in Moscow’s Biryulevo district over the weekend is only the latest pogrom to have occurred in the Russian capital since Vladimir Putin became president, something that all those who are following this rapidly developing story need to keep in mind to comprehend what this latest clash.

                The proximate cause of the latest outburst of inter-ethnic violence was the killing of an ethnic Russian by someone suspected of being from the Caucasus on Thursday, the failure of the Russian police to find the perpetrator, and an outpouring of anger, including attacks on non-Russians and their businesses as well as police.

            Among those involved were Russian radical nationalists who incited the crowd with calls for the expulsion of gastarbeiters, for “white power” and for “a Russia for the Russians.” The demonstrators received what many saw as support from Orthodox leaders who called for the murderer of the Russian, the case that started this, to be severely punished.

The police responded with arrests, and the event has sparked discussions about its meaning, including discussions about whether the regime should crush the demonstrators or appease them by taking up their slogans and about whether this weekend’s events will trigger even more violence, something that another clash elsewhere in Moscow already shows.

                The outpouring of commentaries in the blogosphere has assumed enormous proportions, but one aspect of the Biryulevo events has not attracted as much attention as it should: its precedents. Except for a few references to the 2010 clashes in the Manezh Square, most writers have neglected to point out that pogroms have been a regular feature of Putin’s capital.

                That makes a comment by Anton Nossik on Ekho Moskvy especially useful.  In writing about Biryulyevo, he remarks that “if anyone has forgotten, such pogroms in Moscow and the [surrounding] oblast have occurred quite regularly” there over the last dozen years, He then lists some of the most horrific of these  (

            On April 21, 2001 – the day after Hitler’s birthday – he writes, “about 200 skinheads mostly aged 15 to 18  conducted a pogrom in the Yasenevo market against immigrants from the Caucasus.  Six months later, 300 of their kind carried out an attack on the Tsaritsyn market and killed an Azerbaijani, a Tajik and an Indian.

            On June 9, 2002, “in the very center of Moscow,” some pogromchiks seet affair several dozen cars, broke store windows, and overturned buses and kiosks after a Russia-Japan football match. Seventy-five people were injured, 49 of whom were hospitalized and one 17-year-old later died.

            On July 7, 2002, there were pogroms in the city of Krasnoarmeysk in Moscow oblast, and then in 2010, most prominent of all was the violence at the Manezh where 29 participants were hospitalized, including eight OMON officers.  The next day, five young people attacked a Kyrgyz at the Kolomnskaya metro station.

The one thing that links these and similar events together is this, Nossik says. Despite all the media and political outcry, “we to this day do not know who why or on whose money all these actions were organized.  If the force structures have figured something us, they have not told us about it. They’ve [apparently] forgotten.”

In a few cases, some months later, the authorities have either charged those who couldn’t afford to bribe their way out of court. But in most, they “have not put anyone away,” despite all their pledges to do so.  “The organizers of these bloodlettings” clearly know that they aren’t under any threat from officialdom, and thus they have no reason to change.

“Happily,” Nossik writes, “in present-day Russia just as a century ago in 1913 [ -- the date of the infamous Beilis case and the associated pogroms -- ], ethnic massacres aren’t much demand among the broad strata of the [Russian] population.”

Less happily, he continues, “all the pogroms which are taking place now or which occurred a 100 years ago are connected one way or another [by acts of commission or omission] with attempts of the authorities to solve their problem on the backs of those of different ethnicity or faith by directing popular anger against them.”

“The experience of Nicholas II shows that they will not obtain the slightest good from such efforts and that they will pay a high price for them.  Unfortunately, [Putin and his team] have not learned anything from this experience.” Like its tsarist predecessors, it “believes national conflicts are a useful means of distracting Russians from the problems of corruption.”

Nossik concludes by expressing his conviction and hope that “like a century ago, [they] are mistaken.”

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