Monday, April 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: To Combat Rising Ethnic Tensions, Moscow Must Fight Ideas Rather than Organizations, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 14 – Ethnic tensions are high in many parts of the Russian Federation and will continue to do so, according to a study carried out by the Club of the Regions and the Center for the Study of Ethnic Conflicts, until Moscow recognizes that focusing on organizations rather than ideas -- as it has done up to now -- will do little to change the situation.

            “In the absence of a state policy of ‘active interference,’” the authors of the study say, “the ideological vacuum [in the country] is being intensively fille by varioius organizations, including those who profess destructive and anti-social ideas.” But fighting organizations rather than ideas “will not have the desired effect” (

            Indeed, they conclude that if Moscow continues on its current course, “inter-ethnic tension in the regions of Russia will only increase” and spead to those where it is still “latent” given the impact of immigrants and media stories about their involvement in crimes of one kind or another.

            The survey, which examined 570 “ethnically motivated actions” including everything from xenophobic posts on the Internet to mass street violence, concluded that “the demographic pressure of the poor agrarian south on the industrial and wealthier north” is leading to tensions in areas far from Muslim ones.

            The investigators pointed to the following factors behind the rise of inter-ethnic tensions: “uncontrolled migration, social-economic depression which leads to ‘a search for the guilty’ and xenophobia, the lack of a well-developed nationality problem,” the lack of reliable information about what is going on, corruption, and “the dissemination of radical Islam and the activity of other countries.”

            The majority of the participants in the study pointed to Daghestan, the North Caucasus generally, and adjoining regions as among the most problematic, but they suggested that the idle Volga was “an independent hearth of tension” rather than an extension of the North Caucasus, noted that several regions in the Far East had problems and that Moscow and St. Petersburg had higher levels of inter-ethnic tensions than many North Caucasus republics.

                 The full study is available at For useful discussions in addition to the one cited above, see,, and

                The study grouped the subjects of the federation into three groups on the basis of the current state of inter-ethnic relations and prospects for the future and offered 14 specific findings and recommendations.  But the most interesting comments in the study concern five extremely sensitive issues.

            First, most experts said that they do not consider “the status of a titular ethnos in the subject of the Federation as necessarily a factor producing tensions.” Sometimes it can be and sometimes not, and the usual problems are with representatives of other peoples in the first instance ethnic Russians.

            Second, the study said that “crime is a supra-ethnic phenomenon resulting from social-economic and not ethnic factors” and indicated that there is no adequate definition of “’ethnic crime.’”  But half of the experts said that ethnic crime of one kind or another nonetheless is a factor in the rise of inter-ethnic tensions.

            Third, it concluded that “nationalism in its radical manifestations is an essential factor in the growth of inter-ethnic tension” and that this is true of “both Russian nationalism and the nationalism of ethnic minorities.”  Russian nationalism is a greater problem in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the south; non-Russian nationalism is more important elsewhere.

            Fourth, the study said that in the future, there will be the further “ethnicization of day to day and social conflict” and “the politicization of ethnic conflicts,” as well as “a growth in protests connected with ethnic themes.” But that trend is “not connected exclusively with ethnicity” but is the product of a variety of other factors.

            Among the ones the study’s authors listed were “the spread of radical Islam, the passivity of the federal center and attempts by foreign states to influence national regions, rapid urbanization of the North Caucasus population and its exodus to Central Russia, and the intensification of competition for jobs between the indigenous population and immigrants.”

            And fifth, the study suggested that the absence of a clearly articulated federal policy in this area meant that most of the work in addressing it has fallen to the regions. Some are doing relatively well – it pointed to Saratov, Orenburg, Mordvinia and Chuvashia – but others are doing badly.

            Among those falling short, the study said are Krasnodar and Stavropol krays and Moscow, both the city and the oblast.  And it added that “in the majority of Russian-language krays and oblasts, the authorities are only reacting to events rather than pro-actively trying to direct them.

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