Saturday, May 17, 2014

Window on Eurasia: After Crimea, ‘One Spark’ Could Engulf Russia in Pogroms, Moscow Observers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 17 – Even though the issue of relations between Russians and migrant workers has largely disappeared from the Moscow media because of the Ukrainian crisis, it has not gone away and indeed may be more explosive than it was precisely because of the kind of violence that has taken place in eastern Ukraine.

            In a commentary on, Aleksandr Ivakhnik points out that “the leaders of Russian nationalists have warmly supported the imperial turn in the foreign policy of Russia and have in practice restrained themselves from criticizing the migration policy of the state, shortcomings of the political system, corruption and so on” (

            But clashes between Russians and immigrants like one in Pushkino this week between an Uzbek and a Russian in which the Russian was killed, a massive protest followed, and the authorities had to work hard to contain the situation shows that just below the surface tensions are high and that “a single spark” could trigger massive clashes.

            That is all the more likely given that the supporters of the murdered Russian chanted “Russia for the Russians!” and demanded that the Central Asian-dominated open markets be closed and the migrant workers be punished or sent home.

            The editors of “Gazeta” provided an even bleaker assessment of the situation and suggested that the way in which the Moscow media are covering events in Ukraine may result in the “import of pogroms” from Ukraine into Russia because of Russians’ experiences with violence there (

            As the Moscow paper pointed out, the murder of ethnic Russians by people from the Caucasus typically generate a powerful reaction, but “the murders of migrants by Russian nationalists have become a routine,” although there are no fewer such crimes according to statistics.

            The  Pushkino clash this week is important, “Gazeta” says, because “this is the first such episode after Russian nationalism became the temporary official ideology or at least the chief motivation of the practical policy of the Russian authorities.”  And it is a reminder that such nationalism could be turned “against Russia itself,” given that Russia is “a multi-national state.”

            “The genie of Russian nationalism was a dangerous thing to allow out of the bottle not only because in principle it is a bad idea to promote pogrom-type attitudes in society,” the paper says, but also because “there is a ‘conceptual’ problem.” Russian nationalists of the kind on display at Pushkino are at bottom “anti-imperialist.”

            That is, “Gazeta” explains, its adepts “do not want a new USSR as a multi-national state: they want ‘a great Russia for the Russians.’” As a result, those who put the ethnic Russians in motion in Ukraine on the basis of uniting all Russians outside Russia have failed to appreciate the extent to which they are uniting Russians “against all non-Russians” both abroad and within Russia.

            “The export of ‘the Russian spring’ to Ukraine was very profitable for the Russian authorities,” the paper says. “But the import of ‘the Russian spring’ back into Russia could harm Russia itself.”  Moreover, “the import of pogroms is possible also because there already exists in Russia an officially articulated demand for a struggle against internal enemies.”

            Such “active searches for national traitors will become an additional detonator of inter-ethnic conflicts” in Russia, “Gazeta” says.  And there will be many Russians who will take the opportunity to attack gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus rather than go after Ukrainians.

            After all, the paper notes, in Russia, “as always,” people will “beat others on the basis of their faces rather than their passports.”

            The annexation of Crimea and “the export of internal aggression in Russian society to Ukraine have not lowered the level of this aggression,” even as Russians have shifted their attention away from developments in Ukraine. According to a VTsIOM poll, only 30 percent of Russians are following events there, nine percent less than a month ago.

            Since the anger remains, it is likely to be taken out on other groups, “Gazeta” concludes, and consequently, “the return of ‘the Russian spring’ to the Motherland will hardly please either the ordinary resident who simply wants a quiet and peaceful life or the Russian authorities themselves” who don’t want anyone to rock the boat.

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