Friday, October 10, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian Crisis has Killed Constructive Russian Nationalism and Opened the Way for More Pogroms, Emil Pain Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 10 – In 2011-2012, Emil Pain says, “a new elite Russian nationalism” concerned about the promotion of civil values and democracy emerged, but this “new nationalism couldn’t break itself away from its imperial foundations, and after the unification of Crimea, all its [positive] civil qualities disappeared from view.”


                As a result, the Moscow specialist on ethnic conflict argues, once the Ukrainian crisis recedes from the center of Russian public attention, more conflicts and pogroms like those in Kondopoga and Biryulevo are likely with the level of xenophobia and violence being even greater than in the past ( and


            Pain’s conclusions were echoed by four other experts on this issue who were surveyed by on what is today the first anniversary of the Biryulevo events, in which the murder of a local Russian by an Azerbaijani triggered rioting and led to fears that Russia might be on the brink of a new wave of pogroms.


            According to Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA analytic center, “the pogroms in Biryulevo changed a lot.”  In particular, the government media stopped promoting xenophobia from above and this “immediately had an effect,” but only “a temporary one,” he suggests.


            “When the authorities need the support of the population, they raise the level of xenophobia,” an effective “but very dangerous weapon. But today, they do not need xenophobia since the ratings of the government are at an extraordinarily high level. There is nowhere to raise it further.”


            That is because of Russian actions in Ukraine, Verkhovsky says. “With the beginning of the Ukrainian campaign, the level of activity of nationalists in Russia significantly fell.” Events which might have triggered outrages continued, “but there was no reaction. The nationalists for a time forgot about immigrants.” Instead, they disputed among themselves about Ukraine.


            When the Ukrainian crisis “will recede into the past,” he continues, “the nationalist order of the day will return.” There will be “a repetition of “pogroms a la Biryulevo.”  Those returning from the Donbas won’t be able to launch a revolution, they will be ready to engage in greater violence, because “the level of the permissible in politics has shifted in a negative way.”


            And they are likely to gain support, Verkhovsky says, because the standard of living is falling, and Russians will undoubtedly want to blame someone near at hand as well as the Europeans and the Americans. Those near at hand are certain to include immigrants who will be blamed for taking jobs from Russians.


            In short, the SOVA director concludes, “for as long as [Russians] are living in a semi-war-like regime, the migrants in Russian can sleep peacefully.” But once the war ends, then the situation for them within the Russian Federation is likely to become very dangerous indeed.


            Commentator Konstantin Krylov agrees, noting that at present, “the internal agenda in the country has been driven out by the external” and “the liberal camp has completely and entirely signed on to that of the neighboring country.  National socialism is on the rise in the Donbas, and it is likely to return back to Russia in the future.


            Madzhumder Mukhammad Amin, the president of the Federation of Immigrants of Russia, also agrees. He says that “over the past year, the number of nationalists in Russia has not become smaller.” Rather, the nationalists are focusing their anger on Ukraine and the West rather than the immigrants.


            But that will change, and there will be a new and additional element. Prior to the annexation of Crimea, he points out, “there were no fewer than three million immigrants” in Russia from Ukraine. Many have returned home, “but those who remain are beginning to experience serious bureaucratic problems with work arrangements.”


            Sergey Starovoytov, the head of the Moscow Center for the Study of Nationality Conflicts, puts it bluntly: “The Ukrainian crisis has united Russian society and split the nationalist movement in Russia.”  But that won’t last forever, and even now there are serious nationality tensions in Moscow, Daghestan and the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District.


              Because “any ethnic conflicts which take place in the regions are problems of the regions, but all those which occur in Moscow acquire federal importance,” he suggests that it is particularly important to consider what the situation now is in the Russian capital.  And he concludes that there are some dangerous warning signs.


Not only has the influx of migrants to Moscow not stopped, but at the end of September, a group of Muslims attacked an OMON bus in an attempt to free one of their fellow believers. The power of the latter did not intimidate them, and thus more such responses are probable in the future.

            For his part, Pain, the head of the Moscow Center for the Study of Extremism and Xenophobia at the Institute of Sociology, says that “mass nationalism has not become either less or weaker” in Russia as a result of the events in Ukraine and remains the most organized political trend in the country.

            Thus, Pain says, “the potential of a nationalist movement for action is being preserved and even growing,” and because the nationalism generated by the Ukrainian events is not positive and concerned with promoting Russians but rather negative and interested in attacking others, this is likely to lead to new Biryulevos and Kondopogas.

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