Staunton, October 2 – In August 2006, at a time of relatively greater media freedom, Russians were transfixed by stories about a clash between Russians and Chechens in the Karelian city of Kondopoga. Now, there have been clashes between Bashkirs and Chechens in the Bashkortostan’s Temyasovo but little coverage or concern beyond that Middle Volga republic.
That has allowed Russian and Bashkir officials to adopt their normal stance and suggest that fights between members of two ethnic groups are nothing more than clashes that could occur between members of the same group with each other. But Bashkir media make it clear that something more happened, and that, without intervention, the situation may soon get worse.
A detailed description of the clash and of those involved can be found on line at proufu.ru/news/society/massovaya_draka_s_chechentsami_v_bashkirii_proizoshla_iz_za_shaurmy/. And it suggests, as Radio Liberty’s IdelReal reporter Artur Asafyev puts it, that there has been a new Kondopoga (idelreal.org/a/29520703.html).
The fighting between Bashkirs and Chechens resulted in several injuries, and apparently under pressure from Bashkir society, the local authorities have agreed to open criminal cases against those responsible who appear to be the Chechen gastarbeiters (facebook.com/100022826088380/videos/343849709719229/).
How far they will be able to go given Moscow’s silence and the power that Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov appears to exercise beyond the borders of his republic remains to be seen. But Bashkirs are clearly outraged by what they see as the unwelcome criminal behavior of the Chechen workers in their midst, just as the Russians in Karelia were a dozen years ago.
It is not only a Radio Liberty journalist who is raising the specter of a new Kondopoga. A commentator for Ufa’s Proufa news service suggests that there is now a danger that a broader national conflict may arise in the southern portion of Bashkortostan (proufu.ru/news/society/na_yuge_bashkirii_mozhet_vozniknut_natsionalnyy_konflikt/).
The situation there is apparently especially explosive because there is extraordinarily high levels of unemployment and social degradation, local people say, adding that this case shows “yet again” how bad things are with regard to “inter-ethnic relations at the local level” and how easy it is for officials to argue that there are no ethnic clashes when there obviously are.
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