Thursday, March 28, 2019

Moscow Media Coverage of Yakutsk Protests Ignores Two Critical Aspects of Them, Tarasov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 27 – In covering Yakutsk protests over the rape of a local woman by a Kyrgyz immigrant, the Moscow media have chosen to play up the ways in which the Sakha people supposedly feel the same way about migrants as do Russians, Aleksey Tarasov of Novaya gazeta says (

            But by doing so, he writes, they have ignored two critical aspects of the situation in the Republic of Sakha. On the one hand, opposition to outsiders there now being directed at Kyrgyz workers was once focused on ethnic Russians. And on the other, officials in Sakha have felt empowered to take anti-Central Asian pose by Moscow’s own messaging.

            Many people either do not know or have forgotten that the first public ethnic violence in Gorbachev’s time came not in Kazakhstan or the Caucasus but rather in Sakha, Tarasov notes.  In March and April 1986, Sakha workers attacked ethnic Russians, infuriated by their number and their superior attitudes.

            At that time, more than 60 percent of the city of Yakutsk was ethnically Russian; but the Sakha in various ways made it clear that they wanted them to leave: Local papers, for example, began to publish ads in Sakha but not in Russian and Sakha owners refused to sell or rent apartments or dachas to Russians.

            As a result, there were clashes; and ethnic Russians began to flee in large numbers, sending their share of the population in the largest republic in the RSFSR plummeting.  Today, they are so few in number there that most Sakha who have accepted Orthodoxy and even know Russian are less hostile to them than they were, the Novaya gazeta journalist says. 

            Now, the Sakha have turned their hostility toward outsiders against people from Central Asia who have exploded in number; and they have acted this way, many believe, because of the attitudes that the Moscow media, acting on behalf of the Kremlin, have communicated of late: hostility to Ukrainians and Central Asians is acceptable, even encouraged.

            The combination of these two factors, he strongly suggests, should be worrisome to Russians. The 1986 events led ultimately to the rise of ethno-national activism and the demise of the Soviet Union; the second could easily have the effect of promoting a similar trend within the Russian Federation.

            If so, in the second case, it will be the result of willful ignorance by the Moscow powers that be of just how dangerous it is to try to play the nationality card to distract people from their problems, especially by signaling that open displays of hostility toward another group is acceptable.

            Tarasov doesn’t say, but the conclusion from his article is almost inescapable: If the Russian Federation fall apart, the Kremlin by its policies will have only itself to blame.

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