Sunday, July 21, 2019

Any Conflict in Russia Can Become an Inter-Ethnic One and Grow into Something Bigger, Nationalities Chief Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – In the Russian Federation, almost any ordinary conflict, territorial dispute or even crime in which people of different nationalities are somehow involved “can take on an inter-ethnic coloration and almost instantaneously multiply in size and importance,” according to Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs. 

            “In such cases,” he continues, “differences in the nationality of the contesting sides can become a real generator of hatred and hostility” and thus create a new situation very different and more dangerous than the one that existed before the clash, however distant from ethnicity, that set it off (

                Barinov’s observation comes in his discussion of Moscow’s reaction to the recent clashes between Roma and ethnic Russians in Penza, clashes that he says reflect the growth in tensions between these communities “in many regions of the country where there are places in which the Roma live in compact settlements.”

                Barinov’s acknowledgement about the way in which conflicts of various kinds can easily become ethnic clashes in multi-national Russia is refreshing given that Moscow officials almost invariably seek to dismiss suggestions that a clash is an ethnic one but insisting that it is something else entirely.

            But his prescription for what to do is anything but given that it is based on the all-too-typical Moscow assumptions that if there are problems, they lie with the non-Russians rather than with the Russians and that it is the non-Russians who must change fundamentally rather than the Russians change in any way at all.

            Barinov says that his agency in the wake of the Penza events and given the intensification of anti-Roma attitudes is currently working no proposals to promote “the socio-cultural development of Russian Roma” as if all the difficulties were on the side of that nationality (

                Roma must be “socialized” differently than they now are, Barinov says, “beginning with kindergartens and schools” and “the social conception of the Roma people as a whole” must be changed, by talking about all the opportunities and successes that community has had and has now in the Russian Federation.
                Further, he says – and this too reflects Moscow’s approach to such issues – the nationalities chief says that this task must be performed less by “federal” television channels than by regional ones “especially where the representatives of the [Roma] people are in large numbers as, for example, in Moscow, Moscow oblast and the south of Russia.”

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