Tuesday, December 28, 2021

It’s Not an “International” Fight if All Participants are Russian Citizens, Peskov Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 7 – Russian officials have almost always gone out of their way to deny any role for ethnic feelings when there are clashes between people of different nationalities, insisting that other factors are at work and that such fights are the result of “everyday” circumstances rather than national feelings.

            That has allowed Moscow to declare that there are few or even no ethnic conflicts in Russia today, a claim that is far from persuasive to those who recognize that ethnicity does play a role in social conflicts and that there are long histories of ill feeling between representatives of different groups there, just as is the case elsewhere.

            But in the wake of more such fights in the Russian capital and intensifying discussions about whether the media should or should not identify the nationality of participants, the Kremlin has raised the bar that any conflict must reach in order to be classified as an ethnic clash, Komsomolskaya Pravda reports (kp.ru/online/news/4507249/).

            At a Kremlin press briefing, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the possibility that these recent clashes had anything to do with ethnicity. “There is no national subtext here and cannot be,” he said, because “all [of those involved] are citizens of Russia.” Those involved should be treated as individual violators of the law, not as representatives of various nations.

            One can only agree with the latter part of his argument, but it impossible to take seriously the former. The notion that ethnicity has nothing to do with conflicts between members of different ethnic groups in Russia is to put it in the most charitable form possible absolutely absurd.

            It is seldom the only factor – ethnicity is far more often an adjective than a noun in such circumstances – but it is there; and to deny it as Peskov is doing is wrong. Worse, it is dangerous and dangerous in the first instance to the political regime he works for and supports.

            If the powers that be don’t recognize that ethnic conflicts are occurring, then they will certainly conclude that they do not have to do anything; and then, precisely because they will do nothing, they will face a growing number of such conflicts in which ethnicity will play a larger rather than a smaller role.

            Obviously, a remark at a press briefing is not definitive as far as this is concerned; but Peskov’s words are indicative of how he and his bosses think. And such thinking is precisely the kind of blinkered approach to reality which has landed so many Russian and other governments in the past in serious trouble.

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