Vienna, June 4 – A wave of violence in Stavropol kray between ethnic Russians and people from the Caucasus has raised fears that the country may be facing an inter-ethnic crisis “one hundred times worse” than last summer’s clashes in the Karelian city of Kondopoga.
The clash between Russians and Caucasians in Stavropol’s capital on May 24 in which the militia had to fire over the heads of those involved and in which one North Caucasian was killed and 30 from both sides hospitalized now appears to have given birth to yet another tragedy.
Yesterday, officials found the bodies of two young Stavropol residents who had been killed by knife wounds, and both officials and residents of that southern Russian region are now saying that “the Caucasians are in this way taking revenge for their own losses” and that they fear more ethnic clashes are ahead.
But such views, to the extent that they shape the response of the government and the local population, are perhaps even more dangerous than the clashes themselves, according to Sergei Markedonov, one of Moscow’s leading specialists on inter-ethnic relations in the Caucasus (http://politcom.ru/article.php?id=4651).
In an essay posted online today, Markedonov argues that officials must stop deceiving themselves on two points. On the one hand, they must cease to tell themselves and others that “all arguments in Russia occur because the neighbors don’t agree among themselves” about graffiti.
And on the other, they must recognize that the only way to keep the situation from spiraling out of control not only in hotspots like Stavropol but across the country is to focus “not [on] collective rights but [on] the guilt of individuals.” Otherwise, they will only exacerbate popular feelings.
Unfortunately, the Moscow analyst continues, Russian officials both in the regions and in the center do not appear to have learned this lesson up to now. “The under-rating of the ethnic motivation” of clashes in the 1950s and 1960s, he suggests, led directly to the tragedies of Karabakh and Chechnya in the 1980s and 1990s.
Two other reports over the last several days suggest, however, that many officials do not yet understand this danger and are failing to recognize that what they do will have the most profound consequences for inter-ethnic and inter-confessional peace in the Russian Federation.
Today, prosecutors in Karelia announced that six “natives of the Caucasus” have been charged with inciting violence and in one case with murder in the disturbances that led to the mass evacuation of Chechens from Kondopoga at the end of last summer. All six are under arrest, officials said (http://www.kavkaz.memo.ru/, June 4).
The issue here, of course, is not whether prosecutors have charged the right people but rather that by identifying the ethnicity of those involved and by not charging members of other ethnic groups – in particular, the dominant Russians – at the same time, they have raised rather than lowered ethnic tensions there and elsewhere.
And a second development, reported on Saturday, is even more likely to disturb the situation. Arkadiy Yedelyev, Russia’s deputy interior minister, said that his agency has “evidence that the organizers” of the Nalchik violence in 2005 had “ties with the special services of the West” which are interested in “the destabilization” of the situation.
At a press conference in the KBR, Yedelyev added that these people and their Sufi murid allies had “until recently been on the territory” of that North Caucasus republic, that they remain at large and “have not laid down their arms” (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=12668).
While the deputy minister suggested that economic problems and unsolved crimes were to blame for instability there, his words about the ethnicity of those involved and their supposed links to outsider agitators, this time in the form of Western intelligence services, virtually invite a new witch hunt.
If they do lead to that result, the spectre of Kondopoga which many are again raising will almost certainly spread and threaten stability not only in the Caucasus but across the Russian Federation as a whole.