Vienna, August 30 – “Behind a façade of harmony,” ethnic relations in the city of Moscow are deteriorating because native Muscovites, who are overwhelmingly ethnic Russians, view newly arrived immigrants, who are from the Caucasus and Central Asia, as a “societal” threat, according to a new survey of ethnographic research there.
In a heavily footnoted study, V.G. Stel’makh, a senior researcher at Culture Ministry’s Institute of Cultural Studies, discusses how Muscovites differ from other Russians on this point and how officials should help to narrow the divide between Russians and non-Russians there (http://www.islamrf.ru/articles.php?razdel=1&sid=809).
In many Russian cities, migrants are generating xenophobic attitudes because they compete for a limited number of jobs. But in Moscow, this is much less of a problem for most Russians, and that is reflected in the failure to radicals to mobilize people, in polls and in the support various non-Russian groups receive from the city government.
But while all that is the case, he continues, there are three major reasons for concern. First, in Moscow, there is a huge difference between non-Russian groups whose members arrived long ago and who have adapted to Russian cultural patterns and the more recent waves of new arrivals who have not.
Second, the non-Russian organizations to which the Moscow city authorities have given support, backing that has led many people to conclude that ethnic relations in Moscow are fine, tend to be dominated by non-Russians who have been in the city for a long time and who have been acculturated.
And third, while Muscovites do not express extreme nationalist views to pollsters, they do in far larger percentages than do those in other Russian cities react with horror or anger at the behavior of new arrivals, viewing them as threats to their “societal” arrangements and as potential rioters on the model of Muslims in Paris in the fall of 2005.
Indeed, Sel’makkh points out, polls have repeatedly shown that nearly four out of five Muscovites “sincerely believe in the possibility” that disorders like those which occurred in the French capital two years ago could very easily take place in their own city sometime soon.
Taking all this into consideration, Stel’makh says, it is possible to say that “the nationality question” as it has typically been understood has retreated “to the periphery of mass consciousness.” But while that is the case, “xenophobia has become a systemic factor of life in the capital city.”
And he suggests that this xenophobia represents a threat to civil peace because, as various studies have shown, that means ethnic and religious relations could explode, with violent clashes set off by unpredictable, unexpected and in themselves quite minor incidents.
Both Russian Federation and Moscow city officials are aware of this danger, he suggests. But to date, they have thought they can best address it by talking up tolerance and bringing together representatives of Russian and non-Russian communities to build bridges between the two.
Such efforts are noble, Stel’makh says, but in and of themselves, they are doomed to fail. On the one hand, the ethnic Russian community is not well-organized and thus is not effectively represented at such meetings. And on the other, the non-Russians there are the wrong ones – acculturated longtime residents rather than new arrivals.
Consequently, while Stel’makh does not call for an end to such measures, he does suggest that overcoming the current divide between Russian Muscovites and non-Russian new arrivals will require the development of a broader based civil society, one in which all relevant groups organize themselves rather than be organized by the state.
Given how difficult it is likely to be for such a self-organizing civil society to emerge in Moscow, Stel’makh’s analysis suggests that the near and medium term prospects for ethnic peace in the Russian capital are far less good than a first glance at the situation there might suggest.