Monday, January 7, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kondopoga-Like Clashes Now Possible Everywhere in Russia at Any Time, Expert Says

Paul Goble

Baku, January 7 – Increasing tensions between Russians and Caucasian migrants and Moscow’s failure to address this problem mean that violent clashes like those which occurred in Kondopoga at the end of summer in 2006 could be repeated “at any time and in any territory of the Russian Federation,” according to a new investigation.
In a detailed study of what happened in that Karelian city 18 months ago, Igor’ Pal’tsev suggests that Kondopoga represents “in miniature” the country as a whole. Neither its population nor its officials were unique in any way, and consequently, similar incidents are likely (
Indeed, the human rights advisor to the Karelian government told at the end of last week, not only have similar clashes already been reported in a few cities, but he and most residents of Karelia believe that there already have been far more of them than officials have been willing to admit or the media report.
The 38-page study features a chronology, interviews with participants and experts, and a vast array of polling data. But because the report was released just before the holidays, it attracted little attention. (For the report itself: December 20; for a first news story:
Now, with the winter holidays approaching their end and links to the report appearing in the past few days not only on the anti-immigrant portal Movement Against Illegal Immigration ( but also the religious affairs site of the Institute on Religion and Politics (, that almost certainly will change.

Two groups are likely to reject Pal’tsev’s findings out of hand: those in Moscow who will view his argument as an effort by Karelian officials to escape blame, and those both in the Russian capital and elsewhere who will be disturbed by his focus on the reasons many ethnic Russians feel so angry rather than on the rights of minorities.
But Pal’tsev’s report is important precisely because he puts Kondopoga in the broader context of social and political change and of the absence of an effective Russian nationality policy and because he focuses on the attitudes of the ethnic Russian majority, often the last group whose attitudes human rights organizations focus on.
Citing poll results and quoting those directly involved in Kondopoga, Pal’tsev insists that the crisis there was the result of the social changes that took place not only there but throughout the country after 1991, changes that brought more Russians into contact with non-Russians and reordered the ethnic hierarchy most had come to expect.
On the one hand, he notes, the new freedoms individuals had to move from one place to another and to open small businesses and thus possibly enrich themselves were exploited far more often by people from the Caucasus rather than by the ethnic Russians themselves, a trend that threatened the primacy Russians had always assumed was theirs.
And on the other hand, he argues, the central Russian government, given its focus on economic issues, both ignored the impact of these developments and often exacerbated them by playing down, in the opinion of many Russians, of the role members of non-Russians groups played in the rising tide of crime across the country.
Given this pattern, Pal’tsev says, many Russians in Kondopoga and elsewhere are infuriated both by the actions of the new arrivals whose culture and mores are very different than their own and by the actions or -- more commonly -- inactions of their own government in responding to this new reality.
The intensity of these feelings meant that it took very little to set off the Russian community in Kondopoga and that the first demand of that community was that Moscow and its local representatives do something to defend the rights and interests of the majority or at least get out of the way and allow Russians to do so on their own.
Such attitudes are not confined to Kondopoga, Pal’tsev continues, citing a variety of survey data to support his point. And they will only intensify if Moscow does not recognize that “the majority of Russians” are unhappy with many of the changes, ethnic as well as economic, that have shaken their lives over the last 15 years.
If the government fails to implement a serious nationality policy, he said, then “a further sharpening of inter-ethnic relations” will inevitably occur. And in the relatively near future, that trend could even lead to “the disintegration of the [Russian] state” much as anger against hapless Soviet officials helped power the destruction of the USSR.

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