Baku, January 21 – Nearly one in every six young people in the Russian Federation has nationalist views, compared to fewer than one in 20 of their elders, a senior Russian interior minister told a Moscow conference on “National Security in Russia at the Present Stage” over the weekend.
Among the young in his country, Aleksandr Chekalin, first deputy MVD chief said, “up to 15 percent” now have “nationalistic views,” compared to only 4.6 percent of the population as a whole, a pattern helps explain the dramatic rise in the number of extremist crimes (http://www.rian.ru/society/statistics_soc/20080119/97344036.html).
According to the deputy interior minister, the number of such incidents which have led prosecutors to file charges jumped from139 in 2005 to 356 last year. Chekalin added that his ministry believes there are 1,000 ethnically based criminal groups in the country.
Such attitudes, crimes and organizations, the MVD official said, have “a direct influence on the general security of the country.”
But in other remarks, the first deputy minister reported that the number of terrorist acts had fallen by 57 percent over the last year to 48 in 2007. At the same time, however, he told the meeting that there had been 759 “crimes of a terrorist character,” many of which consisted of “false reports of threats of explosions” (http://www.vss.su/node/154).
While saying there had been 18 cases of hostage taking and 837 kidnappings last year, he put these numbers in context by saying that there had been almost “half a million” economic crimes,” including 28,600 in the tax sphere, and pointing out that “every seventh crime” in Russia was committed by someone who was drunk at the time.
Chekalin’s complete text and those of other speakers at Saturday’s Moscow meeting have not yet been published so more details of his remarks may surface over the next several days. But what has been reported so far about the content of deputy minister’s speech Saturday prompts three comments.
First, all of his figures about crimes should be treated with caution not only because they involve only those reported to and resulting in charges by the authorities but also because prosecutors have broad latitude in deciding how to categorize particular crimes and in reporting them to the public.
That is why Chekalin could say in the same speech that the number of terrorist acts had declined to 48 last year – thus echoing the statements of President Vladimir Putin – but also say that there had been 759 “crimes of a terrorist nature” during the same period, a figure that if reported on its own would call into question Putin’s claims.
Second, in his discussion of attitudes, ethnically based crimes, and ethnically based criminal groups, the MVD deputy chief is lumping together those of ethnic Russians and those of non-Russian nationalities, something that makes it very difficult to know just what his message in fact was.
On the one hand, past MVD reporting suggest that his comments about nationalist attitudes have more to do with the ethnic Russian majority that with representatives of other groups. But on the other, these same considerations suggest that his comments about ethnic crime and ethnic criminal groups are more about the latter than the former.
And third, Chekalin’s figures about young people in the Russian Federation being more nationalistic are almost certainly true, but they too require some explanation, especially since he, at least in the reports so far, did not provide details on where he obtained those figures or on any differences between Russians and non-Russians.
A major part of the explanation for these generational differences is that young people, especially those in post-Soviet Russia, are likely to be more willing to express their nationalism openly than are those in older age cohorts. They simply do not feel the same political or ideological constraints their elders do.
At the same time, however, young people may have more reason to feel nationalist than do their parents and grandparents. Changes in the demographic make up of Russia and especially of its major cities mean that members of different ethnic groups are more likely to come into contact with other groups than were their parents.
And such increasing contact, especially if it is competitive as it is more likely to be among young people just entering independent life than it is among their elders who are in most cases more established, almost certainly will reinforce ethnic identities and generate nationalistic attitudes about other groups.
But however that may be, Chekalin’s figures point to two indisputable conclusions. On the one hand, the younger generation in that country is equally or even more nationalistic than the ones that came before. And on the other, the Russian government is worried about that trend and its impact on that country’s national security.