Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow City Officials Announce Plans to Set up Ethnic Enclaves

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 29 – Relations between ethnic Russians and non-Russians in Moscow deteriorating so rapidly that officials in desperation are taking a step that only a month ago they denounced as dangerously counterproductive: they are setting up special housing districts for non-Russians.
A week ago, the press service of the South-East Administrative District announced that it was building four such residential areas “for foreigners and outsider migrants,” a step that will have the effect of concentrating such people in particular places with all the problems that seems certain to cause (www.utro.ru/news/2008/07/23/754056.shtml).
Calling such districts “ghettos for gastarbeiters,” “Novyye izvestiya” quoted Nikita Mkrtchyan, a migration specialist at the Moscow Center for Demography and Human Ecology, to the effect that these official plans were only a step away from creating “ethnic quarters living their own life” (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-07-24/94521/).
And Karomat Sharipov, the president of the All-Russian Movement of Labor Migrants of Tajikistan in Russia, added that “such urban regions can turn into a real magnet for various extremist groups.” With their creation, he said, “skinheads will not have to think anymore about where to find their victims.”
But there is another danger too: the non-Russians living in them may come under the influence of extremist groups who will find it easier to organize their co-ethnics or co-religionists. Indeed, some non-Slavic groups are now forming self-defense organizations to protect members of their community (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-07-28/94731/).
Given the outrage that met a recent proposal by Mufti Nugman Ashirov, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) for the Asiatic Part of Russia, to set up such enclaves in order to protect Muslims from attacks by skinheads and nationalists, it is striking that Moscow city officials should move so quickly to do just that.
But a drumbeat of reports over the last ten days suggests why local officials, in order to prevent an explosion in their areas, are now prepared to take such a step: First, Aleksandr Bastrykin,, who heads the investigative committee at the procuracy, said that the number of hate crimes in Moscow had risen 600 percent compared to last number.
While the figures he cited, 73 crimes of an extremist character this year compared to “only 13” for the same period in 2007 are small, most reportage focused on the trend rather than the numbers, clearly assuming that the official statistics understate the extent of the problem the city faces (lenta.ru/news/2008/07/25/less/).
Second, human rights activists said that the Russian government “had lost the ideological war to nationalists,” thus opening the way for more advocacy of extremist ideas among what they said were more than 70,000 skinheads in the country as a whole, 20,000 more than a year ago (www.apn.ru/news/article20429.htm).
Third, there is growing evidence that many of these radicals enjoy support within or even by the militia, a situation that could lead to uncontrolled violence if launched by Russian radical extremists against non-Russian and especially Muslim groups. (On this dangerous trend, see zaks.ru/new/archive/view/49202 and xeno.sova-center.ru/45A29F2/B71A12A.)
Fourth, Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam with close ties to the Moscow Patriarchate and also reputedly to the Russian security agencies, said in widely covered remarks that radical Muslims are now to be found in all Russian regions, a statement that only further inflames the situation (www.blagovest-info.ru/index.php?ss=2&s=3&id=21818).
And fifth, and of most immediate impact on the city of Moscow, the leader of the notoriously xenophobic and often violent Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) said last week that there are now 2500 shahids in Moscow ready and willing to visit terrorist violence against law-abiding Russians (www.islamnews.ru/news-13420.html).
In such an environment, local officials may feel they have no choice but to try to separate the Russian nationalists from the non-Russian migrants in housing, even though this “solution” to the problem almost certainly will end by making the situation in the Russian capital even worse – and quite soon at that.

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