Vienna, December 20 – A call by a Duma member to restrict immigration in order to “fight radical Islam” and a suggestion by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov that Russian citizens should get the jobs many guest workers now fill appear certain to spark a new wave of inter-ethnic violence in the Russian Federation.
Until recently anti-immigrant statements generally emanated from xenophobic groups like the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) or famously outspoken politicians like Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but in recent weeks, these statements have entered the mainstream as a result of worsening economic conditions.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that he favored cutting immigration quotas in half in 2009, a statement that many in and around DPNI welcomed as a victory for their views and one that appears to have triggered new violence by Russian extremists against people from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
But on Wednesday, this already tense situation was exacerbated by an interview Semen Bagdasarov, a member of the Duma’s international relations committee, gave to “NG-Religii (religion.ng.ru/politic/2008-12-17/1_jihad.html) about this issue, and even more so by a new statement from Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (www.narodru.ru/news20094.html).
In his interview, Bagdasarov said that Moscow must adopt new laws to limit the influx of radical Islamist terrorists from Central Asia and the Caucasus who threaten to bring “the global jihad” into the Russian Federation and result in terrorist acts against the Russian people and the Russian state.
Among the measures he suggested was the introduction of visa regimes with many of these states, the development of measures to monitor “suspicious elements” among immigrants, and the adoption a law that would impose criminal penalties on employers who did not ensure that workers they dismissed were sent back to their homelands.
But even that will not be enough to deal with the problem, Bagdasarov continued. Moscow must direct the Muslim clergy in Russia to conduct an ideological campaign against the supporters of “global jihad” and “field commanders” from the hotspots in the North Caucasus and Central Asia, something the Russian authorities have not yet done.
None of these measures on its face is necessarily a bad thing given the dangers that emanate from some Islamist groups, but – and this is what is critical – many Russian extremists will see this as a hunting license to attack immigrants, since this invocation of an Islamist threat will silence many in Moscow and the West who might otherwise criticize such attacks.
Druzhinniki, popular militias whose members sometimes carry arms and which have links to the Russian Orthodox Church’s nationalist wing, are already patrolling Russian cities seeking to keep immigrants from any actions that violate law and order, a development that has prompted some Muslim groups hitherto quiescence to become more active.
And organizations like DPNI also appear to be becoming increasingly active despite attacks on their leaders and the recent conviction of several individuals linked to that group for xenophobic actions, all of which has alarmed human rights groups in Moscow and elsewhere (religion.sova-center.ru/events/13B74CE/14C8529/C309FD1).
But even worse situation may lie ahead, particularly given the populist statement this week of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov who said that Russian should get the jobs migrants now hold, with quotas on the latter being established not only at the national level but in each individual plant and factory.
Speaking to a conference of law enforcement officials, Luzhkov said that it was imperative that quotas for immigrants be cut in Moscow and that the freed-up work places be given to natives of the Russian capital, a populist statement that will likely lead some Russian workers to demand that migrants be dismissed.
For many years, Luzhkov has taken a hard line against migrants even as his city has benefited from them. Most infamously, in October 1994, he issued the infamous order to expel from Moscow “persons of Caucasus nationality,” an order that not only was extended to other cities but sparked violence against migrants and set the stage for the Chechen war.
At that time, in the wake of the conflict between Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet, Western governments led by the United States did not condemn that openly racist action lest it undermine the Russian president. One can only hope that these governments will not sit idly by as an even more outrageously discriminatory step is taken in Russia now.