Thursday, January 8, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Tajik Activist Calls on Russian Media to Stop Fanning Ethnic Hatreds

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 8 – Russian journalists, in violation of their own code of professional ethics, are fanning the flames of ethnic hatred against migrants and thus opening the way for violent actions by extreme nationalist and fascist groups, according to a Tajik activist in the Russian city of Ryazan.
In an article posted on yesterday, Azim Makhsumov, the head of that city’s section of Tajik Labor Migrants, argues that Russian journalists, including some working for the most respected electronic and print activists, are violating their own principles by attacking immigrant groups (
Makhsumov, who provides his own email address (, cites two documents that he says Russian journalists should follow: the Code of Professional Ethnics of the Russian Journalist, adopted by the Congress of Journalists of Russia in June 1994 and a resolution of a December 2008 Moscow conference on media treatment of ethnic relations.
The first holds that a journalist must recognize the dangers that his reporting can produce and thus do everything possible to “counter extremism and the limitation of civil rights on any basis, including gender, race, language, religion, political or other views, as well as social and national origin.”
And the second specifies that journalists “must be responsible for not initiating or deepening interethnic conflicts, lack of understanding and suspiciousness among various ethnic groups” and that they must not publish materials which spark ethnic hatred, “contain racist and xenophobic expressions,” or “denigrate the dignity of any peoples.”
Unfortunately, Makhsumov says, Russian journalists have not lived up to these principles in their coverage of migrant laborers. Instead, all too often, they have engaged in “the blackening” of their reputations and the reputation of the peoples and countries from which they come.
And whether they intend it or not, Russian journalists who do so are creating “an ideological basis for fascist and nationalistic organizations” because their articles and reports often allow members of such groups “to feel that they are national heroes who are saving Russia” from the immigrants.
Journalists need to remember, Makhsumov says, that “crime does not have a nationality. Murderers murder, rapists rape, thieves steal. And only they do so. One must not accuse any one people, any one nation, or any one social group of being uniquely criminal” lest the unprejudiced become bigoted and the bigoted even more so.
The consequences of such reporting, he continues, are being exacerbated by two other types of articles that are now becoming ever more common in the Russian media. On the one hand, many Russian journalists are now blaming the Central Asian peoples for gaining their independence in 1991 and thus destroying the Soviet Union.
“The striving for freedom and independence,” the Tajik activist points out, “is a national action of any people, any state and any individual. But it is impermissible to distort historical facts” and to act as if the sources of labor migrants are to blame. “Remember who signed the Belovezhskaya Pushcha accords,” he suggests. It was not the Central Asians.
And on the other, ever more Russian journalists are suggesting that the Russian-speaking population of Central Asia is being subjected to persecution. “This is,” Makhsumov argues. Yes, many people have moved out of that region and out of Russia since 1991 but these are “natural migration processes.”
“No one speaks about the persecution” of the Jews of Tajikistan even though 98 percent of them have left, he continues, and “no one speaks of the persecution” of ethnic Germans in the Russian Federation, although all but 700,000 of what had been a five-million-person strong community have moved out.
In Tajikistan today, Makhsumov says, “the Russian language population has the opportunity to receive both middle and higher education in Russian.” Russian speakers occupy senior positions in the government, the economy and the academic sectors. And Tajiks have built war memorials and begun construction of Orthodox churches as well.
“And that is far from all: Russian is one of the government languages of Tajikistan,” a fact that by itself should be enough, the Tajik activist suggests, to lead responsible journalists to recognize that Russian speakers in his Central Asian homeland have an easier time of it than Tajik speakers do in Russia.
But unfortunately, he continues, some people are “intentionally attempting to set our peoples against each other” and “actively using the [Russian] media” to promote their agenda. Journalists need to recognize that and struggle against such efforts in order to end what Makhsumov calls “the unconstructive and dangerous campaign against migration.”

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