Sunday, February 22, 2009

Window on Eurasia: FSB Tries but Fails to Block Creation of Gastarbeiter Union

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 22 – Russia’s Federal Security Service failed in its efforts to block the creation in Yekaterinburg of a new International Union for the Support of Labor Migrants, but the FSB’s “conversations” over the last several weeks with potential participants did discourage some ethnic, religious and labor groups from taking part.
Yesterday, as he had promised to do earlier this month, Geidar Dzhemal, the chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia chaired the founding conference of the new union, one that he hopes will not only defend the rights of labor migrants but promote internationalism more generally (
The left-wing activist said that he had chosen to hold the session in Yekaterinburg not only because that city is “considered the center of Eurasia but also because it was precisely [there] that in November 2008 the first strike of labor migrants in the history of Russia took place.”
The group’s first task, he said, will be “to work for the defense of the most dispossessed and weakened strata of Russian society,” the labor migrants, regardless of their ethnicity, positions in the workforce or citizenship. But in addition, he said, the new group will seek “the conversion of defenseless national minorities into participants in the broader political sector.”
According to Dzhemal, the union has attracted support from “practically all diasporas and regional organizations of labor migrants in Russia, including “Vainakhs [Chechens and Ingush], Tatars, Bashkirs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Poles. And he said that he hoped the group will soon have branches across the Russian Federation (
One of the reasons he said the group must promote internationalism is that “contemporary tyranny” inevitably seeks to “destroy any effective opposition and any consolidation of protest” by setting one group against another on the basis through the promotion and dissemination of nationalist myths.
To that end, Dzhemal continued, his group will not only take steps to integrate labor migrants into Russian society by promoting Russian language and cultural knowledge among them but also by “unmasking the negative actions of any destabilizing structures like the DPNI [the Movement Against Illegal Immigration].”
But despite suggesting that his group enjoys the support of many businesses and “practically all diaspora communities,” the Islamic Committee leader had to concede that the first meeting had attracted “not 300 people as [he] had planned but on the order of 40” representatives of various groups.
He told that this was the result of “definite technical obstacles,” which he did not enumerate. But another source,, which is sympathetic to Dzhemal’s leftist program, said that ever since he had announced plans to hold this meeting, the FSB had sought to discourage people from taking part (
In a story entitled “The FSB is Preparing ‘A Warm Welcome’ for Geidar Dzhemal” that appeared the day before the conference, this Internet portal said that FSB officers had called in local Muslim leaders there and interrogated them, in one case until “four o’clock in the morning” about their contacts with Dzhemal.
Those who had been invited in for such “conversations” told that “the competent organs” had said they planned to interrogate Dzhemal himself about “extremism,” a statement that was clearly intended to frighten those thinking about taking part in yesterday’s session.
Whether the new “InterUnion” will take off or not is difficult to say. On the one hand, many of Dzhemal’s earlier projects have fallen flat after dramatic announcements of their launch. But on the other, the deteriorating economic situation and rising unemployment among labor migrants may give his latest undertaking greater success.
At the very least, Dzhemal’s plans to take on groups like the DPNI, some of whose members have armed themselves in order to form “popular militias” and defend Russians against immigrants, could set the stage for conflicts. And to no one’s surprise, the FSB has come down on the side of the often violent nationalists rather than the typically oppressed Gastarbeiters.

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