Thursday, June 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow City’s Outreach to Non-Russian Student Groups Angers Russians

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 25 – A decision by the Moscow city’s council on nationality affairs to create a consultative body including the representatives of ethnic organizations in the city’s higher educational institutions as part of a broader effort to reduce ethnic tensions has infuriated many Russians who have denounced it as yet another unwarranted concession to minorities.
This week, the Moscow city government’s Nationality Affairs Council, which was set up last spring, called for the formation of a union of the organizations of non-Russian student groups in the capital’s higher educational institutions as part of the city’s effort to reverse the rise in tensions among ethnic communities there (
The city has long maintained a House of Nationalities modeled on Soviet-era precedent, but except for its website ( which provides a useful listing of most of the ethnic organizations in Moscow and updates on their activities, this institution has been relatively inactive.
Earlier this year, however, in the face of rising ethnic tensions in the city, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov created the new council. And this week, after many delays, the group held its first meeting under the chairmanship of Vice Mayor Sergey Baydakov to discuss creating a union of non-Russian student groups and to adopt new measures to combat xenophobia and extremism.
Non-Russians, according to various Internet sites, support both measures, hopeful that the new union will give them access to the authorities when they find themselves in conflict either with Russian nationalist groups or with each other, even though there appear to be some concerns that the new structure will give the city government more control over them.
And these same non-Russians also appear to support the creation of working groups in all the prefectures of Moscow drawn from various bureaucracies to collect information about ethnic tensions and to help the government craft a rapid response to any problems in order to nip them in the bud (
But if the non-Russian students appear to be happy with these arrangements, many Russian nationalists do not. On the one hand, they argue, this latest action of the city of Moscow “legalizes ethnic youth bands of student migrants” (
And on the other, the Russian nationalists insist, this is yet another example of the government paying attention to the “interests of ethnic minorities [as] expressed in national organizations” while ignoring “the interests of [ethnic] Russians” who are unlikely to be invited to sessions of this “’council on nationality affairs’” (
That is because, the nationalists say, those ethnic Russians who do organize themselves on a nationality basis are considered “’fascists’” who are “’sick with xenophobia’” and thus not the kind of people the authorities want to work with, even though the Russians are the titular nationality of the state.
Not only is this “the standard russophobic arrangement,” the Russian nationalists say, but it will create among the non-Russians an even greater sense of being beyond the reach of the law. Thus, if a non-Russian is stopped by the militia, the nationalists say, he is likely to say that he is a member of a body officially registered with the city and thus should not be touched.
Still worse, some of the Russian nationalists say, this latest action will allow some non-Russian groups to assume that they have official permission to organize armed groups to defend themselves, something Russian groups have suggested should be the exclusive prerogative of members of the dominant ethnic community (
Few non-Russian groups and especially student groups appear at all interested in doing so, but as more and more students from non-Russian areas come to Moscow and seek mutual support, they are taking steps to form the kind of ethnic organization that xenophobic Russian nationalists see as prima facie evidence of a problem.
But the difficulties such students encounter are now so great that officials from their home countries and from non-Russian areas within Russia are increasingly active in promoting the organization of the groups that the government of the city capital now seeks to group under its own umbrella group and to maintain close contact with.
The actions of the Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek embassies in Moscow in this regard are well-known, but even the governments of republics within the Russian Federation are supporting the organization of groups of students of their titular nationality who are enrolled in the higher educational institutions of Moscow.
Indeed, earlier this week, the permanent representation of the Komi Republic to the President of the Russian Federation took the lead in forming a Union of Finno-Ugric Youth in Moscow, a group that plans to promote “the Finno-Ugric space of Moscow as seen through the eyes of young people” (

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