Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Analysts Disagree on Where Russian Anger about the North Caucasus is Heading

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 27 – The latest wave of violence in the North Caucasus and especially by people from that region in Moscow and other Russian cities is leading ever more Russians to revise what they think Moscow should do in response, according to Russian analysts, with an increasing number inclined to let it and the peoples in it simply go.
But another analyst there has warned that this shift in attitudes, one that some are calling “a trend of the season,” reflects the often hyperbolic and overheated views expressed on the Internet rather than a fundamental shift in Russian attitudes and argued against basing any political conclusions on this “trend.”
In a comment to the New Region press agency today, Petr Milserdov, identified by the agency as a Moscow political technologist, suggests that one can best understand what is taking place now by comparing what happened to relations among national groups at the end of the Soviet period (www.nr2.ru/moskow/293803.html).
At that time, he said, “good inter-ethnic relations were called international friendship, although, from [his] point of view, [this phenomenon] existed exclusively as a result of the spending of Russians: We paid the rest so that they would be friends with us” – an arrangement that meant when Moscow stopped paying, such “friendship” quickly ended.
Milserdov suggested that Moscow’s nationality policy now is “at a minimum strange” with Russia sending money to the North Caucasus supposedly to solve ethnic problems but in fact only making them worse. Indeed, he said, “[Russians] in essence are putting out a fire with gasoline, thus allowing it to expand ever more.”
Because ever more Russians understand that and have concluded that their investment in the North Caucasus is counterproductive, “the basic population of Russia is ever less inclined to put up with the existing situation.” On the one hand, there is increasing hostility to people from the region among Russians, something that Milserdov says will only increase.
But on the other, he continued, “if early there was an inclination to fight with them, then now there is a new attitude – to bid them goodbye forever. An evolution of views is taking place along this line to the point that [ever more Russians are prepared] to bid them goodbye once and for all.”
This, Milserdov says somewhat ominously, is “the trend of the season.”
Anyone who tracks Russian attitudes as expressed on the Internet alone might reach the same conclusion, but Vitaly Ivanov, the vice president of the Moscow Center of Political Conjunction, told the agency that “the Internet picture of public attitudes is extremely far from the real sociological one.”
“A large segment of the bloggers as well as users of forums and social networks consists of a group of individuals who in ordinary life are not active at all. Simply speaking, they can write online threatening odes and demand the killing of all Caucasians or the killing of all the Russians. But in real life, this individual won’t get involved” with groups promoting those ideas.
There are serious inter-ethnic conflicts in Russia and they will continue, but one need not “panic,” Ivanov continued. Moreover, “one must not say that it has gotten worse precisely now. If you will, it has been sharpened over the last 15 to 20 years,” with some conflicts left over from Soviet times and others having arisen since then.
One of the real dangers, Ivanov said, is that “discussions in the press and in the Internet to a large degree contribute to the exacerbation of inter-ethnic conflicts.” Indeed, as more people take part, this can lead to “an escalation of the conflict” and to “self-fulfilling prophecies” when people talk about something long enough that it ends up becoming true.
That could prove to be the case in the current situation, but a more sober assessment of what is happening now between Russia and the North Caucasus, Ivanov suggested, is that the problems that do exist are “still in the limits in which the government, law enforcement organs, and responsible political forces can respond” and thus stem “more negative consequences.”


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