Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Window on Eurasia: A ‘Kondopoga at the Gates of Moscow’

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 25 – Following a clash between gastarbeiters from Central Asia and ethnic Russian residents on Saturday night, residents of the city of Kalyazin, some 150 kilometers from Moscow, assembled on Monday and demanded that all non-Russians leave the town, something that appears to have occurred, leading to the suspension of construction work.
Even though details about what has occurred remain sketchy and in dispute – most information derives from blogs rather than the local media -- these events because they are taking place so close to the Russian capital are already being compared to the clashes in Kondopoga in Karelia in 2006, although the fallout from these events may prove even greater.
According to both the local media and blogs, “the conflict began over a girl” when at a Kalyazin bar on Saturday night, “gastarbeiters attempted to rape a local resident,” prompting “local youths to come her defense” and leading the gastarbeiters to shout “Death to Russians!” That in turn led to the burning of gastarbeiter cars (
Several people were taken to the hospital, and the authorities both attempted to play down the clash as nothing more than “a drunken fight” and called in OMON units to try to restore order. But instead of calming the situation, these efforts had the opposite effect, leading to a large meeting in the city on Monday.
That meeting demanded that “all citizens of the near abroad” be expelled from the Kalyazin district, and according to some accounts, both the passion and the timing of these demands were linked to the fact that many parents are fearful about the security of their children on the streets now that school is about to begin.
City and district officials eventually showed up at the session, although there were complaints that they did not come quickly. On the one hand, they sought to reassure the residents that their city was “tense but calm” and that rumors to the contrary were “black PR” intended to destroy the image of the district.
But on the other, some of them sought to shift responsibility for what had happened to local contractors who had employed the gastarbeiters, even though most of the construction projects are controlled by the city and even though these officials denied that the clashes had anything to do with ethnicity or nationality.
Sergey Bitov, the head of the city, released online a curious statement in which he tried to calm the residents. He noted that much that is being said about Kalyazin is “distorted” and that “in any conflict, only one side will not be guilty.” And he added that he personally has “many friends among Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians.”
Moreover, Bitov continued, “not so long ago at the Lion [bar] where Saturday’s clashes occurred, “a Russian killed a Russian, but this was of no interest to those who write on the Internet … and all were silent. The city head called on residents to show good sense and recognize that “people are people regardless of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes.”
Bitov’s statement, however, only added fuel to the fire. Some local residents were upset by his suggestion that Russians bore some responsibility for what happened, and others were outraged by what they said was official “protection” for the gastarbeiters, who thus were given to understand that they could behave as they like.
One blogger complained that “the administration can never allow that the conflict would be recognized as one between nationalities. Then, heads in the local MVD and the Administration would roll. Therefore,” he said, “ the administration does everything it can to show that this [clash] was an ordinary one,” something no one else believes.
As of last night, it appears that all the gastarbeiters have left the Kalyazin district. Their houses and apartments are empty, some of which have had their windows broken. Some of their animals are wandering about. And work at the construction sites where they had been employed has stopped.
It came to light last night that Kalyazin officials have been worried about the possibility of ethnic clashes there at least for the last several weeks. On August 12th, the administration of the Kalyazin district held a meeting on how to cope with “the temporary presence of foreign citizens” there (
That meeting in fact may even have intensified local anger because the officials taking part in it stated bluntly that “from the operational reports of the militia we learn about cases of theft both in residences and on the streets and about violations of public order at night” by the gastarbeiters from Central Asia and the Caucasus.

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