Friday, November 28, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Russians Now a Minority in Almost a Third of Country’s Federal Units, MVD Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 28 – The demographic decline of the Russian nation means that ethnic Russians are today a minority in almost 30 of the country’s federal regions and republics, a trend that explains why the country needs so many immigrants despite the problems they cause on their own and provoke in others, according to Russia’s deputy minister of internal affairs.
Speaking to a conference yesterday on the defense of the rights and freedoms of national minorities, Yevgeny Shkolov said that “without an influx of workers from abroad, the state would not be able to develop further,” but both he and other senior MVD officials said that the influx was creating real problems (
On of them is the dramatic and unacceptable rise in the number of extremist crimes, according to Lt.Gen. Yury Kokov, who oversees MVD efforts to counter such violations. Over the last four years, he told the gathering which included officials of the Federal Migration Service, the number of such crimes has grown more than 300 percent.
And he anticipates that the situation with regard to ethnic crime is likely to get worse soon as a result of worsening economic conditions. MVD specialists project that with every one percent rise in unemployment among migrant workers, there will be a five percent jump in the number of crimes they commit.
That pattern will be exacerbated by “new waves of immigrants” from the countries of Central Asia and the southern Caucasus where conditions are even worse. And it will generate a response among the indigenous Russian population in the form of hate crimes. Indeed, participants at the meeting said, “that is already happening.”
To try to prevent the situation from getting out of hand, interior ministry officials said, they have decided to create a department within the MVD for countering extremism as well as a number of “specialized [but not further described] subdivisions” in lower ranking organs of internal affairs. (
But Shkolov noted that his agency cannot solve the problem by “law enforcement and force methods” alone. And he called for the broadest possible cooperation between institutions of civil society, religious organizations, and the government, including his own MVD, at all levels throughout the country.
One form of that will strike many as a form of censorship: Alu Alkhanov, Russia’s deputy justice minister, told the meeting that Moscow is now planning a state system of expertise to evaluate materials in the print and electronic media” to determine whether such materials were likely to exacerbate interethnic and interreligious tensions (
And on the same time, Russian news agencies reported that the Federation Council is drafting legislation that will require all migrants who come to live and work in Russia to pass an examination on their knowledge of the national language, a move that would discourage some and enrage others (
Coming on top of a drumbeat of bad economic news and calls by the Russian Orthodox Church among others for the formation of popular militias to keep migrants in line, the statements at this week’s conference, although undoubtedly intended to suggest that the authorities are dealing with the problems, almost certainly will add fuel to the fire.
At the very least, the notion that Russians are becoming a minority in their own country because of an influx of migrants will frighten many and lead some to be more supportive of radical nationalist groups and more deferential to a Kremlin increasingly interested in controlling the media and otherwise tightening the screws on Russian society.
But the speeches at yesterday’s meeting in Moscow will have another consequence as well: they will certainly spark commentators to speculate about where Russia is heading and whether the country is, as one writer put it this week, “only a year away from a catastrophe” like that of Nazi Germany 70 years ago (
Neither the popular fears and anger nor the discussions by both those who want radical change and those who fear it will necessarily change the situation, but to the extent they come together – and reporting on meetings like yesterday’s makes that likely – they could produce a popular explosion or a government crackdown -- or perhaps most likely a series of both.

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