In recent days Moscow has been turned upside down by a massive eruption of ethnic discontent. After Egor Sviridov, an ethnic Russian soccer fan, was killed by several rubber bullets from a gun held by another youngster from the Caucasus, peaceful commemoration marches turned into a massive riot counting several thousands of people at Manezh square, right under the walls of the Kremlin. Dark skinned people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time were severely beaten. The ugly images of violence caught on video have been spread all over the world, in TV news items and on the Internet. The awkwardness of the images was vividly captured in this tweet to the president: “How can it be that for half an hour these reptiles could perform the Nazi salute, while standing next to the eternal flame at the monument for the Unknown Soldier, and that nobody stopped them?“
The timeline of events has been analyzed by many newspapers and blogs. There is a broad consensus that ordinary soccer fans and hooligans were provoked into violence by the leaders of ultranationalist organizations.
Much coverage therefore focuses on these instigators and especially the way the authorities have been dealing with fascist radicals in the past and in the present.Many questions still need answers. Why did so many people let themselves be provoked into violence and why is it that this riot has not been followed by an unequivocal public outcry of indignation. Why is it that many Russian citizens sympathize with the protesters?
I found two opinionated articles that capture the mood in Moscow in these days. Both are voices of moderation. Each of them represents a different point of view. The first article [which translation you may find here] is written by Dmitrii Sokolov-Mitrich and published in the online periodical Vzglyad. Sokolov-Mitrich advocates a policy of zero-tolerance. He believes that the people from the Caucasus are to large extent responsible for the criminalization of society. In his opinion the problem of integration is the number one problem for Russia at this moment.
The other article [which translation you may find here] is written by Ol’ga Allenova and was printed in the newspaper Kommersant. Allenova advocates more tolerance. She argues that Russia’s most pressing problems do not depend on nationality issues. Corruption and lawlessness permeate all layers of society. People should stand together to face these problems. She sees the nationality issue as a destructive force. What would be left of Russia, when Russia would become a country for Russians alone?
Between the time of publication and the time of writing this translation Sokolov-Mitrich’s article has been recommended on Facebook by 4343 readers and received 1902 comments. Allenova’s article has been ‘liked’ by 3119 people. Commenting isn’t possible.
When we continue to recollect old resentments, there is no sense in living in one country
You can hear it from all sides: “The Caucasians have taken it too far. Finally someone did something back.” Or: “Russians should no longer let themselves be pushed around. Enough is enough!” Demography scholar Yurii Krupnov openly writes on his blog at Ekho Moskvy that “Russia for the Russians is an absolutely correct principle”. Of course I do understand that to shout “Russia for the Russians” from your seat in Moscow has always been popular and the most convenient way to gain political, social or whatever clout.
I can also understand that ethnic Russians may have claims against the representatives of other nationalities. The great scholar Valerii Tishkov once told me that Russian nationalism to large extent started during the two Chechen wars, when many families had to deal with returning sons that were wounded, killed or whose consciousness had been altered. I know such people. A war can change people’s consciousness like nothing else can. War is massive impunity.
I very well remember those Russian hostages that were killed by lunatics calling themselves Ichkerian separatists. I also remember that the federal TV channels showed the video images of their executions. I remember very well the Russian slaves that were freed during the second Chechen war and the TV items about them on all channels. I remember how my friends wrung their hands, watching these programs. I remember the soldiers and officers that left for Chechnya afterwards. I remember the hate in their eyes. I remember how the people living in the regions adjacent to Chechen territory welcomed the campaign. They thought that the chaos would end, that they could live quietly.
We know however that all these TV items, all these painstakingly repeated stories of exiled Russians were in fact a well directed campaign to gain public support for the war and for violence against an entire people. Yes, of course, the Chechen story had it all: slaves, hostages, endless demands for ransom and the trade in bodies. This however was not a problem caused by inter ethnic relations, it was a problem caused by the authorities that were not able to control a republic governed by criminal groups. In similar ways the authorities could also not control entire neighborhoods in amongst others Moscow, St. Petersburg and Samara. The list with names of cities were people were shot, burnt of buried is endless. These problems were the consequence of the disintegration of the country, how trite it may sound by now. The disintegration was not just territorial. It was also moral. Was it really only Chechnya that lived by such laws? Was it really only Chechnya were slaves were kept? Slavery wasn’t a unique phenomenon in the same Krasnodar region that for a long time has been ruled by criminal groups, which have infiltrated law enforcement and to degree even the executive branch of power. This was confirmed very recently by the story of the Tsapok family, that kept an entire rayon in a state of fear, and wasn’t ashamed to use slave labor. It is true. They did not use the labor of Russian slaves. The slaves were Ukrainian. So perhaps after this story the Ukrainians will also take it to Maidan and demand the expulsion of all Russians from their country.
When we however talk about Chechnya as the source of Russian nationalism, then all Chechens have already paid in full for the Russian slaves and hostages. Not only bandits and zombies who worship the Kalashnikov and Stechkin [type of pistol], but also teachers, doctors, bus drivers, their children, wives and grandparents who died during the bombings of Grozny, Bamut, Argun and Dargo. The second Chechen war – in essence Russia’s revenge for the chaos caused by Chechen bandits – was no battle against these bandits, but a massacre, directed at the general populace. The cases of Budanov, Ul’man and many others made us also see Russian caused chaos in the Caucasus. It was this chaos that gave birth to a counter wave of resistance and violence that swept over the entire Caucasus and later reached Moscow.
For whom do I write this? I would like to say that Chechens have as much resentment towards Russia, as Russians have towards Chechnya. Ingush, Karachays, Kalmyks, Cherkessians feel the same. Each of these peoples has in one time or another been subjected to Russian violence, wether that was during the Russian imperium, the Soviet state or the current state. I will tell you another cliche. “When we continue to recollect old resentments, there is no sense at all in living in one country”
And I would like to ask Yurii Trupnov and all the others who screamed obscenities against the Caucasus on Manezh, as well as those that went out on the streets in Rostov. Is your separatism sincere? Or do you simply do not understand what you do? Russia for the Russians is a Russia without the Caucasus, without Tatartsan, without Bashkiriya, without the Yamalo Nenetsky region, without Chukotka and so forth. Would you like to live in a Russia that has the same borders as in the 16th C. Do you think that Russia will be self-sufficient and rich without all these unique cultures, that still make Russia into one of the greatest countries in the world? Do you want a Russia without mosques, synagogues, catholic churches and Buddhist temples?
If that is really what you think? And is it true that there are that many of you? If that is the case, then it would seem that the Russia as we know it now has no future left. It would also mean that there would be no future left for me in this country.
Because when you say that Russia is only for the Russians, I understand that Russia is not for me. Yes on some papers I am registered as a Russian, but my two grandfathers are Terek Cossack and Ossetian, and my two grandmothers are Latvian and Russian. I grew up in the Caucasus and at my school there were the representatives of 12 nationalities. I was absorbed by Russian literature, but I also know a little Ossetian, Georgian and Vaynakh. My Georgian friend knows Chekhov and Dostoyevsky better than I do. Within two minutes she can determine whether the music on my player is made by Rakhmaninov or Tchaikovsky. She speaks better Russian than many Russians. My Ossetian friend can lecture on the fundamentals of the Russian Orthodox culture. My Chechen friend can talk passionately about the battle of ideas in pre revolutionary Russia, and my Korean classmate sings Russian romances brilliantly. All my friends have different skin tones, different shapes of their eyes and different colors of hair.
My chances in a Russia for Russians are close to zero. Do you think that the likes of you give you the right to live? You see – even supposing you can attain that what you desire and Russia would become a place for Russians – I cannot not think that within a few years of living in such a country, you would start to fight for the purity of blood and you would start to look at which of you is more Russian than the other.
You haven’t organized a Kristallnacht yet, but you are close to doing so. That is why my friends with different hair colors and different shapes of eyes are already afraid to go out onto the streets. I know that your going out to Manezh square was an attempt to scare those that do not look like you. I am also convinced that these actions were very convenient for those who were watching from behind the Kremlin walls. I remember very well how in 2004 in Rostov the leaders of the ultranationalist organization RNE, that kept the entire city in a state of fear, told me whom from the local law enforcement and administration would come and drink tea with them. These law enforcement officers and bureaucrats sincerely thought that the ‘dominance of the Caucasians’ could be stopped by simply shouting ‘Glory to Russia’ at filling stations owned by Caucasians. I remember how actively the police and FSB have fought the antifascists and how reluctantly they have fought the nationalists and skinheads. I have seen how softly and timidly they restrained a march of football fanatics making ultra-radical demands on Leningradskoe shosse.
I am also afraid that the events at Manezh square were not just an action to frighten, but a general repetition.
When the federal authorities are not capable of stopping the criminal tyranny in the Caucasus, when the federal authorities cannot control Chechen authorities that carry out murders of persons that disagree with them outside the borders of Chechnya and even outside Russia, then those federal authorities will also not be able to deal with the corruption in the police and procurators office. Under these conditions a certain group of people, connected to the organs of law enforcement, cannot not get the idea to subject the country to a harsh quasi-military model of governance. I would not even be surprised at all when in the year preceding the presidential elections an emergency situation involving the state security would occur. Football hooligans and skin heads will be very useful in such a scenario.
Meanwhile, all these interethnic fears distract us from the things that should concern us all. Russians, Ossetians, Chechens, Ingush and Cherkessians alike have in fact one and the same problem. We are not protected, not as individuals and not as society at large. Any zombie with money and connections may organize a massacre on the streets of a Russian city, whether that city is in the Caucasus, in Siberia or in the Far East. Such a zombie could knock over two women on the street and nevertheless receive three years with a postponement of the execution of the verdict for 14 years. He may kill a Duma member or famous journalist in the center of Moscow. He may within sight of the cameras beat another journalist into coma and disappear without a trace. He may partake in a mass fight and be freed after two hours. Any person with a police of procurators badge may become the master of our fate. For some this may last only for a few minutes, when documents are being checked on the road and a bribe is demanded. For others it may last for ever, like in the case of the jurist Magnitsky.
In the Caucasus, in Siberia, in the Far East and in Tatarstan people live with one and the same set of problems. Teachers spit on their work and teach their knowledge and experience only at paid for, private lessons, because they need to in order to live. Doctors are forced to take bribes and create long lines in free polyclinics, because these doctors also work in private hospitals and it is more profitable for them if a patient comes to them with money than without. You cannot give birth without money. You cannot receive help at an oncological center without money. To die, you need money too. The red tape suits the bureaucrats. It suits them when it is easier to pay than to endlessly wait in line for a closed door. The police plants drugs or bullets on citizens and immediately catch them red-handed, thereby increasing the solved crimes statistics, earning themselves stars and bonuses. The bandits drink with the procurators. The judges drink with the bandits. Or in best case with the procurators. Young people are scared to go into army. Their mothers are prepared to sell their own dress to save their child. Teenagers dream of being rich. They do not dream of being smart or of being needed, just of being rich. At any cost. There is mad competition for a place at the juridical and economic schools, driving the prices up into the heavens. After all, in the Russian government there is not one person with the diploma of a miner or a welder. There are only lawyers and economists.
Not long ago in Dagestan a woman died in childbirth. When the labor contractions started, the doctor she had paid to deliver the baby was not there. Nevertheless the doctor on duty refused to do the work someone else had been paid for. The woman had a kidney disease. Nor the mother, nor the child survived. My friend in Moscow paid her doctor three months before childbirth, in order for him to be there when she would need him. Women in Moscow and Dagestan have one and the same problem. If they could talk to each other, I very much doubt they could determine which of their nationalities is the best.
Last November in the city of Karachaevsk three churches burned down. Two of them were Russian Orthodox. The other was a Baptist church. A week earlier someone had defiled a monument symbolizing the pain and losses of this repressed people. Many times similar things have happened in this area. People have even been killed. The Karachays and the Russians however did not fight. They acted with more wisdom than the Muscovites and the citizens of Rostov. The dean of the church in Karachaevsk addressed his parishioners with the following words: “I am convinced that these acts were committed by people who do not live in this area.” The congregation believed that he was right. In the neighboring area, where there was no church, a Karachay entrepreneur offered a piece of land and the building on it to serve as a Russian Orthodox Church. In the meantime the people could collect the funds to build a real church. I have also met a Russian teacher, who half a century ago married a Karachay, left Central Russia and who raised many generations of Cherkessians, Russians, Nogais, Karachays, Greeks and Armenians. For that she is still deeply respected there.
When you, gentlemen, shout that Russia is for the Russians, do you also think of those Russians who live in the Caucasus today? Do you also think about those Caucasians who love Russia and cannot imagine themselves without it?
I often travel to the Caucasus. I know people who live soberly, honestly and wise. I know professors and farmers, who are happy to receive a Russian guest and give them more than they can afford. Today, when your uncensored shouts clutter the internet, I feel ashamed before these people. I am ashamed of you, gentlemen, and of your country.