Created: 04.09.2006 14:38 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 14:42 MSK , 14 hours 46 minutes ago
Tensions between ethnic Russians and ethnic Caucasians are
“extremely critical” in the northwestern Russian city of Kondopoga after a
deadly barfight sparked violent protests by hundreds of Russians, a local Muslim
religious leader has said. Kondopoga, in the Republic of Karelia, is an industrial town about 1,000
kilometers north of Moscow with a population of 37,000 .
Hundreds of local residents took to the streets to protest on Saturday in Kondopoga, a city in the Karelia region near Russia’s border with Finland, after a bar fight between ethnic Caucasians and ethnic Russians killed two Russians last Tuesday, a police spokesman said.
The protests turned violent, with ethnic Russians burning kiosks and attacking a market owned by ethnic Caucasians, leading to over 100 arrests.
Bardvil said the killings had been the flash point for long-simmering ethnic tensions.
“We expected that something like this could happen at any moment,” Bardvil said.
Russian NGOs frequently accuse Russian officials and law enforcement of failing to recognize growing Russian xenophobia and deliberately ignoring ethnically-motivated components of crimes, classifying them instead as “hooliganism.”
At the same time, Katanandov said that Saturday’s violence was a result of “hooligans” who were “trying to give an ordinary conflict an ethnic character”.
In a brief interview with state-run Rossia television, however, Katanandov said of Saturday’s violence: “Ethnic hatred was clearly a motivation. One of the slogans being chanted was directed against ethnic Caucasians.”
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said: “All public opinion surveys show a rise in nationalist sentiments.
”These acts of violence are absolutely ordinary: they reflect the growth of nationalistic sentiments in our society.“
Stoking fears of escalating xenophobia, a man died in a brawl involving ethnic Armenians in the Saratov region last week and three people were hospitalized after an attack on an anti-migration rally in St. Petersburg on Sunday.
State Duma deputies sounded the alarm about a surge in violence. But they also approved legislation that would increase penalties for those who employ illegal migrants -- a populist vote, critics said, that tapped into widespread xenophobia.
The country is on edge after clashes and riots targeting Chechens in the Karelian town of Kondopoga killed two people earlier this month.
Local residents clashed with four ethnic Armenians in a cafe in the town of Volsk on Sept. 10, Saratov regional police said Friday. Three ethnic Russians suffered knife wounds, and one later died in the hospital.
Police and the local Armenian diaspora downplayed suggestions that the fight was racially motivated. But Ekho Moskvy radio reported the fight was followed the next day by an attack on ethnic Armenians at a Volsk technical college that injured one student. Police denied the report and said two ethnic Armenians involved in the cafe fight had been placed on a national wanted list.
On Sunday, masked people attacked a rally by the radical Movement Against Illegal Immigration in St. Petersburg, sparking a fight that led to three people being hospitalized, Interfax reported.
About 30 activists were attending the rally to demand the expulsion of Caucasus natives from Kondopoga, where people raided and destroyed small businesses run by Caucasus natives after two locals were stabbed to death in a fight with Chechen migrants.
St. Petersburg police said 21 attackers, who identified themselves as members of an anti-Nazi movement, were detained, Interfax reported. One of the victims was stabbed with a knife, while the other two suffered head injuries. It was unclear whether the victims were protesters or attackers.
The Movement Against Illegal Immigration also organized a rally Thursday in Moscow to protest Caucasus natives in Russian universities. Police tried to prevent the rally by detaining about 200 young men near the Dobryninskaya metro station.
Also Thursday, several dozen young men, some of them described by witnesses as skinheads, participated in a fight inside the Oktyabrskaya metro station. No one was detained.
In the Duma on Friday, nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Deputy Sergei Ivanov likened the situation around the Moscow rally and metro fight to that in Kondopoga. He said many of those detained at the rally were carrying knives. As for the metro fight, Ivanov said, "This was not a routine clash, and it happened in the capital," Interfax reported.
United Russia Deputy Alexander Khinshtein deplored a clash between Chechen youths and police in the city of Saratov on Aug. 29 that killed one officer and injured three others.
"Police are afraid to bring these people to justice," he said, accusing the youths of being "closely related to the Chechen authorities." The fight occurred after the officers quarreled with three Chechen youths in a cafe, Saratov press reported. The three left the cafe and later returned with a dozen friends, armed with knives and baseball bats. Three suspects have been detained.
Several nationalist web sites reported Friday that revenge attacks were being carried out in Volsk after the Sept. 10 fight. A spokesman for the Saratov regional police, Alexei Yegorov, said police were worried and had dispatched more street patrols in Volsk. But he denied any escalation in ethnic tensions. "There have not been any pogroms in Volsk after that drunken brawl, no friction whatsoever between the locals and members of the Caucasus diaspora," he said.
Araik Kosyan, vice president of KRUNK, the biggest Armenian diaspora organization in the region, said he was not aware of any revenge attacks. "I've talked to representatives of other diasporas, the Azeris and the Chechens, and they also do not confirm any attacks against their people," he said.
Politicians might be overreacting to incidents involving Caucasus natives after Kondopoga, said Boris Makarenko, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies. "Now the voices of the 'hawks' will be much better received by the public than those of sober-minded politicians and media," he said.
The public seems to be ready for ethnic violence: Over 57 percent of Russians believe violence could break out in their towns, according to a survey this month by the state-controlled VTsIOM pollster. Russians' belief that their town could be affected grew in proportion with the size of the town, reaching 89 percent in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Human rights activists said the authorities needed to intervene to prevent routine clashes from escalating into Kondopoga-style violence. "Authorities need to state clearly that any calls to expel natives of the Caucasus will never be met because they are against the law," said Galina Kozhevnikova of Sova, which tracks ethnic violence.
Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center of Political Information, suggested that the flare-up in xenophobia might be used by the government to push through stricter anti-migrant laws.
Indeed, the Duma on Friday voted 398-1 to pass in a first reading a bill that would fine anyone employing migrants who had not registered with the Federal Migration Service. Employers now face a flat fine of 2,000 rubles ($74.66), no matter how many illegal migrants are hired. The new bill says a private individual would face a fine of up to 2,000 rubles per migrant, while an official could be fined 5,000 rubles per migrant and a company could be fined 30,000 rubles per migrant. Migrants themselves would be fined up to 1,500 rubles and face expulsion from Russia.
Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Ovchinnikov, who presented the bill Friday, said only one in every 10 migrants was registered. Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Katrenko said 702,000 foreign citizens were registered as of last year.