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Adrienne Warren

The Ethnic Tension Breaks: Race Riots in Moscow, But What’s the Real Reason?

Nearly 450 people have been detained in Moscow after protests over a murder turned violent, authorities said Monday, adding that the Russian parliament is considering a probe into the unrest. “During a preventative raid on a vegetable warehouse in the Biryulyovo district, about 1,200 people were taken to police precincts to be checked for involvement in criminal activity,” a police report stated on 14 October. Some 1,000 people took to the streets Sunday, demanding arrests after the fatal stabbing of Yegor Shcherbakov, a 25-year-old local, in front of his fiancee on 10 October. The suspect is believed to be a “migrant” worker, allegedly from the Caucasus–a suspicion – followed later by the arrest of Azerbaijani Orkhan Zeinalov – which has incited a large scale backlash on the streets of Moscow… 

Moscow. author: geezaweezer. source: Flickr

Moscow. author: geezaweezer. source: Flickr

Journalist Danil Turovsky a journalist for Lenta.ru explains the situation on the ground in the the Moscow district of West Biryulyovo,  where massive street riots broke out:

“Hundreds of people rampaged through the Biryuza shopping center and a local vegetable warehouse, throwing up barricades and fighting with riot police. The conflict developed along the lines of the traditional scenario – it was preceded by the murder of a Russian man which was alleged to have been committed by a  ‘migrant'”.

Turovsky continues:

“…A  spontaneous rally of local residents took place, and people went to the district police precinct building and demanded that they find the murder, tighten up migrant laws and close the vegetable warehouse nearby, where numerous migrants are employed.”

According to local residents of the district, where Shcherbakov was killed, the warehouse is the epicenter of wrong-doing. “This warehouse is a hotbed of nastiness. In the evenings, they come out and demonstrate, and they all go into our [building] entrances. In our district, in each entrance, in all the basements, there are nothing but blacks. They are filthy bastards. And that bastard who committed the murder worked nearby as a merchant in a store at the Biryulyovo Market,” a local woman proclaimed. Another local echoed this belief, saying: “We have to fire all the chiefs of police and administration who are on the take. They all get money from the churki [pejorative term for Caucasians—Ed] living here!”

Turovsky paints a lurid picture of the demonstrations which took place during the rally, as the crowds chanted slogans, including “Russia for Russians” and “white power”:

“The nationalists and local residents lined up at the parking lot in front of the shopping center and began to chant in organized fashion, “We’re Russians, We’re home!” Several people in track suits saw a man with a Caucasian appearance who was moving some boxes of clothing on a cart. They knocked him to the ground and began kicking him. The man was able to get away and hide in a building at the shopping center. The security guards immediately closed the door behind him. Another loader didn’t manage to run inside; a group of 20 people pushed him up against the doors and began beating him. Nevertheless, the guards managed to drag the loader inside the building.”

The riots are being described as the biggest nationalist movement since 5,000 football fans and nationalists protested on Moscow’s central Manezh Square in December 2010, after the murder of an ethnic Russian supporter of a local club by a man from the Caucasus.

But what are experts saying about this upheaval and the causes underlying it? Gleb Kuznetsov of Russia’s Izvestia  news, offers some possible reasons for this outrage, explaining that such tension is nothing new, it is only forcing the powers that be to take notice because it has reached Moscow:

“Nothing happened in Biryulevo that had not happen in Kondopoga  [site of ethnic violence in 2006 – Ed.], Pugachev [recently gripped by ethnic violence – Ed.], Demyanovo [site of ethnic fighting in 2012 – Ed.], and many other places, that have and at the same time have not received nationwide notoriety. The only thing that makes events in Biryulevo different is that everything happened 20 kilometers from the Kremlin, not a thousand kilometers,” Kuznetsov writes, continuing: “A smoldering conflict, problems not solved for years, and then – a high-profile crime, usually a murder. People’s gatherings, initially peaceful, but inevitably resulting in violence against those people appointed guilty. Since the days of Kondopoga, a universal mantra of the five components has been formulated: ‘alcohol’, ‘nationalist provocateurs’, ‘social networks’, ‘gang violence’, ‘domestic character’. The result is an improvised mix of these components.”

But the commonalities do not end there, as Kuznetsov explains:

“What else do all those unknown Demyanovos and Biryulevos of the country have in common? All of these areas are characterized by low cultural and educational level. Located far from the regional centers. Yes, Moscow is also a Russian region, just like Kirov or Saratov regions, and it lives according to more or less the same rules and principles. No major enterprises that require innovation, quality human capital. Businesses with high potential for corruption (timber, for example, or vegetable trade) are usually in the hands of diasporas.”

However, Kuznetsov believes the problems are far deeper than simply using diasporas as a scapegoat:

“…The problem is not in the diasporas. The problem is that in these small enclaves, located far away from centers of civilization, a special system of government is formed, where a local bureaucratic elite, in uniforms or without, is united by common interests. And there are only two interests — money, and making sure everything is hush-hush, staying within the boundaries of the area, because money likes silence.”

So how does all of this add up to a hatred-breeding explosion? According to Kuznetsov:

“Under the management system based on vested interests, there is no mechanism whereby grievances and problems of the residents could be addressed, or at least become known outside of the region. Residents of peripheral regions do not have political representation, politicians, both at federal and local levels, work with electorate that they feel more comfortable with. What is left is a protest mood that inevitably turns into the proverbial Russian riot. Senseless and merciless. This kind of riot can be easily described by the words “outrage,” “nationalist provocateurs”, “punish the criminals.” And round and round it goes.”

With that in mind, Kuznetsov offers an opinion on where to find true solutions to such uprisings:

“A decision should not even be searched for, it should be implemented. Depression, fungus, cancer – this is what tends to spread throughout the body. Unlearned lessons of Demyanovo and Kondopoga have resulted in the Moscow events. Even today, based on the initial reports, there is a desire to reduce the analysis of the situation to the “Russian outrage” and “migrant mayhem”, but the root of all evil is not the quality of the people, no matter local or visitors, but the quality of government.”

Sources: The Interpreter, Al Jazeera

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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