Staunton, May 17 – Russian commentators and officials have downplayed or even denied the existence of an ethnic component of last weekend’s clash in a Moscow cemetery that left at least three dead, 26 hospitalized and dozens arrested, an approach that will make it even more difficult for the country to deal with its ethnic problems, according to Aleksey Malashenko.
The Moscow Carnegie specialist on ethnicity says the clashes at the cemetery involved banditry, business, and ethnicity, but ignoring the last not only makes it more likely that there will be more such conflicts in the future but also that the Russian authorities will not be able to effectively combat terrorism (echo.msk.ru/blog/malashenko/1766500-echo/).
The situation arose, he says, because Chechen and Daghestani “criminal groups” demanded that the Tajiks working at the cemetery, many of whom were in Moscow illegally, pay 90 percent of their fees and wages to the Chechens and Daghestanis. Not surprisingly, the Tajiks refused, and the North Caucasians came with guns to try to enforce their will.
The Russian media have generally called the defenders of the cemetery “’Asiatics,’” without specifying their exact nationality, and they have failed to name the nationalities of the attackers from the Caucasus, thus leaving the impression that the fight was between illegal immigrants and some group of “’Russian citizens.’”
This is very strange and suggests that those on the attack may have expected an understanding attitude and even support from the cemetery managers or others further up the line or alternatively that such groups from the North Caucasus now feel beyond the reach of Russian law, the Moscow expert says.
Political figures contributed to this misunderstanding by arguing almost unanimously that “the incident at the Khovan Cemetery does not have an ethnic coloration.” That is wrong, Malashenko says, and “one must not ignore the nationality factor” in such situations or one is likely to make errors in judgment about how to control the situation.
To be sure, he continues, “in certain situations” like this one, it may not be profitably to divide up the explanation between business and simply bandit fights and inter-ethnic tension. All of this is too interconnected,” but nonetheless, ethnicity is part and parcel of such clashes and must be acknowledged.
There is also the danger, Malashenko says, that “the authorities will try to link this clash to extremism, to ISIS which is banned in Russia and so on because for them it is customary to ascribe their own mistakes to the machinations of external forces.” That may be even more likely in this case because it occurred at the same time as the clashes in Derbent.
But “one way or another, the clashes at the cemetery show that the authorities who are taken u with the struggle with terrorism are far from being completely nformed abut what is happening in the immigrant milieu and thus are not capable of preventing critical situations from arising in a timely fashion.”
And that in turn, Malashenko warns, “inevitably will lead to the further growth in migrantophobia which is already high and not only in Moscow but more likely across the entire country.”