By Paul Goble
In an indication that the problem may be more widespread than has hitherto been reported and that Moscow is worried about what may happen, the Russian Procurator General has decided to block “fakes about ‘interethnic clashes” now “because of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Lina Ozerova of the Nazaccent portal says that this decision is “just and extremely timely” because people are already on edge because of the pandemic and are perhaps more ready to accept as true false stories about others, including members of other ethnic groups and religions (nazaccent.ru/content/32700-komu-vojna-a-komu-mat-rodna.html).
Her comments which denounce the activities of “certain ‘imperialists’” suggest that what prompted Moscow to act in this case may have been false stories about problems between immigrant workers and indigenous Russians rather than among indigenous Russian nationalities or especially between Russians and non-Russians.
No one can defend dishonest reporting such as the example Ozerova gives of posting a picture of migrants crowded into a Russian government office in 2015 just after it opened and claiming that it shows the situation in that office now. In fact, after an initial upsurge of visits by migrants, their numbers going to that office have been much smaller.
But there is a very real danger, given how Russian officials have behaved in recent years, that such blocking will become a signal to crackdown on criticism by one ethnic or religious group about another and thus send a deeper chill through the media and Internet, yet another consequence of the coronavirus.