By Paul Goble
Six months after the clashes in Manezh Square, radical Russian nationalists groups are increasing their activity, supported by the increasing number of ethnic Russians who feel that they are second class citizens in their own country because the powers that be are giving more support to North Caucasians and Central Asian immigrants.
In an article in Friday’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” entitled “Russians Feel a Sense of National Inequality in Their Own Country,” Maksim Glukharev provides a wealth of detail on the activities of radical Russian nationalist groups, pointing out that Moscow has banned only three of “about 30” and allowed the banned groups to operate under different names.
But the most intriguing portion of his article concerns the attitudes among ordinary Russians as opposed to members of elite groups that help explain why an increasing number of the former are supporting the nationalists and why few of the latter are willing to talk about this increasingly dangerous trend (www.ng.ru/politics/2011-06-03/1_nacionalizm.html).
Glukharev suggests that the answers to both questions are to be found in the very different life experiences of the two groups. “It is well known,” he points out, that members of the powers that be in contrast to the population “never personally encounter manifestations of nationalism” by outside groups.
Travelling about in official cars, these elites “do not risk finding themselves” in places where there are “spontaneous” clashes between “extremists and gastarbeiters.” Therefore, they do not risk being accused of being part of disorders simply when they turn out to be witnesses of such events.”
Moreover, while the elites “send their children abroad to study,” other Russians have to send their children to schools which increasingly, albeit informally “are divided into two camps, those for the Russians and those for the Caucasians,” with ever more Russians asking why they are supporting those who are shooting at them.
Glukharev points out that “the activity of the [Russian nationalist radicals] frequently has mass support from the side of ordinary people who observe the complete escape from punishment of representatives of diaspora communities. People,” he says, “feel sharply the injustice of the existing situation.”
Ordinary Russians “do not understand why arrivals from the Caucasus and countries of the near abroad frequently act so boldly, driving about in expensive foreign cards and while ignoring Russian laws engage in firefights in public places?” Where are the law enforcement agencies when these things are happening – and why do they so often let these miscreants go?
When leaders, including Vladimir Putin, deny the obvious, claiming that there is no ethnic dimension to this or that crime, Russians become even angrier because from their point of view it is obvious that there is just such a dimension. “This situation gives rise to that objective component of dissatisfaction which was displayed in the Manezh Square” last December.
That component can be described as the sense that many Russians have that they are being treated less well than members of other ethnic groups and that officialdom is protecting the minorities rather than the ethnic Russians. And not surprisingly, such feelings are being used by “various extremist organizations.”
According to Glukharev, what happened in Manezh Square is “an indicator of deep problems in the attitudes of society — based, in particular, on a lack of acceptance of the corrupt ties between people from the Caucasus and Asian regions and members of the Russian organs of power.
If this situation is going to change, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” writer suggests, there must be “at a minimum a discussion in society because in order to resolve such complicated problems, the powers must base themselves on society. But how can they do so when society doesn’t trust them – and has serious reasons for not trusting them?”
After talking about nationalism in Russian society in the wake of Manezh six months ago, the country’s leadership “has not returned to the theme.” The powers that be have an explanation: “any incautious word could provoke new inter-ethnic conflicts. But keeping quiet about these problems is to put one’s head in the sand – and to await the next Manezh.”