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Moscow Should Provide Protection For Ethnic Russians In ‘Heart Of Russia’ Instead Of In Kazakhstan – OpEd

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As of October 8, the incident with 25-year-old Roman Kovalev, who stood up for a girl on the Moscow Metro earlier this month and was seriously beaten up by three Daghestani men, continued to remain the most talked-about topic in the Russian segment of popular social networks. The question most frequently asked by female users was the following: “Where have the other Russian men been in all of this?”.

Other Russian men (some of them, anyway) appeared at the time on Channel One’s ‘Vremya Pokazhet’ program. Down there they were busy stubbornly defending the interests of the Russian minority and language in Kazakhstan, making territorial claims on the Central Asian country and predicting the emergence of people’s republics like the DPR and LPR [the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, self-proclaimed quasi-states in the eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk] on its territory. In a word, they showed the TV viewers what it means to be a ‘professional Russian’ (this term is used to describe someone who is obsessed with the topic of protecting compatriots abroad). From their statements, one would get the impression that there are no similar problems in the Russian Federation. Yet on closer scrutiny, another reality emerges. To listen to the celebrated Daghestani cosmonaut Magomed Tolboev, it turns out that ethnic Russians need to be protected from nationalists in Moscow, at the heart of the Russian Federation, rather than elsewhere in the post-Soviet space.

Here’s what he said: “As an Avar who grew up in a remote village of Daghestan, I sincerely apologize to the parents of the guy who was beaten. I cried. It is a pity that the [other] men did not stand up [for him] down there. Cowards. I had been believing a Russian person always would come to help another Russian person, if needed. And those ones [the other Russian men in that metro car] hid away…

This is a Moscow problem. All nationalists – Daghestani, Kabardian, Karachaian, Circassian – must be brought under strict control.

They got out of line. [A common situation is when] just a few ones [of them] take 140 Russians prisoners in a moral sense. [They] force [those people] into submission, intimidate them, saying: “I will cut you. We call someone over from Daghestan. I will calm you down”. They have leased some living space [in a multi-family housing building] and then keep the whole house living in fear. This is unacceptable. I call on all those Caucasians that have came here to live – do respect the laws”.

A similar view was expressed by Victor Merezhko, a famous Russian screenwriter, film director, playwright, actor, writer and TV presenter, with respect to that metro incident. He said: “Caucasians beat up a Russian guy in the subway. There were Russians sitting there, not a single one of them stuck up [for him]. And they had beaten him, those several Daghestani men had beaten the poor guy so badly that he was taken to the clinic. You see, Russians aren’t close-knit, Russians are cowardly, Russians are frightened by anything. And [their] ethnic pride is lost.

Why do we trot like the calves? Remember, what was written by Bertold Brecht in one of his works: “Following the drum, The calves trot, The skin for the drum, They deliver themselves”. [We are] like those calves. They are beating, killing our nearest and dearest”.

So, what conclusion can be drawn from this observation? The latter might suggest that Russia’s ethnic minorities’ representatives are being mean to ethnic Russians, who are perfectly harmless, and cruelly ill-treating them. But this impression is partly deceptive. The reality of the inter-ethnic relations in Russia is, by all appearances, as follows. Since long ago, Russians have been highly commending the North Caucasian peoples’ bravery and masculine looks, celebrated by the Russian great literary classics, and trying to avoid entering in conflict with their representatives. In the context of such a pattern of conduct, incidents of the type described above have been happening. The Russian politicians and public figures are used to conducting conversations on this topic with great caution. It apparently can be be explainable. Alexander Sherin, first deputy chairman of the State Duma defense committee, once said, “You just try and say such [unpleasant] things about” the North Caucasians, and “you will later be making apologies on camera with a blowtorch in some part [of your body]”. Who’d like being placed in that kind of situation? It, of course, is a rhetorical question.

As to a pattern of behavior by the Russian majority concerning the country’s minorities of [East] Asian descent, that’s quite another matter. A different picture emerges in this area. There can be found many such Russian men and women in the country, who haven’t been shy about getting physically and verbally aggressive regarding to their co-citizens and other people with [East] Asian facial features, including those belonging to the post-Soviet republics’ titular ethnic groups, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. When it comes to going against people of [East] Asian appearance, representing the country’s minorities or the titular ethnicities of the post-Soviet states such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, or ignoring/diminishing the significance of the hate attacks on the latter ones, the level of solidarity not only among ordinary ethnic Russians, but also within Russia’s political and media establishments turns out to be enviably high.

Perhaps all of this has its explanation. Right, but here’s the weird thing. At a time when the Russian society as a whole was in a state of shock over the metro incident, Russian politicians and public figures, frequently appearing on Channel One’s ‘Vremya Pokazhet’ talk-show, were addressing the issues of providing protection for the Russian minority and language in Kazakhstan and aggressively promoting the claim that ‘Northern Kazakhstan [that includes North Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Akmola and Kostanay regions] is a part of [Russia’s] Siberia’. So in other words, there was an attempt to redirect the Russians’ anger and frustration over what had happened in the subway at Kazakhs and their country. It remains to be seen to what extent it has been successful. Anyway, the alleged lack of cohesion and aggressiveness among ethnic Russians seems to be more myth than truth. Another matter is when and against whom those behavioral qualities may be best manifested.

But one thing is certain that the state of ethnic relations in Kazakhstan looks healthier than those in Russia. This is so evident that no particular effort is needed to ascertain its veracity. In the Russian Federation, where the vast majority of the citizens is of European [Caucasian] origin, the indigenous peoples of [East] Asian descent are no doubt the most marginalized and disadvantaged section of the population. They are at a high risk of being ill-treated by the country’s racial and ethnic majority. Many of them routinely experience violations, racial slurs and hate attacks related both to xenophobia as aliens and racism based on their Mongoloid origin. 

As regards Kazakhstan, there wasn’t any information found in the media about persons who would have encountered hostility from the majority population in the country only because they looked very much different than most of the people around them. In Russia, such occurrences, as can be seen, are the most common things. They do come as no surprise to the greater Russian society. Indigenous peoples of [East] Asian appearance living in Russia, as well as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz currently or permanently based in the country, continue to be subjected to acts of discrimination and violence by the ethnic Russian majority. Here are just a couple of recent examples of such unmotivated aggression caused only by ‘otherness’ of those against whom it has been undertaken.

The first story took place in April. “A video has been circulated on social media showing a conflict between [two Russian] women living in Moscow and two girls [from Buryatia, an autonomous republic of Russia in eastern Siberia]. 

According to the author of the video, Saruna Rinchinova, she and her friend [both are Buryat girls] were sitting on a bench [in front of the house where they were temporarily living], then “two [Russian] women came out of the entrance and started insulting us”. (‘Move them, your Kyrgyz mugs’). 

‘Kyrgyz mugs’, ‘Beasts’, ‘Sleazebags’ are what these ethnic Russian women called the guests from Buryatia. The video shows one of them resorting to force against one of the Buryat girls. The latter ones had to leave. Saruna Rinchinova “also noted there was a mark left by a hand of that Russian woman on a temple of my friend”. She later wrote on her personal account that after posting the video, she had began to receive a huge number of feedback with similar stories. Many of them, according to her, were even more gruesome than the one she herself experienced. “I am reading all these stories, and I am shocked that they have reached such proportions”, – Saruna Rinchinova added on her personal account.

The second one occurred in July. In other respects, two incidents seem to be similar. The latter has also been videotaped. “The video shows how an old woman is chasing a Buryat woman from a bench in the courtyard of her house, uttering insulting words about her appearance: “You slant-eyed churka [subhuman]!” (Babr24.com, Jul 19, 2021). 

We pay a lot of attention here to the situation, with which the Russian ethnic minorities of East Asian origin have been facing, for the reason that it provides a snapshot of Russia’s established model for dealing with Kazakhstan and Kazakhs. Viktor Chernomyrdin, while being the Chairman of the Russian Government, said: “If Kazakhs believe that their country is a foreign state independent of Russia, it would be better for them to think some more about it!”. It’s been a while, but very little has changed in Russia’s practice of dealing with the Central Asian nation. 

And here’s another thing. Moscow had better provide protection for ethnic Russians at the very heart of Russia instead of in Kazakhstan. As was said above, this “is a Moscow problem”.

*Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst

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