The Manezh Riots Roundup

They didn't come in peace, but they did come angry.

Lots of ink, not to mention no small amount of blood, has already been spilled over the racial unrest that’s visited Moscow and some other cities in Russia over the last couple of weeks. I’ve read a collection of editorials, op-eds, and reports, in order to build a rough summary of the commentary in the Russian press on the riots. My selection of articles is in no way comprehensive or complete, but I hope to have captured some of the diversity of opinion on this issue, and successfully placed the different perspectives into a dialog.

For already-existing English-language reports on the race riots, I recommend Julia Ioffe’s New Yorker piece on the demonstrations at Manezh Square and Kiev Square, and Miriam Elder’s recent article for The Guardian, which features several revealing quotes from nationalist demonstrators themselves.

What follows is my own media monitoring summary of the Russian press coverage of the Manezh riot/pogrom of December 11, 2010.

Vedomosti, Varvara Poludina, “The Events at Manezh Are Anti-Legal Nihilism” (December 13, 2010)

Poludina speaks to Evgeny Gontmakher, director of the Institute of Social Policy (a group ostensibly connected to President Medvedev), and Gleb Pavlovskii, president of the Fund for Effective Policy. Gontmakher, the more liberal of the two, begins by saying, “It’s no secret that the country’s political system is in crisis.” He goes on to explain that the state has a few different ways it can address the situation, mostly involving either cracking down or working with the nationalists. The most difficult path, he argues, would be securing “the long-term modernization of society,” which he loosely describes as facilitating a “dialog” between all sides of society.

Unlike Gontmakher, Pavlovskii spends a little bit of time reviewing the immediate causes of the Manezh riot, namely the murder of Egor Sviridov. He describes the situation as “anti-legal nihilism” (redecorating Medvedev’s infamous term, “legal nihilism,” which the president introduced shortly after being inaugurated in 2008). Pavlovskii argues that someone with access to “administrative resources” and (likely) “stars on his shoulders” is manipulating the situation in order to weaken Medvedev or perhaps Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin — presumably to benefit Putin. Pavlovskii notes that the unrest also threatens the wider investment climate. He finishes by asking rhetorically:

“And where were the civil society organizations? Where were the youth groups? Where was the opposition? Medvedev proposed transferring certain responsibilities to these civil groups, but how would that be possible when no one is capable of anything in such a situation?”

Pavlovskii’s message is unclear. Is he scolding the Kremlin for suppressing real civil society and promoting flaccid, puppet groups? Or perhaps he is actually attacking opposition and pro-Kremlin leaders for failing to mobilize against racism in the streets?

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, Aleksandra Samarina and Roza Tsvetkova, “A Dangerous Vacuum” (December 14, 2010)

This NG piece is heavy with quotes from notable figures in the Moscow ethnic policy scene. Mikhail Deliagin (former chairman of Dmitri Rogozin’s ‘Rodina’ party, which died in 2006, when it merged with the ‘Party of Life’ and the ‘Pensioners’ Party’ to become Spravedlivaia Rossiia) is now director of the ‘Problems Issued by Globalization’ Institute (IPROG). He says that the public shouldn’t dismiss the “terrorism” caused by Caucasian youth groups. “The human rights groups defend them and the diaspora groups fund them,” Deliagin claims. His interpretation echoes Pavlovskii’s: someone is trying to diminish Medvedev and boost Putin ahead of the 2012 presidential election. He compares the Manezh riot to the Leningrad Highway protests that embarrassed Yuri Luzkov just months before he was sacked, but notes that certain members of Medvedev’s supporters (like presidential aide Arkadii Dvorkovich) continue to press the president to run for reelection in 2012.

Yuri Golik, vice president of the “Anti-Mafia” Fund, offers similar remarks, warning that years of special treatment for Caucasians (what he describes as a consequence of political correctness) is pushing ethnic Russians over the edge. He instructs the authorities to “just start observing the law” (a nod to the fact that Egor Sviridov’s killer was released from custody under shady circumstances). Taking up the language of vendetta, Golik explains that the illegality of the Manezh rally was negated by the illegal release of Sviridov’s murderers. Golik concludes by stating that post-Kushchevskaya Russia requires a different approach to criminality — one that the authorities don’t yet understand, based on their handling of the Sviridov Case.

Communist Party deputy Ivan Mel’nikov told NG that the state has aggravated the nationalist problem by: (a) caring more about how to control and stop demonstrations than trying to understand what fuels them, and (b) purposefully promoting the notion that these riots were organized by sports fans rather than politically motivated citizens, in order to downplay the political stability issue. He calls this “a distortion of events.”

Moskovskii Komsomolets, Aleksandr Minkin, “You’re Surrounded, Scumbags” (December 14, 2010)

This amusing op-ed is written in the form of an open letter to President Medvedev. Aleksandr Minkin focuses on the president’s December 12th tweet, where Medvedev wrote:

“In the country and in Moscow, everything is under control. We will sort out everyone who dirtied up [Manezh]. Everyone. Don’t you doubt it.”

Minkin calls the president’s words “decisive, mysterious, and dangerous,” joking that “Lord only knows what in Moscow and the country is under any kind of control, except perhaps the TV channels.” He also criticizes Medvedev’s use of the words “dirtied up” (in Russian, the president wrote “гадили,” which means broadly “to soil” or “harm” or “spoil”) and “sort out” (in Russian: “разберёмся”). “Dirtying up” isn’t a crime and “sorting out” isn’t legal punishment, Minkin notes. He also observes that the police failed to dispatch enough manpower to Manezh against the nationalists, but are always far over-prepared to squash any liberal democrat rally. (This sentiment is echoed below by commentators on the Day of Rage protest that occurred the day after the Manezh riots.)

Vedomosti, Aleksandr Gubskii, “Quote of the Week” (December 14, 2010)

Aleksandr Gubskii writes that, even during the Soviet period, he never sensed such “hopelessness” on a social level. “The people are ceasing to believe in the authorities” and must be heard or they will “sweep away” the people in power, he writes. Having said that, Gubskii offers the unexpected criticism that one of Medvedev’s main shortcomings has been his information campaign. For instance, he says that the president failed to properly disseminate the fact that he had Bastrykin make the apprehension of Artur Arsibev, Sviridov’s alleged killer, a top priority, transferring the case to a special department of the Investigative Committee. Gubskii blames the authorities’ disinterest in better public outreach on the absence of a free press and open elections.

LiveJournal, Eduard Limonov, “All of Life Is a Conflict, Calm We Can Only Dream” (December 14, 2010)

Limonov spoke to witnesses at the Manezh riot (something he and most other oppsitionists had to do to learn anything about the rally, since they did not arrange a couner-demonstration, as Pavlovskii noted). He retells the riot as a small explosion of 50-100 nationalist provocateurs who crashed a demonstration of mostly grieving sports fans. The nationalists arrived late and alternated between little attacks on the police barricade in front of the Manezh Musuem and falling back among the crowd to lead racist chants and pose for photos. The majority of people on the Square, according to Limonov’s sources, just stood around without participating in any of the violence or slogans. The police then enabled the tragedy in the subway by forcing people to empty the square before they had secured the metro stations.

He concludes his blog post saying: “All this once again exposes the essence of our authoritarian, medieval political system, where emotional expressions by one group or another cause an apocalyptic mood. And it exposes the immaturity of [our] concept of civil society and its backwardness.”

Limonov’s post is noteworthy because he is one of the few commentators to actually downplay the threat and significance of the Manezh riot itself. He does not use the word “pogrom,” arguing instead that a handful of rabble-rousers caused all the fuss, and that the violence (and murder) that occurred in the Okhotnyi Riad’ metro station is largely to blame on typical police incompetence. Given Limonov’s own personal history with demonstrations and law enforcement (not to mention his own movement, the National Bolsheviks — built on a peculiar blend of leftism and nationalism), it perhaps makes sense that he seeks to make the police the primary villain in this story.

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, “Disaster of an Ethnic Scale” (December 15, 2010)

NG asked a number of public figures and experts to comment on the recent race riots. Here is what some of them said:

Spravedlivaia Rossiia leader Sergei Mironov complained that ethnic Russians today are perpetually made to feel guilty and shamed about their “Russianness.” He believes that nationalists exploited this sentiment in the grieving soccer fans in order to provoke them to violence at Manezh. The state, Mironov argues, has “overslept” this issue and needs to advocate a better social “dialog” to prevent further unrest.

Politician and Schetnaia Palata member Sergei Stepashin waxed philosophical about lost opportunities in the past, when the public’s faith in the state deteriorated in the face of corruption scandals and dirty business deals. Meanwhile, Boris Gryzlov deflected blame out into the ether of “society,” calling the riots “possible in large part because of society’s insufficient attention to interethnic unrest.”

Elena Shestopal, vice president at the International Association of Political Sciences, focused on the long-dormant “protest potential” of the population, citing widespread “alienation” and the people’s “political wandering.” She links Manezh to the Kushchevskaya mob-town, both of which she says exhibit the state’s indifference to the popular will. Echoing KPRF deputy Mel’nikov above (and Mark Urnov below), Shestopal argues that the authorities would rather blame soccer fans than discuss the underlying ethnic, sociological, and economic issues that cause instability.

Geidar Dzhemal’, a representative from the Islamic Committee of Russia, believes that the Manezh demonstration was “a well-organized, staged political move,” and that “part of the political establishment has an interest in rocking the boat” — most likely the siloviki bloc, since they control “the operative strings that manage the masses.” This was an attempt to weaken Mevedev, Dzhemal’ says.

KPRF leader and living dinosaur Gennady Ziuganov calls Manezh “a kind of abscess” of mass protest and dissatisfaction with the authorities. He takes the predictable ideological, leftist position, stating: “Those who deprive the people of decent wages and pensions should understand that they provoke violent aggression as a response.”

Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin says unequivocally, “This was fascism and nothing else.” He claims that the police had advance knowledge of the rally and still came unprepared. He quotes ГУВД Moscow chief, Vladimir Kolokol’tsev, who explained the lack of prosecutions after the riots by saying that it takes too much time to bring charges against someone for inciting ethnic hatred. Mitrokhin’s response is couched in liberal democratic frustration: “For some reason, it’s far quicker and simpler in this country to accuse people of conducting an unsanctioned rally or disobeying the police than it is to prosecute someone for murdering a person for his ethnicity.”

Boris Nemtsov is the most outspoken of the group, declaring, “It’s absolutely, obviously nazism in plain form because they beat up anyone who looked non-Slavic.” Nemtsov points out that Rossiia Molodaia activist Valerii Zabolotskii was detained as a participant at Manezh. This, Nemtsov argues, implicates both Surkov and Yakemenko in provoking the violence that took place. “Russia is brimming with fascism,” he concludes.

Moskovskii Komsomolets, Dmitri Kofanov and Igor’ Karmazin, “The Situation in Moscow Kills” (December 14, 2010)

Kofanov and Karmazin argue that there were “no ideological organizers or instigators” behind the Manezh rally, and this is why the authorities have been unable to charge anyone with Criminal Code 212: organizing mass unrest. The gathering, they say, was spontaneous (“стихийно”) — directly contradicting other reports that raise conspiracy theories about silovoki involvement. A “middling” police performance in the Sviridov murder case (what the cops are “used to” but the public could tolerate no longer, MK reports) was what brought mobs out into the streets.

The article then goes on to summarize four recent murders at the heart of the racial tensions sweeping Moscow. The first is murder of Alisher Shamshiev, a 37-year-old Kyrgyz man, who police say “got himself into trouble” when he “delivered an ambiguous compliment” to a Russian girl who happened to be traveling with a large entourage of Russian men. Investigators refused to treat his death as a hate crime because he was only stabbed once, which does not conform to the typical way skinheads murder their victims, usually with 10-15 stabs. The murder was written up as “hooligan-related,” though there is evidence that a frenzied crowd first mercilessly beat Shamshiev within an inch of his life, before ultimately delivering the fatal blow by knife.

Pavel Kazakov was murdered on December 10, 2010, after quarreling with a group of Dagestani men, whom he apparently prevented from robbing a flower kiosk. Kazakov was 19-years-old and scheduled on January 15, 2011, to marry a girl three-months-pregnant with his child. His assailants took the murder weapon with them. According to Kazakov’s friends, the Spartak soccer fan organization later exaggerated his love for the team, using his death as a rallying call.

Mikhail Antonchik was killed at the age of twenty by men presumed to be Caucasian. His mother, Elena, says that investigators have offered only hollow assurances that they’re working her son’s case. Apparently, the first people to contact Elena were fan groups for Spartak and Lokomotiv, who offered her all available help and advocated that they join forces “to draw the authorities’ attention to these unpunished murders.” Elena admits that the groups “hinted” that they sometimes “resort” to working with nationalists, as no other means had succeeded in getting the state’s attention. Antonchik’s mother says she doesn’t support fascism, interethnic hatred, or rowdy youth groups, but she does want to see her son’s murders be punished.

Finally, MK spoke to Egor Sviridov’s widow, Yana, who asks why her husband’s killers were released from custody despite the fact that they had no registration documents for legal residence in Moscow. She retells trying to attend a police lineup when her entrance to the station was blocked by five carloads of Dagestani thugs. It took an escort of “twenty strong [Russian] guys” to convince the prosecutor that it was safe to let her into the building. This, she argues, is just one example of how the diaspora intimidates witnesses. Finally, she singles out investigator Mikhail Sokolov for allowing the two primary suspects in her husband’s killing to be released from police custody, after which they presumably escaped Moscow’s jurisdiction. (editorial), “A National-Liberation Pogrom” (December 13, 2010) calls the unrest a “pogrom” and “a symptom of problems in the national psyche, which the authorities either unknowingly or intentionally use for their own self-serving political games.” To highlight police incompetence, showcases the fact that, after Manezh, Rashid Nugaliev publicly blamed leftist — not nationalist — provocateurs. The editorial also points out the absurdity that, the very next day after the Manezh riot, police effectively dispersed a ‘Day of Rage’ rally at Tverskaya.

The police, the editorial says, should have handled the riot much better. Like Limonov’s comment about the police foolishly redirecting the rioters into the metro, attacks law enforcement officials for aggravating a dangerous situation, despite advance warnings from soccer fan-clubs.

The editorial looks at Surkov with some suspicion, too, citing his December 11th comments to representatives of various youth groups («Наши», «Россия молодая», «Молодая гвардия», «Сталь» and «Местные»), when he said that they should “train their muscles and their minds” on the riots, which were “financed by foreign centers trying to destroy [Russia’s] democratic institution.”

Recalling some of the Kremlin’s past nationalist projects (particularly Dmitri Rogozin’s ‘Rodina’ party), warns that the authorities play with fire when they manipulate ethnic tensions: “an entirely unexpected party” could emerge, changing the face of Russian politics.

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, Aleksandra Samarina, “The Return of Politics to Manezh Square” (December 13, 2010)

Samarina warns that “the indecisiveness [of the authorities] on nationalist problems threatens the safety of the population and the country’s integrity.” ГУВД representative Viktor Biriukov told her that the police did indeed have advance knowledge about the planned nationalist activity (“It was the young people who often enough participate in nationalist rallies, including demonstrations like the ‘Russian March,’ which took place not long ago in the Liubino region”), but they didn’t publicize warnings because experience shows this only emboldens and enlarges demonstrations.

(This would seem, in part, to confirm what Oleg Kashin told Julia Ioffe: that the police definitely had advance knowledge about the planned activities at Manezh. However, Kashin said this was possible due to “rats” among the nationalists selling out their people to the cops. Biriukov’s remarks indicate that prior knowledge didn’t require spies or planted operatives: that nationalists sought to instigate violence was a common occurrence and an open secret. Biriukov’s comments, perhaps self-servingly (though still embarrassingly), support the “police incompetence” or even the “justifiably caught off-guard” interpretations over Kashin’s conspiracy theory that they purposefully allowed the pogrom out of fascist sympathy.)

Samarina next spoke to Carnegie’s Nikolai Petrov, who blamed the lack of “sufficiently decisive acton by the authorities” for causing widespread dissatisfaction on the ethnic question and an “explosive” situation in the country. By mishandling the PR campaign after Sviridov’s death and neglecting to issue a clear public statement, “the authorities demonstrated their own weakness.” He went on to argue:

“It compares to the events in Kushchevskaya. The state itself, it seems to me, doesn’t entirely understand where it is going it amputate its leg. The gangrene is spreading, but every time it tries to cut off just a little bit, in order to keep this governor or save that regional head… But the authorities can’t stop the process, and the result is that they lose far more [than would otherwise have been necessary].”, Sergei Markedonov, “Russia’s Sore Subject” (December 13, 2010)

Sergei Markedonov, currently a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, begins his op-ed with an anecdote about how Stavropol Governor Valerii Gaevskii, once after hearing a typical report about the “hooligan” and “everyday” nature of ethnic violence in his region, interrupted his staff to say: “160 young people can’t have personal quarrels with each other. Individual people can have private disputes, but when two-hundred people get together, that means there is a problem with the system.”

Markedonov acknowledges that much of the chatter following the Manezh riots fuels radical speculation about the causes and consequences of such unrest. And “the more the authorities refuse to discuss such a sensitive problem as the national question and try to silence the issue,” he warns, “the more extravagant (and extremist) the interpretations will become.” Echoing Aleksandr Gubskii’s Vedomosti piece, Markedonov warns that “an informational blockade never solves a controversial, urgent problem in the long-run.” He even compares the Russian authorities’ reluctance to be open about ethnic tensions to the West’s persecution of Julian Assange, whose popularity and controversiality has only soared higher since the United States and other countries decided to fight WikiLeaks.

Apparently fond of comparisons to the U.S. (where he works), Markedonov throws out another one: Grozny in the 1990s and Washington DC during the race riots in the 1960s. This paves the way to another broad pitch for “modernization,” not unlike the one made by Evgeny Gontmakher above. Markedonov is a bit more specific, however, and he puts this idea into some real-world context, arguing that Russia needs internal migration liberalization. He asks rhetorically if the current system doesn’t merely cater to “anyone lucky enough to be born in Moscow” and explains that internal restrictions inside the Caucasus shackle the republics to one another, making it impossible for any one to begin a genuine, breakout recovery.

He concludes with a full blown re-envisaging of Russian ethnicities policy:

“Therefore it’s necessary not to fight for ‘good Russians’ or ‘good Caucasians,’ but to think hard about how to ensure loyalty to the Russian state and society — and not just to certain ethnic groups […]. To consider and incorporate a wide variety of folkloric-ethnographic and ethnocentric-national policies is impossible. Such a platform can only actualize differences and thereby provoke conflicts.”

Basically, Markedonov is advocating undoing the ‘friendship of the peoples’ mentality that dominated the Soviet Union and persists in Russia today. (This is the stuff that inspired Sovietology history books like Terry Martin’s “The Affirmative Action Empire” and Francine Hirsch’s “Empire of Nations.”) A less sophisticated version of Markedonov’s argument can be found in an Ekho Mosvky blog post by Yuri Krupnov, published the same day. Undoubtedly trying to shock and catch the attention of tolerant-minded Ekho-readers, Krupnov argues that the slogan “Russia for Russians” should not be regarded as a racist phrase. What the reader ultimately discovers is that Krupnov wants to rebrand the word “Russian” to have the kind of civil-citizenship, non-ethnic status that the term “American” does in our hemisphere.

Kommersant, Ol’ga Allenova, “If You Remember and Count Up Every Old Grievance, Then There’s No Sense At All in Living in One Country” (December 13, 2010)

Ol’ga Allenova was not pleased with Krupnov’s article. She claims that “Russia for Russians” is a self-defeating slogan, as an entirely ethnic Russian nation would require jettisoning the country’s various non-Russian republics. “You want to live in a Russia with the boundaries of the 16th century?” she asks nationalists.

It doesn’t seem that Allenova entirely understands Krupnov’s argument, even if he did shrewdly frame it to grab attention. Despite this shortcoming, her article accrued more than 3,400 “likes” on Facebook, whereas Krupnov’s piece has just over 400 views in total.

Allenova’s op-ed likely enjoys such greater popularity because of (a) the exposure on Kommersant is far superior to being buried in Ekho Moskvy’s blogs section, and (b) the emotional language Allenova employs is more intimate. She discusses the legacy of the Chechen wars and its role in creating contemporary Russian nationalism (quoting Valery Tishkov, and echoing comments Masha Lipman made to Julia Ioffe in the New Yorker piece recommended above). Allenova’s article is far more dramatic and engaging. She says that Russian soldiers returning from the warfront were understandably furious to come home to a heartland suffering from the same criminality and poverty that plagued the North Caucasus. Allenova suggests that the crime revealed in the Kushchevskaya scandal was a breaking point for such young men.

Allenova concludes on the following sorrowful note:

“I often travel to the Caucasus. I know people who live simple, honest, and wise lives. I know professors and peasants who take great joy in receiving Russian guests, and offer up everything they can spare. And today, when your cries [addressed to Russian nationalists] fill the Internet, I’m ashamed before these people. I’m ashamed for you, sirs. And for my country.”

Vedomosti, Anastasiia Kornia and Natal’ia Kostenko, “Disorganized” (December 14, 2010)

This article is an excellent summary of the legal dealings following the Manezh riot. According to Veronika Kropivenko, a senior aide in Moscow’s Prosecutor’s Office, sixty December 11th rioters in all were detained and later released. No one was arrested. Since their release, the state has filed eleven separate criminal charges based on three different Criminal Codes: No 213 (hooliganism), No 112 (inflicting moderate bodily harm), and No 115 (inflicting light bodily harm).

Galina Kozhevnikova of the Sova Center (the same institute Ioffe spoke to about xenophobia’s history in Russia) told Vedomosti that the failure to charge anyone with organizing a mass riot demonstrates that Russian police are “unprepared to adequately address the situation.” She says that at least two well-known nationalist groups played organizing roles in the riots: “Slavianskaia Sila” (the regrouped, renamed version of the now banned “Slavianskii Soiuz”)  and “DPNI” (the Movement Against Illegal Immigration).

The applicable Criminal Code for mass riots is No 212, which threatens organizers with 4-10 years in prison, and participants with 3-8 years. Though neither the Prosecutor’s Office nor the police offered any explanation as to why no one was being prosecuted for mass rioting, Public Chamber member (and attorney) Anatoly Kucheren told Vedomosti that — even though President Medvedev referred to the violence as a “pogrom” — investigators still needed to measure the amount of “damage” in order to determine whether or not the riot could be considered “mass rioting.” (Surely Aleksandr Minkin is reluctantly congratulating himself for having predicted that, despite the Medvedev’s ‘harsh words,’ the ultimately non-legal foundation of his language made it non-binding.)

Another lawyer, Dmitri Agronovskii, expects that the authorities won’t bring No 212 charges against any of the Manezh rioters for the same reason that pensioners protesting monetary reform were never prosecuted under more serious criminal codes: the state fears it would provoke further, bigger rallies. (This is the same thing Viktor Biriukov said when he explained why the police didn’t do more to prevent the rally from happening in the first place.), “The 11ers Versus the 31ers” (December 17, 2010)

Following Surkov’s December 16th Izvestia interview, asked a few public figures to comment on his accusation that the liberal democratic opposition has made unsanctioned demonstrations “fashionable.” According to Surkov, “the [December] 11th [demonstrators] stem from the [Strategy] 31 [protesters].”

(Incidentally, the notion that Strategy 31 has become more about fashion than politics — not Surkov’s point, but still — was put forward by Oleg Kashin not long before his brutal beating. The Kashin op-ed was published in Kommersant on October 19th.)

In this piece, Galina Kozhevnikova of the Sova Center reappears to scold Surkov for his racist tone in the interview (where he loosely referred to Sviridov as “ours” and Ded Khasan, a Kurdish-speaking Yezidi mobster, as an ‘other’). She argues that the state doesn’t touch the nationalists because they’re ultimately not opposed to the authorities and don’t speak out against the Kremlin. (This is certainly hard to reconcile with the dozens of nationalist commentators who accuse the state of being in the pocket of Caucasian diaspora groups.) “If you criticize the government, you’re forbidden from doing anything,” Kozhevnikova explains. “If you don’t criticize the government, you’re permitted even to murder.”

The next two comments come from Surkov-supporters, Public Chamber member Maksim Shevchenko and Political Trends Center General Director Seregi Mikheev. Shevchenko claims that liberal democrats and nationalists share the same goals: “disrupting the nation’s political process and preventing the normal passage of elections in 2012.” He then suggests, quite ridiculously, that Strategy 31 protests have softened the police, training them to believe “that they can’t touch anyone,” leaving them overly cautious and fearful of brutality accusations and therefore unready to confront rioters. Mikheev dodges the question about liberal democrats entirely, stating that Caucasian diaspora groups have become “states within a state” that try to “live outside the laws of the Russian Federation.”

Vedomosti (editorial), “Manezhed Xenophobia” (literally: “A Training Ground for Xenophobia,” [Манеж ксенофобии]), December 13, 2010

After some complaining about the unprofessionalism and bad performance of the police and Manezh, this editorial says the following about diasporas:

“The behavior of the representatives of the diaspora is universal: with inherently fewer opportunities than local natives, immigrants have to unite and help each other. This is nothing frightening in a society of law and order, but it is frightening in a society of total corruption.”

In such a state of corruption, Vedomosti explains, the authorities are just one of many insular groups — a diaspora of sorts — that fends for itself amidst the chaos.

Radio Svoboda, Mark Urnov (interview), “On Fascism in Russia” (December 17, 2010)

Mark Urnov, a political scientist from the Moscow Higher School of Economics, says that the nationalist-fascist crowds that marched on Manezh “have a strong grasp of the flashmob technologies that allow them to gather quickly in different cities, with the help of the Internet. They boast large numbers. A significant chunk of the authorities sympathize with them, and consider them to be a part of their structure.” (I can’t help but note that the “with the help of the Internet” remark made me laugh out loud, as though it wasn’t assumed already. What stopped Urnov, one wonders, from pointing out that the nationalists have also exploited “the power of speech” to better communicate and “the perfidy of civilian clothing” to better hide themselves in crowds?)

Urnov warns that events like Manezh provoke reciprocal activities from Caucasian groups, resulting in an escalation of violence that is capable of posing an existential threat to the country. Having been alerted to this danger, the authorities are adapting their behavior to protect their own safety, turning to a language of nationalism and patriotism in order to avoid a serious debate about corruption (the true threat). “If this wave isn’t stopped, it could end very poorly,” Urnov concludes ominously. “In a best case scenario, it could end in a bloodless collapse of the country. And in a worst case, it could be very bloody.”


  1. A diverse range of views in the “neo-Soviet” state.


    “He says that the public shouldn’t dismiss the ‘terrorism’ caused by Caucasian youth groups. ‘The human rights groups defend them and the diaspora groups fund them,’ Deliagin claims.”


    It shouldn’t be assumed that one group is completely virtuous over the other. Can’t help but be reminded of how some (stress some) portray the past and present situation of the Tatars in Crimea.


    “Undoubtedly trying to shock and catch the attention of tolerant-minded Ekho-readers, Krupnov argues that the slogan ‘Russia for Russians’ should not be regarded as a racist phrase. What the reader ultimately discovers is that Krupnov wants to rebrand the word ‘Russian’ to have the kind of civil-citizenship, non-ethnic status that the term ‘American’ does in our hemisphere.”


    Responsibly patriotic Russians are perfectly aware that they’ve allies among some people of non-Russian background and that being ethnic Russian isn’t by default supportive of politically mainstream Russian views.


    “Spravedlivaia Rossiia leader Sergei Mironov complained that ethnic Russians today are perpetually made to feel guilty and shamed about their ‘Russianness”.”


    This thought can be expanded on. I’m reminded a bit of a recent thread discussion, which touched on such matter (among other things):

    On a somewhat related albeit distant note, George Krasnow provides a different take on Nikita Mikhalkov’s manifesto:

    Finally, Russian history includes non-Russians being accepted as Russians. A multiethnic country with socioeconomic challenges is bound to experience problems. Keep in mind the number of non-ethnic Russians who play lead roles in Russia’s government and society. Seeing the kind of mindset evident elsewhere, Russians are far from having a monopoly on being anti some others.

    The above story pertains to a relatively well off country with one ethnicity constituting 90% of its population, with much of the remainder being not so ethno-religiously diverse from the majority. Make that country larger, socioeconomically poorer and more multi-ethnically diverse and see what happens.

    • Misha, unless one assumes that each of these grieving mothers, widows, and friends are all lying through their teeth, it is indisputable that certain diaspora groups or ethnic gangs are indeed breaking the law. I don’t think this is a racist or nationalist observation. Based on MK’s interviews with the victims’ families and friends, I get the sense that they are not extremely political individuals — rather they are willing to accept the support and lobbying of anyone who will help. In an environment of police corruption and unprofessionalism, that seems to mean turning to sports-fans clubs, which in turn enlist the help of extremists. It’s a vicious spiral.

      • AGT

        On your follow-up point, so there’s no misunderstanding (excuse any on my part), this is what I excerpted and replied to:

        “He says that the public shouldn’t dismiss the ‘terrorism’ caused by Caucasian youth groups. ‘The human rights groups defend them and the diaspora groups fund them,’ Deliagin claims.”


        You’re no doubt familiar with the ethnic violence that erupted in Karelia not too long ago. It included the notion of newly arrived individuals from the Caucasus, whose bad apples among them were a main provoking factor.

        It’s an ugly cycle, which has been evident elsewhere in Russia. In such instances (at least in some of them), it has been said that lowly paid law enforcement are offered bribes to look the other way.

        One of the articles you highlight made the analogy of how some in the US have viewed a certain ethnic group with organized crime. In Russia, payola to low saloried law enforcement has the appearance of whoever is the highest bidder. At the same time, within Russian law enforcement, there’s undoubtedly a degree of the depicted “Russia for Russians” mindset, which is potentially greatest minus non-ethnic Russian criminal payola – in conjunction with a law enforcement grouping having a noticeably red necked mindset.

        The “regime” has spoken out against this kind of ethnic violence and should proceed to do so in a way that serves to encourage positive results – instead of pure PR spin.

  2. Thanks for the synopsis. It amazes me though, from your presentation at least, that no commentator noted that youth make up both sides of the issue: Russian and “Caucasian” youth. The MVD has admitted for a few years now that (religious) nationalism and far-right groups have been growing among young people, and it seems to me one reason is that they feel increasingly politically and economically marginalized. In my opinion, it points to the inability of Russian liberalism (Putin and Mevedev) to politically and economically incorporate youth. Unemployment among 15-24 year olds is around 16%, according to official statistics. People under 25 make up over a third of the unemployed workforce. The economic situation in the North Caucasus is even worse, hence the pull of employment in Moscow. These young people are fighting over increasingly scarce resources. The political system has no real way to bring them into the fold unless they want to participate in Nashi et al. Nor is there any comprehensive ideology to guide them. All of these make fertile ground for nationalism. Maybe there was someone in the article you present that addressed these issues, but it seems to me that most commentators are just as unwilling to see the writing on the wall and instead turn Manezh into another political arrow in their own partisan war.

    • Sean, I think you’d find more talk of the age and generational issues in the debate on Russian LiveJournal. Unfortunately, I had to limit my research to newspapers (with the exception of Limonov’s blog, which was irresistible).

      Where commentators in the press have touched on age is in the ongoing discussion about the legacy and consequences of the wars in Chechnya. This is often brought up in the context of a sort of “lost generation” of young мужики, who returned home to a heartland flooded with the shit of mafia violence that is often ethnically divided — and a system of law and order that is perpetually out to lunch, if not out for hire.

      I wonder how long the Chechen wars narrative can function as an explanation of why young Russian men are so angry about the growing numbers of Caucasians in major Russian cities. Revisiting the war is all fine and good, but — as you rightly point out — there are less dazzling, more contemporary problems in the Caucasus that need to be addressed for a fuller picture of the troubles down there.

  3. I once thought Putin would be a likely presidential candidate in the next election, but I’ve become convinced – through this site, among others – that that won’t happen. I honestly don’t see how the riots could be just a cynical manipulation to “make Medvedev look bad” so Putin can step in. Putin could easily have been using him as a placeholder the whole time, although you’ve convinced me he isn’t, and seems to have offered him the support the President merits from the Prime Minister. So it’s curious to see that theory surface in the Russian press.

    We’ve all seen what might have been relatively minor events act as the catalyst for a firestorm of violence that captures the public imagination for a short time. Without in any way downplaying the racism element or the investment of ethnic youth groups, I think that’s all that’s in play here.

    The press is simply doing what it always does: going long on analysis, while wondering how long they can keep it on the front page – self-fulfilling prophesy writ small. There’s a very interesting take on it here,

    illustrating the manner in which the politicians are scrambling to blame it on each other. As I’ve commented there, each side (the government and the liberal opposition) could be shown to be foolish in their attempts to blame it on the other by simply citing the liberal opposition’s dismal showing in the last election. Although they certainly wouldn’t hesitate to use the riots to make the government look bad, the notion their protests paved the way for the riot is preposterous; look how many pay attention to their protests. Similarly, any attempt by the liberal opposition to discredit the government by suggesting this is a heartfelt cry for liberalizing reforms is made ridiculous by the political support for the parties offering liberalizing reforms. Neither of you can have it both ways, guys.

  4. “Putin could easily have been using him as a placeholder the whole time, although you’ve convinced me he isn’t, and seems to have offered him the support the President merits from the Prime Minister.”

    Mark, of course Medvedev was nothing but a placeholder. The polls are showing that the majority of Russians think that Putin is still in charge of the country.
    As for Putin as a next “presidential candidate” – I wonder about it myself by now.
    What I am trying to figure out is how big that nationalist movement across the country, and whether the latest events in Moscow are indicative of it.
    If the nationalistic spirit becomes very popular across the nation, then Mr. Putin will have to step up to the plate and embrace it ( that is if he wants to become next president.) It might be so however, that he’ll prefer to play the role of “enlightened European leader,” who will refuse to accept the role of the Russian “duce.” In this case someone else – meaning some new figure, the nationalist, will take the spotlight. However if this happens, the blame will be still squarly on Putin and his minions, because the nationalist takeover would be a direct result of his economic policy ( and corruption) that would bring things to such hapless end. As for the *opposition* – Nemtzov, Milov et al – they are simply irrelevant under the circumstances.

  5. Between the author of this below piece and Putin, who is the greater nationalistic?

    For that matter, who has the greater nationalist foreign policy between some American neolib and neocon desires to be globally involved in a military sense versus Russia’s more stay near its home approach?

    To my knowledge: unlike then Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s arbitrary granting of a Soviet like “Hero” status to WW II Galician Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, post-Soviet Russia hasn’t granted such a status to any Russian historical figures.

    In short, I think the “nationalist” tag on Russia gets a bit overplayed.

    I think Russia lacks when it comes to having effectively high profile and responsibly patriotic replies to biased views against it.

    Merry Christimas for those of you observing on the new calender.

    • Misha you are missing the point. Putin himself is not conducting the nationalistic policies in Russia and he is not encouraging the kind of events that took place on Manezhnay Square ( in fact they are most likely not good news for him.) It’s his unstoppable and all-encompassing corruption, his economy that is in essence based on controlling and milking Europe with the help of Russian natural
      resources, his disregard for the value of human life of his fellow citizens and his desire to serve the golden calf above anything – those are the main factors that lead to events that took place lately on Manezhnaya.

      Merry Christmas to you too.

      • Thank you Erasure.

        In other words: Russian nationalism isn’t so much the issue as some make it out to be?

        Meantime, the nationalism of some others has been downplayed in some circles. At issue, is a consistency factor for the purpose of maintaining a reasonably objective overview of international issues.

        In some places nationalism is mixed with a good amount of corruption like ******., which has been supported with massive per capita amounts of Western aid.

        Not that much if not all of the above is so new. In this situation, the newness applies to which sources are now making a noticeable degree of acknowledgement on such matter.

        Concerning Russia and the use of nationalism, I maintain the benefit to effectively communicate a responsible Russian patriotism which is understood outside that country as well as inside of it.

        • Misha, quite honestly I don’t understand why are you pointing at “some other countries” talking about nationalism in Russia. What it has got to do with *other countries?*
          The point is, the corruption under Putin’s government breeds a lot of poverty, anger and resentment; it provokes aggressiveness in people, Russians and non-Russians alike. This is the fertile ground for nationalism and many other troubles. What there is not to understand?

          • Quite honestly Erasure, there’s an ongoing double standard of putting Russia under greater scrutiny in comparsion to what’s going on or had been going on elsewhere. On the one hand, there’s the suggestion that Russia isn’t so advanced as some others on a number of issues. Why then put it under greater scrutiny? Part of the answer lies in the ongoing significance of Russia (at least among some). Another aspect has to do with a bias against that country.

            It has been said that some Russian czars probably didn’t mind a “good” pogrom, while not having planned such action. (BTW, that point can be followed up on in relatios to how some anti-Russian government left of center folks likely didn’t mind a “good” pogrom to serve as PR for their cause.)

            The analytical mindset which some utilize doesn’t seem to carry on as much with other instances like how some past American and British leaders might’ve privately saw matters like the famine in Ireland and lynchings of Blacks in the US.

            As for your remarks on Putin – Khodorkovsky was considering selling Yukos to non-Russian interests, while looking into playing a greater role in Russian politics. The 1990s era isn’t so far removed and Russia’s political process remains ongoing.

            When faced with the choice of the coined KGB (Khodorkovksy, Gusinsky and Berezovsky) or Putin, most Russians (within reason) opt for the latter. As has been noted at this and other venues, the Russian “liberals” share some fault for their limited standing in Russia.

            • Misha, this is not mainstream American media, or the Heritage Foundation or senator McCain’s election headquarters, so no one is *scrutinizing* here anything, applying “double standards” as you are implying. This particular blogger ( AGT that is) and some others have a solid background in Russian studies as I can see ( where the heck am I?I hope it’s a blog…):D
              So they do their best to understand and analyze the situation, without your typical stereotyping of mainstream American media, so no need to be overly defensive.
              Now if you want to ask my personal opinion, then because of my background I’d be closest the most with people associated with Yabloko party, no matter what became of it with time.
              “Партия интеллигенции в стоптанных ботинках” as it has been called once – yes, this is the idea ( and people)I can relate to. Part of them still support Yabloko and they have no respect for Gusinsky-Berezovsky-Yeltzin whatsoever.
              Putin however IS a problem, because of the myth he created in the minds of Russians. The myth, that he came *out of nowhere* to save “mother- Russia” from the “horrible nineties.” In the reality he is an inseparable part of the nineties, so thuggery and corruption in the country keeps on flourishing under him, and now it seems to be leading to the dire consequences.

              • Erasure, I see first hand some of what is and isn’t said and find it appropriate to reply as has been done. I assure you that my impressions aren’t exclusive to yours truly. I differ with the impression (suggestive or otherwise) that a noticeably limited number of individuals/slants should be perceived as the exclusive contributors of wisdom.

                Yes, I’m aware that Putin was appointed by Yeltsin and initially had the support of the oligarch folks who fell out of favor in Russia.

                It can be reasonably said that Putin decided to take a different approach, which arguably better serves Russia’s interests. That said, I agree that clear impefections linger on in Russia and that Putin isn’t exempt from fault.

  6. Pardon misspell and to elaborate on a closing point on biases: this especially applies outside Russia.

    Differentiation can be made with those having axes to grind versus others who’re subconsciously influenced by a lack of substantively broader perspectives on a number of Russia related topics.

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