THE KARELIAN WARS: A HIDDEN THREAT

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Duma member Vladimir Vasiliev on the Kondopoga riots and the aftermath

After the September 2-3 riots in the town of Kondopoga, Karelia, a number of Chechens left town, moving to the regional capital of Petrozavodsk. A working group of six Duma members spent September 11 in Karelia, investigating the situation.


Following instructions from the Duma Council, six lawmakers spent Monday, September 11 in Karelia, attempting to sort out the reasons behind the Kondopoga events. Vladimir Vasiliev, chairman of the Duma security council, shares his impressions from the visit.

Question: Has Kondopoga settled down?

Vladimir Vasiliev: In Petrozavodsk we met with the Karelian leadership, and in Kondopoga we also met with local residents. Judging by the mood of some of them, emotions are running very high. However, they were invited to submit written notifications concerning any knowledge they may have about law-breaking by Caucasus migrants or abuses on the part of officials – and there has been no response as yet. So we agreed – and Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer representing the Public Chamber, supported us – that any Kondopoga resident could approach us and tell us all they know.

On the whole, the town is functioning normally. As for calming down – that’s relative. Some of the residents never got carried away at all, while others are still in that condition.

Question: Did you find an answer to the question of who is to blame?

Vladimir Vasiliev: We came to understand that no one expected the consequences of the brawl to be so severe. That’s why the municipal authorities only produced a standard reaction. Unfortunately, no one among them raised the alarm and stopped the situation getting out of control. Moreover, the town’s police chief was appointed only six months ago, after his predecessor was dismissed for unsatisfactory performance. And the mayor of Kondopoga was on vacation when violence broke out – since then, he has handed in his resignation.

Kondopoga has a very strong pulp and paper mill. Many decisions are made by the mill, while the municipal administration isn’t very effective – and perhaps not very responsible. People told us that there’s a lack of authority in everything outside the pulp and paper mill.

Question: Did you meet with any of the Chechens who have left Kondopoga?

Vladimir Vasiliev: No. The families who left are now in Petrozavodsk, and I think it’s premature to discuss their return. Ultimately, that decision should be made by the people themselves, once they realize that they’re not at risk. Meanwhile, some Caucasus migrants are still in Kondopoga – they haven’t left town at all. Kondopoga residents mostly spoke of establishing a regimen that favors locals as much as possible, with a selective approach to migrants.

In Kondopoga, people who don’t work at the mill, or are fired from there for breaches of discipline, can’t find any place for themselves. So there’s the mill, and there’s the rest of the town. And that part of the population – those who have been left out – became a fertile environment for conflict. The conflict itself arose from hooliganism – the investigation says so, and we have no reason to doubt it. But then it developed into ethnic violence… By the way, the speaker of the Karelian legislature told us that 250 million rubles has been allocated for business support in Karelia, and Kondopoga’s small business owners get top priority for assistance. So events have forced the authorities to finally pay attention to a serious problem.

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