The dangers of encouraging nationalism: opinion poll results
Over the past year, the authorities and the bureaucracy at all levels have done much to enable xenophobia in Russia. It all started with the ban on wine imports from Moldova, followed by a ban on Georgian wine and mineral water. By autumn, the anti-Georgian campaign was in full swing.
People’s Unity Day (November 4) is even more remote from social harmony this year than it was last year. In 2005, this “festival of the patriotic forces” was marked by a march in Moscow that drew the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), the Slavic Union, Russian National Unity, and common skinheads. This year, Moscow’s municipal authorities have denied permission for a similar event, Russian March 2006 – due to apprehensions about neo-fascist slogans and public clashes. The pro-nationalist mobs are expected to march in the streets regardless of permission. They feel it in the air: rising xenophobia and strengthening chauvinism. This is also indicated by opinion poll results.
After each incident of violence on ethnic grounds, poll respondents usually express alarm about interethnic conflict. But this concern subsides with the passage of time, displaced by concerns over other problems. In February 2006, soon after a multiple stabbing at a Moscow synagogue, a poll done by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) showed 29% of respondents describing that attack as signalling a dangerous trend of rising ethnic and religious intolerance in Russian society; 55% described the incident as unfortunate, but not significant. Meanwhile, 36% of respondents said that tension and intolerance in interethnic relations as a whole have increased in recent years; 39% said that the situation has remained unchanged; and only 17% said that interethnic relations have become more tolerant.
Events gathered pace from there. The summer of 2006 saw violent incidents between migrants from the Caucasus and local residents in Syktyvkar, then in Salsk. And then there were the brawls in the town of Kondopoga, leaving two men dead, followed by pogroms directed against Caucasus migrants. Thirty-nine percent of respondents described these conflicts, especially Kondopoga, as violence on the grounds of ethnic hatred; one-third fewer respondents attributed the violence to power-struggles between crime gangs for control over profitable trading sites and businesses; only 6% of respondents described it as an ordinary drunken brawl.
However, people do take a deeper view of this issue; when asked about objective reasons for increased interethnic conflicts, they don’t just attribute them to dislike of “outsiders.” When asked about possible causes of events like those in Kondopoga, 26% of respondents named clashes between the economic interests of local residents and migrant businesspeople; 24% spoke of a clash between two ways of life – that of the local residents and that of migrants – meaning that migrants behave arrogantly, disrespecting local customs or lifestyles; 23% blamed the government’s ill-considered migration policies; 21% attributed the problem to poverty and low living standards, which foster discontent and anger directed at “aliens”; 15% said the problem is a lack of public awarness about interethnic relations in contemporary Russia; but only 10% said that “nationalist sentiments” as such are rising. Moreover, all of the abovementioned reasons flourish due to the inaction, encouragement, or direct fault of the authorities: 24% of respondents said that the local government was primarily to blame for the tragic events in Kondopoga.
Over the past year, the authorities and the bureaucracy at all levels have done much to enable xenophobia in Russia. It all started with the ban on wine imports from Moldova, followed by a ban on Georgian wine and mineral water. By autumn, the anti-Georgian campaign was in full swing, including an economic blockade, a trade boycott, a ban on money transfers, books by Georgian authors being confiscated, and Georgians being deported from Russia. It would be hard to think of a better gift for the xenophobes and chauvinists: polls showed 40% support for the economic sanctions against Georgia and 20% support for the suspension of transport and mail links with Georgia. Serious damage has been done to relations between the Russian and Georgian people: 42% of respondents say that relations will remain tense for a long time, 24% say that this conflict will lead to a breakdown in political and economic relations between Russia and Georgia, 4% predict an armed conflict or a war. Only 20% expect the situation to return to normal soon and the conflict to be resolved.
In choosing the “Georgian enemy” as a means of consolidating the nation, the nationalists in Russia fail to consider that the Russian people might soon come to regard everyone around us as the enemy – especially since we already have some experience of being “surrounded by hostile forces.” So it’s hard to say who will become the target of “the people’s unity”; there’s a broad choice of targets.