August: achievements in the battle against fascism


Once again, August in Russia has taken its toll. The Cherkizovo market bombing: ten dead. The crash of an airliner flying from Anapa to St. Petersburg: 171 dead. The authorities are investigating.

In the case of the plane crash, the investigation still has a long way to go before any final conclusions can be drawn, but the leading theory is that extreme weather conditions were responsible. According to qualified experts, however, another direct cause might have been the poor technical condition of Russia’s air fleet – though “individuals in authority” would prefer not to admit this, of course.

The market bombing seems to have been solved already. Oleg Kostyrev, a student at the Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology – “nuts about nationalism,” as a classmate told Izvestia – downloaded a recipe for making a crude explosive device. Accompanied by some like-minded acquaintances – Ilya Tikhomirov and Valery Zhukovets, also Moscow students – he then decided to start “cleansing Russia and its capital of criminal ethnic elements.”

The Gazeta newspaper reports that nine of the ten people killed in the bombing have been identified: two Russians, four Tajiks, two Uzbeks, and one citizen of Belarus.

“But who cares about this circumstance?” asks journalist Nadezhda Petrova in Gazeta. “Obviously, not the reader who said in a Gazeta forum that ‘migrants from the CIS and elsewhere’ should concentrate on the economies of their own countries: ‘They should go home, and then they’ll remain in good health.'”

“Apparently, the bombing victims aren’t even equal in death,” says deputy chief editor Anton Trofimov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The Moscow municipal authorities have decided that compensation for people injured in the Cherkizovo bombing, and for families of the dead, will only apply to victims who were legally-registered Moscow residents.

Trofimov says: “It’s hard to understand the reasoning behind the decision to deny compensation to people who essentially supply the municipal budget. It’s even harder to understand the reasoning according to which the death of a Muscovite is an event, but the death of a migrant doesn’t really matter.”

Indeed, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes, “there are no Muscovites among the dead” is a phrase we have heard before – in February, when the Bauman market roof collapsed. This phrase was only repeated in August. And “these astonishing words” were spoken against a backdrop of official statements from law enforcement agencies to the effect that the bombing was probably an ethnic hate crime.

As Novaya Gazeta notes, in the numerous comments by law enforcement representatives there’s a clear reluctance to tell it like it is: no one uses the term “act of terrorism” – they find synonyms for it. Novaya Gazeta says: “Apparently, when a bombing in Russia kills Russians, it’s an act of terrorism – but when it kills Chinese or Vietnamese, it’s only multiple murder.”

Alexei Levinson, socio-cultural research director at the Levada Center, says in an article for the Kommersant newspaper: “At the grass-roots level, and sometimes at the top level of government, there are signs of strong urges to portray Russia as an integral entity: a united community with one religion, one culture, and (ideally) one ethnic group. Talk of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society in Russia remains nothing more than words said by officials in official situations.”

In Levinson’s view, the current rise in xenophobia is largely the result of “the demonstrative behavior of the authorities – who let it be understood, through connivance or other signs, that they feel the same way, even though they might say otherwise.”

These “hints from the top” now enable “ordinary post-Soviet people” discard not only their tired old “proletarian internationalism,” but also “any rumors they might have heard about all people being born equal or the idea that violating people’s rights is shameful and unlawful.”

But even though “attitudes to migrants are growing worse,” Russia does need migrants – “and will need them even more in future.”

“It seems that a shortage of labor will become the Russian economy’s chief shortage,” says Viktor Perevedentsev in Novoe Vremya magazine. “It can only be alleviated by an inflow of migrants into Russia.”

Perevedentsev goes on to say: “During President Putin’s time in power, virtually nothing has been done to increase the birth-rate or reduce mortality – as President Putin himself acknowledged in his latest address to parliament. But a great deal has been done in the area of migration.” As a result of these actions, the legal inflow of migrants into Russia, which was high in the first half of the 1990s, has practically stopped.

Thus, says Perevedentsev, Russia lost an opportunity to avoid the demographic crisis which is being discussed so often nowadays.

Perevedentsev notes that the Federal Migration Service (FMS), established in 1992 to receive refugees and displaced persons, was eventually absorbed by the Interior Ministry and essentially became “a police body, mainly engaged in fighting illegal aliens.”

Perevedentsev describes the metamorphosis of the FMS as “a grave fundemental error” on the part of the authorities: “Given the current demographic situation, this body should have been inviting potential resettlers to Russia, helping them with initial employment and subsequent economic and socio-psychological adaptation to new conditions, and facilitating their overall integration into Russian society.” This is an incredibly difficult task for an official state agency; at any rate, the FMS in its present form is “fundamentally incapable of doing any of this.”

What’s more, the police have developed “a blatantly parasitic relationship with the unfortunate illegal migrants, primarily guest-workers.” As everyone knows, “police-linked firms” will sell almost any document a person may require – from a migrant card to a passport for travel abroad.

In Perevedentsev’s view, “current migration policy with regard to international migration, and the existing system of state agencies implementing that policy, probably can’t be fixed.” The only solution is to change them radically, into “a regimen that provides maximal encouragement” for guest-workers and permanent migrants.

Meanwhile, as the Novye Izvestia newspaper reports, the FMS itself has no doubt that some recent amendments to legislation will make Russia more attractive to migrants.

An official at the FMS visa and registration work organization directorate told Novye Izvestia that under the new rules, foreigners will be “automatically freed from the need to re-register annually.” Foreigners from countries with which Russia has visa-free travel agreements will now be able to “receive temporary residence permits on request and without quotas.” The migrants will be able to collect the necessary documentation within a month, and work permits will be provided within ten days.

Nevertheless, says Novye Izvestia, the new procedures aren’t expected to increase the number of legal labor migrants, since “basic migration volumes have already been established.” Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Duma’s constitutional law committee, says that the countries affected by this law “have already sent us as many migrants as they’re ever going to send.” In short, almost everyone who wanted to move from other CIS countries to Russia has already done so. Consequently, says Pligin, “the issue now is mostly about individuals who are already in Russia but haven’t undergone registration procedures.”

There are quite a lot of those people – though no one knows exactly how many.

Novye Izvestia reports that according to official figures from the FMS, over 750,000 foreigners received Russian work permits last year. Independent experts estimate that the real number of labor migrants in Russia is somewhere between 5 million and 15 million, with 2-5 million of them working in Moscow or the Moscow region. However, the FMS also admits that 10 million is a more realistic estimate for the number of illegal guest-workers. Over 80% of them are from CIS countries. The UN Commission on Population and Development reports similar figures: 12 million international migrants in Russia.

There’s also a forecast: RosStat predicts that Russia will have at least 19 million illegal immigrants by 2010: equivalent to one-eighth of Russia’s population.

Critics of the latest migration law amendments maintain that an increased inflow of migrants will heighten social tension in Russia. Sergei Mitrokhin, a member of the Moscow municipal legislature, says that the new legislation is flawed due to a lack of “regional differentiation.” Mitrokhin says: “Some regions of Russia really need migrants – and there should be incentives for migrants to move there.” But other regions – such as Moscow, the Moscow region, St. Petersburg – “could face a catastrophic situation if the inflow of migrants increases.” Mitrokhin maintains that this might even provoke “a substantial increase in murder on the grounds of ethnic hatred.”

But the Levada Center doesn’t see any guarantees that migrants wouldn’t have problems if they are resettled in sparsely-populated regions with a predominantly rural population.

On the contrary, Andrei Levinson stresses in his article for Kommersant that xenophobia is a product of “rural mentality, not urban mentality.” An urban community is “aware that its own structure is complex and multi-dimensional, and knows that this complexity can only be enriched by the addition of new elements.”

This modern version of “proletarian internationalism” contrasts with the “rural mentality,” which regards any and all newcomers as hostile aliens.

Nevertheless, Levinson acknowledges that the “rural mentality” is now the dominant public discourse in Russia – even though its adherents may live in cities. “It’s the norm – the self-evident system of views shared by ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ people as they communicate” about the issues in question: “If a person says that ‘we’re locals, they’re newcomers – so we have rights, they have duties’ – most ‘normal’ people wouldn’t even think of contradicting this.”

Such attitudes, being so widespread, inevitably find expression in politics. Novye Izvestia reports that Dmitri Rogozin, who led the Motherland (Rodina) party until March this year, now plans to dedicate his efforts to ethnic affairs again.

In the past, Rogozin all but called for non-Russians to be expelled from Russia – but now he’s preparing to defend the rights of Russian-speakers in Russia and other CIS countries.

The press has reported that Rogozin and his former partner in the Motherland party, Sergei Glaziev, are preparing to revive the Congress of Russian Communities (CRC). As the first step, they intend to establish a Russian Research Center; its basic goals will be to “provide assistance in defending rights, and anti-defamation activity.” The anti-defamation activity entails “countering any attempts to insult the dignity of Russians or discredit the Russian nation, the Russian language, Russian culture, and Russian history.”

The “most problematic regions” for the rights of ethnic Russians have already been identified: Kalmykia, Adygea, Bashkortostan, and Tatarstan. Novye Izvestia reports that the Russian Research Center will start work in mid-September. And the CRC will hold a congress this autumn.

Analysts observe that Rogozin and Glaziev, now out of the Motherland party, are seeking a new position in politics. Valery Khomyakov, director of the Applied and Regional Policy Institute, says that Rogozin has a strong need “to be somebody, not just an ordinary Duma member.”

In Khomyakov’s view, the attempt to turn back the clock to a decade ago, when the CRC was established, is unlikely to succeed; the situation has changed, and the problem is no longer as acute in the CIS: “Russia’s present administration demonstrates that it is protecting Russians – President Putin himself is talking about this issue nowadays, and Russians abroad are relying on him, not on Rogozin and Glaziev.”

The political landscape includes some even more resolute proponents of defending the rights of Russians – in Russia itself.

Novye Izvestia reports that a rather unusual new organization held its inaugural congress in Moscow the other day: the Rus Constitution-Defending Party (PZRK).

The founders have stated publicly that their party’s views go no further than center-right, and they fully support President Putin’s policy course.

However, the party’s leaders include some former members of People’s Will – and Alexander Rashitsky, former press secretary to Russian National Unity leader Alexander Barkashov. Novye Izvestia reports that Rashitsky’s rather rambling and emotional speech at the PZRK congress concluded with “Glory to sovereign Russia!” And the audience echoed this with Barkashov’s slogan: “Glory to Russia!”

Nevertheless, PZRK leaders categorically deny holding nationalist views. Moreover, they claim that “no one except community organizations is behind” the new party (as yet unregistered). And the party doesn’t need the Kremlin’s support at all: “As long as the Kremlin doesn’t obstruct us.” Novye Izvestia notes that this is probably why the PZRK is emphasizing that it’s a center-right party and swearing loyalty to the president.

Alexander Tarasov, head of the new sociology and contemporary politics department at the Phoenix Center, says that these people are radicals seeking legitimacy beneath a facade of upholding the Constitution, for the purpose of gaining official opportunities to promote their ideas.

Against this kind of backdrop, it’s not surprising that many aren’t convinced by the current statements of those who are investigating the Cherkizovo market bombing.

The press has been skeptical about Moscow Prosecutor Yuri Semin’s statement: “The investigation has found no evidence to show that the suspects belonged to any formal organizations or groups.” At any rate, “none of the detained people have any party membership cards” (quotes from Nezavisimaya Gazeta).

But how did these students, studying at different universities and originally from different cities, find each other? This question is asked in an article for Novaya Gazeta by military observer Vyacheslav Izmailov. In his view, there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence “to say categorically that no nationalist organization was behind these three people.”

“We’re fighting fascism, and everything seems to be in order,” says Dmitri Bykov in Izvestia. “But it’s a very strange kind of fascism – made up of students, unorganized, based on the Internet…”

Bykov emphasizes that this is happening in a society where “there are plenty of real signs of neo-Nazism at all levels.” Perhaps the authorities want a rapid investigation into an “isolated crime” to deflect public attention from “far more widespread signs and far more dangerous trends.”

It’s hard to say. All the same, it is more likely that the authorities are making every effort to show Russia and the outside world (particularly the outside world) that they are successfully taking action against “individual neo-Nazis.” The parallel message is as follows: no need for concern, the situation is under control, isolated incidents are being investigated efficiently, the guilty are being punished.

Don’t be afraid of fascism, citizens; after all, the authorities don’t fear it.