The aftermath of anti-migrant riots in Karelia

It was reported yesterday that a demonstration against people from the Caucasus may also take place in the city of Petrozavodsk. In the wake of rioting in the town of Kondopoga, leaflets distributed late yesterday in Petrozavodsk called on local residents to attend a rally against illegal migrants.

It was reported yesterday that a demonstration against people from the Caucasus may also take place in the city of Petrozavodsk, capital of Karelia. In the wake of rioting in the town of Kondopoga, leaflets distributed late yesterday in Petrozavodsk called on local residents to attend a rally against illegal migrants.

The mass disturbances in Kondopoga had ended by yesterday, but someone did try to set fire to the Chaika restaurant again. That restaurant was the scene of a drunken brawl between Russians and Chechens on Wednesday, August 30, which ended in the deaths of two Russians (Sergei Usin, 32, and Grigori Slezov, 35), followed by mass pogroms and a demonstration calling for all Caucasus migrants to be expelled from the town.

These events are still the sole topic of conversation in Kondopoga.

“People are scared – they don’t know what they can rely on,” said Karelian regional leader Sergei Katanandov after visiting the town.

On September 3, the Chechen community handed over three suspects to the law enforcement agencies: Magomedov, Kamilov, and Sadykov, aged between 21 and 34. Chechen diaspora representatives told us that all four are Chechens who worked with their parents, some of this work involving the local street market.

Was it a common brawl or a business redistribution?

Kondopoga still has no precise answer to that question. Our correspondent who visited the town found that local residents believe these events were caused by the behavior of certain Chechens in Kondopoga. According to local residents, Chechens have terrorized the population for several years but the police never took any adequate measures.

“Chechens assault teenagers, steal mobile phones, drive too fast in cars without number plates or licenses. And they get away with everything!” said a local resident who asked to remain anonymous; people are still afraid.

Kondopoga Mayor Anatoly Papchenkov said that “the conflict is based on property ownership disputes.” Katanandov spoke of this as well, instructing officials to “determine the extent to which people from the Caucasus are a problem for local business.”

To all appearances, there really was such a conflict – but it’s still uncertain who was oppressing whom. Makhmet Matiyev, leader of the Vainakh Cultural Society, maintains that the unrest was provoked by local organized crime bosses seeking to drive out Chechen businesspeople who refuse to pay tribute to them. Matiyev believes that the Chechens who took part in the brawl were acting in self-defense.

Salanbek Murtazayev, leader of the Chechen diaspora in Kondopoga, told us yesterday that there was never any conflict with local residents.

“All the talk about a redistribution of business is nonsense. It was an ordinary brawl. Later on, nationalist attitudes escalated the situation,” says Murtazayev. He admits that he hasn’t slept in five days; he’s been trying to regulate the situation. Murtazayev says he isn’t afraid to walk the streets of Kondopoga. However, we also talked with Alexander Korolev, owner of a local hotel, who says that Chechens are bringing their families to the hotel to get them away from any potential clashes. “There’s an OMON police commando on guard outside every Chechen home.”

Kadyrov is ready to help Karelia

Karelian leader Sergei Katanandov and Kondopoga Mayor Anatoly Papchenkov say they will now pay more attention to the situation in street markets and trade. At the rally, they promised that people from the Caucasus wouldn’t get all the stalls at street markets; Russian traders would have places as well.

Katanandov said: “According to our information, Caucasus migrants only own a few companies here. The majority of business, the basic resources and stores, are owned by local businesspeople – but if that isn’t the case, we’ll be correcting the local authorities. There should be no imbalance in either direction.”

But the people can’t imagine how the situation can be “fixed.” The greatest fear among Kondopoga residents is that this problem will be hushed up and everything will remain as it is.

“The only difference will be that Russians stand behind the counters – but Caucasus migrants will still control trade,” says an anonymous resident.

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov decided to intervene in the situation yesterday. “If the Karelian authorities cannot find any forms and methods of regulating the situation, we could find some legal methods,” he said. Karelia responded sharply that “there’s no need for sword-waving.” According to our sources, a delegation from Chechnya is coming to Kondopoga; but staff at the Karelian administration say that as yet they “don’t know what we can talk to them about.”

Like flies to honey

The Kondopoga situation differs from other prominent ethnic conflicts in that this is the first time political groups have started exploiting such a conflict for their own purposes.

Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) activists were the first to be noticed at the demonstrations. But DPNI official spokesman Alexander Belov denies that his organization had anything to do with the Kondopoga pogroms or organizing a rally.

“I found out about these events after a report was posted on our website. I don’t use the Internet very often, but others called me and advised me to read it,” Belov said.

The Karelians are inclined to suspect the DPNI of being involved in organizing the first rally. To all appearances, however, the ground had already been prepared before DPNI activists got involved. The first report about events in Karelia appeared on the DPNI website on August 30, and it only repeated news agency reports about a mass brawl – citing the Karelian Interior Ministry. If the DPNI had been involved in those events, presumably they would have used their own information sources. Moreover, demonstrators themselves said they had spread the word about the rally via their mobile phones.

Soon after the DPNI, the Our Own (Nashi) youth movement moved in. Our Own spokesman Robert Schlegel told us that the decision to send in a team of activists had been made by the middle of the day.

“We’ll be there, and those on the other side will be there. We’ll try to explain to the people that the fascists are deceiving them,” said Schlegel.

A Public Chamber delegation is due in Karelia tomorrow. Representatives of the Chechen diaspora are planning a news conference. They have already said that they are in close contact with Karelian authorities. They are likely to work out a coordinated position within the next day.