Ethnic tensions simmer in Russia, 'radical nationalism' on the rise

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Ethnic tensions simmer in Russia
A police officer talks to a man during an operation to prevent outbreaks of ethnic violence in Moscow, December 15, 2010.

The angry mob battling the police in their riots gear at the heart of Moscow screamed, Russia for Russians! The slogans spread to the Country's second largest city of St. Petersburg. In rather a dramatic fashion, the death of one Russian football fan sparked riots that soon engulfed the whole of the country. Local media has been reporting that city centers have been shut time and again and roads were frequently blocked, over the past couple of days, following sporadic incidents.    

It's been a week since the riots but tensions are escalating fast with posing a serious threat to the already fragile Russia's inter-ethnic relations. Peace is unlikely to return to the streets any time soon, as police fear nationalists and neo-fascists are well-organized is multiplying the chaos. 

More than 5000 Policemen and 1000 troops have been deployed in the Russian capital on Saturday. Almost similar are reported to be in place for St. Petersburg.  The men are waiting in anticipation of fresh riots to break out in both cities. The Moscow Times reported that more than 1700 people have been detained so far to limit the possible violence. Senior Interior ministry officials maintained that Metal rods, hammers, stun guns, brass knuckles, baseball bats, knives and air guns were confiscated from them.

It was last Saturday, more than 5,000 football fans gathered in Moscow and St. Petersburg to mourn the death of 28-year-old Egor Sviridov, a Spartak Moscow supporter. Egor was shot dead in a brawl with some natives Caucasus a week earlier. The rally initially seemed peaceful but a mob, without any warning, broke away from the demonstration and marched towards Kremlin. The Police tried to force down the protestors resulting in a violent riot.   

Following the violence media reports have blamed the nationalists and neo-fascists for the rising ethnic violence. Lawmakers hurried to pledge support to ethnic groups under attack. 

Everyone has to understand that we are all children of the same country, so that a man from Caucasus should not be scared to go out to Moscow streets, and Slavic people shouldn't be afraid to live in the Caucasus. We have a common motherland, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in his annual Q & A session earlier this week. 

Russia has been a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic state, he added.

But the Multi-ethnic state seems to have its own set of problems. According to figures by rights groups, in since the start of 2010, 35 people have been killed and at least 297 injured in racial attacks. As many as 17 deaths were reported in the capital.

The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis is a Moscow recently stated that in November alone, five people were dead and at least 8 injured in neo-Nazi attacks. Moscow claimed three victims while, St. Petersburg, Leningrad region and Volgograd region claimed one each.

In all, from the beginning of the year incidents of racist violence have been recorded in 44 Russian regions, a report by the group said recently.

Individuals from Central Asia remain to be the target in the majority of attacks, it added.

Despite statistics projected a decrease in the number of racial attacks, the group suggests that 2010 'saw a further development of the existing trend, in the manifestations of radical nationalism'.  

Vandalism is also seen to be rising with in parts of Russia as more and more youth are demonstrating inclination towards religious, ethnic or ideological hatred. Neo-Nazi graffiti is also widely seen on the walls in the suburbs of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

But other media reports also suggest that Caucasus and Central Asian natives have resorted to attacking on ethnic Russians. Over the past week, the police reportedly detained several people from the regions of Dagestan and Chechnya along with men from Georgia, Tajikistan and Armenia.

The erstwhile Soviet Union enjoyed comprehensive internationalism despite keeping a steady tab on migration activity. Whereas, the post-Soviet Russia failed to devise a rational ethnic policy. The government in recent years has been encouraging immigrant labour as the country is experiencing a steep decline in working age population. But critics of the immigration policy say that Kremlin has done little to regulate the immigration flow. Current estimates show that at least 15 million immigrants have come to Russia over the past few decades.

According to census figures Moscow is home to over 14 per cent of foreigners, while St Petersburg houses 16 per cent of migrants. Analysts maintain that the increasing number of the migrants especially from Asia is fuelling neo-Nazi ideology and Xenophobia within young Russians, who fear the loss of their jobs.

But observers also blame the Government in failing to protect the migrants and other ethnic communities. A statement from the rights group, Civic Constitutional Forum stated ...the events that have taken place (last Saturday) are the result of the authorities' constant flirtation with radical nationalist groups.

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