At first peaceful protests by more than 1,000 citizens of southern Moscow turned into bloody rioting on Sunday, when they were joined by far-right nationalists after a young Russian man was fatally knifed; this was allegedly by a Muslim migrant from the Caucasus region. Police said they arrested around 400 people, as part of a criminal investigation into hooliganism.
“Russia for Russians!” is an increasingly common chant by protesters, who demand that darker-skinned people be kicked out. The police say that limited conflict is quickly seized on by provocateurs with anti-migrant ideals.
More than one million people from Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union or from the Russian Caucuses live in Moscow, around one third of them outside official channels. They do hard work, such as construction, and are mostly very poor. They largely control produce markets and impose their own order, which can extend into organised crime.
Media this year reported the police attributed half the crimes in Moscow to residents from other regions. President Putin himself blames problems on foreigners, using populist rhetoric. The ultra-nationalists shout slogans like “White Power”, and use the Nazi salute and neo-Nazi symbols.
Putin’s personal pride project, the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, has seen traditionally costumed Cossack militia brought out to patrol, amid tightened security. The last thing he wants is any sort of disturbance. Public gatherings not connected with the Olympics will be banned. Some see it as proof that Russian values under Putin are out of step with the West – and that Russia is moving backwards rather than forwards.
The Russian Orthodox Church is till the largest religious body in the country, although many Russians don’t follow any religion. Estimates vary, but some say 20 percent of Russians are Muslims.
Rights defence groups are keeping a close watch on the rising rate of hate crime.
We spoke with the head of the Migration Policy Institute in Berlin, Olga Gulina, for her view.
Natalia Marshalkovich, euronews: “Murders in the streets of Moscow, whether or not immigrants are involved, are common, but this one triggered such a strong reaction; the protest almost turned into a pitched street battle; why is that?”
Olga Gulina, Institute on Migration Policy, Director: “Of course, unfortunately, we’re like other countries, such as France, Sweden and Britain, where similar things have happened when it comes to problems with immigrants and this turned into a riot. Why right now? No one can answer that. But we were expecting it. For instance, in July we had the same thing in the city of Pugachev, not far from the Saratov Volga region: rioting with a lot of people involved. Now it’s come to Moscow. I think it will get worse because policies haven’t changed and conditions haven’t improved. Relations between local populations and immigrants are not at the level they should be. With the present case we’re dealing with, it’s clear the murder angered the local people against the weakest and least protected part of the country’s population: immigrants.”
euronews: “Could this have been avoided? Is this explosion of anger just because of migration policy, or are there other things to factor in?”
Gulina: “It might have been avoidable, but every action in migration policy has to be taken ten to fifteen years in advance. That’s to say that what we do today we’re only going to see the effect of five or ten years from now. We are seeing today in Russia the results of actions ten or fifteen years in the past. To avoid the 10 October rioting in Moscow would have meant thinking ahead. We have to think about what to do now to lessen the risks of similar events happening in the future.”
euronews: “What has to be done? Can we draw on other countries’ positive experiences?”
Gulina: “Of course there are some. There’s advice given in 1968 by a well-known American sociologist, who proposed four models of cooperation between local and immigrant populations. The four concepts are integration, assimilation, segregation and marginalisation. The results will depend directly on which model any country chooses. So, Russia, I think, is repeating the same mistakes France made when it chose a policy of marginalisation – one by which the already established population and the immigrant population live completely separately from each other. The immigrants contribute to the country’s wealth but are left out of the country’s social life. Another example is Germany, which has an absolutely different policy. It is trying to organise deep assimilation of immigrants into the local population.”