An article at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty calls attention to the ever-increasing ethnic violence in Russia. Early on, the author, Clair Bigg, repeats the common claim that post-Soviet hate crimes are the expression of a long-suppressed primordial racism:
Racism was an unspoken fact of life during the Soviet era, even as the USSR publicly celebrated the utopian harmony of its myriad ethnicities and cultures. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, once-dormant prejudices have been allowed to devolve into active racism -- particularly in Russia, where resurgent national pride and heavy labor migration from neighboring states have proven an explosive combination.As I’ve noted before, I think this particular analysis completely fails to capture the ways in which ethnic chauvinism and racism have been reproduced in Russia over the past century. But putting this quibble aside, Bigg does then present a number of other explanations for a rising tide of violence through interviews with human rights activists and representatives from migrant groups. Foremost among the contributing causes are the actions of the government that have encouraged nationalist sentiment, such as the mass deportations of Georgians, crackdowns on foreign vendors, and the failure to actively pursue the prosecution of hate crimes. (The sidebar from SOVA's Galina Kozhevnikova is especially revelatory on the relationship between the eruption of xenophobic violence earlier this year and the crackdown on ultra-nationalist groups.)
None of this is really anything new.
But then in the last third of the article, Bigg introduces an analysis of violence that is rather novel in mainstream coverage of Russian, offering a link between migrant labor, business and government. In other words, she presents the problem of ethnic violence as intertwined with the question of labor exploitation.
First, we learn from an African student in St. Petersburg that the targets of ethnic violence seem to be shifting:
The majority [of Africans] are students, and the attitude toward us has improved. If before dark skin was the main factor, today the migrants' occupation also plays a role.This information nicely sets up a rather more interesting observation from human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina:
"Now the main victims are people from Central Asia. Authorities allow this to happen because Central Asians are currently the chief resource for slave labor,"[Gannushkina] says. "Their vulnerability is profitable to those who exploit them, it's profitable to have workers who are frightened and broken-spirited. Authorities profit from this because they are closely connected to these structures."It’s a sketchy but completely believable analysis. And if Russia were a country where the media weren’t quite so cowed, perhaps an expose would be on the way from some outlet. (Gratuitous dig: if The eXile ever carried this kind of reporting, I would be a bit more broken up about them being shut down.)
For now we are stuck in the dark, pondering the problems of racism, ethnic violence and democracy in Russia.