15 August 2008

Ethnic Violence in Russia Stirred by War

The storm of violence between Georgia, Russia and Southern Ossetia is a big depressing mess with ridiculous posturing all around (that the US couldn’t seem to resist getting involved in) while hundreds of people die as civilian apartments are bombed and ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Southern Ossetia has begun, according Human Rights Watch.

As I’ve been following the various streams of palaver about oil, geopolitics, and nationalism in the mainstream media and the blogosphere, my thoughts, in their little-mindedness, keep returning to worries about people I’ve actually met—Georgians in Moscow—and how the war will affect their lives, from migration crack-downs to vigilante violence.

I well remember the feeling I had in late 2001—after the 11 September attacks—that I should only leave my house to go to work. For months, it seemed like my entire life was a small circuit between my apartment, the high school where I taught and the grocery store. When I did break the pattern to go out for drinks with some other teachers one Friday evening, some racist blowhard called me "Osama" and told me I better leave the bar, or else.

And this was Massachusetts, not Moscow.

So I was somewhat reassured by early reports that Russian officials were warning the media not to air material that would be likely to stir ethnic tensions within the Federation.

Then yesterday, SOVA started releasing reports of anti-Georgian threats and violence across Russia. In Moscow, teenagers set fire to a Georgian café. Two intoxicated passengers beat up their Georgian taxi driver in Chelyabinsk after they began arguing about Southern Ossetia. In Ulan-Ude, a drunk 48-year-old woman was watching war reportage on television and got the bright idea to call in a bomb threat to a local Georgian restaurant. The DPNI (Movement Against Illegal Immigration) folks have offered the helpful solution of interning Georgians in Russia in addition to their usual stirrings in the pot of ethnic antagonisms.

To state the obvious: things don’t look good.