Awaiting Another Kondopoga

By Nabi Abdullaev – Staff Writer

St Petersburg Times
September 19, 2006

MOSCOW – Stoking fears of escalating xenophobia, a man died in a
brawl involving ethnic Armenians in the Saratov region last week and
three people were hospitalized after an attack on an anti-migration
rally in St. Petersburg on Sunday (see story, this page).State Duma
deputies sounded the alarm about a surge in violence. But they also
approved legislation that would increase penalties for those who
employ illegal migrants – a populist vote, critics said, that tapped
into widespread xenophobia.

The country is on edge after clashes and riots targeting Chechens in
the Karelian town of Kondopoga killed two people earlier this month.

Local residents clashed with four ethnic Armenians in a cafe in the
town of Volsk on Sept. 10, Saratov regional police said Friday. Three
ethnic Russians suffered knife wounds, and one later died in the

Police and the local Armenian diaspora downplayed suggestions that
the fight was racially motivated. But Ekho Moskvy radio reported the
fight was followed the next day by an attack on ethnic Armenians at a
Volsk technical college that injured one student. Police denied the
report and said two ethnic Armenians involved in the cafe fight had
been placed on a national wanted list.

On Sunday, masked people attacked a rally by the radical Movement
Against Illegal Immigration in St. Petersburg, sparking a fight that
led to three people being hospitalized, Interfax reported.

About 30 activists were attending the rally to demand the expulsion
of Caucasus natives from Kondopoga, where people raided and destroyed
small businesses run by Caucasus natives after two locals were stabbed
to death in a fight with Chechen migrants.

The Movement Against Illegal Immigration also organized a
rally Thursday in Moscow to protest Caucasus natives in Russian
universities. Police tried to prevent the rally by detaining about
200 young men near the Dobryninskaya metro station.

Also Thursday, several dozen young men, some of them described by
witnesses as skinheads, participated in a fight inside the Oktyabrskaya
metro station. No one was detained.

In the Duma on Friday, nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Deputy
Sergei Ivanov likened the situation around the Moscow rally and metro
fight to that in Kondopoga. He said many of those detained at the
rally were carrying knives. As for the metro fight, Ivanov said,
"This was not a routine clash, and it happened in the capital,"
Interfax reported.

United Russia Deputy Alexander Khinshtein deplored a clash between
Chechen youths and police in the city of Saratov on Aug. 29 that
killed one officer and injured three others.

"Police are afraid to bring these people to justice," he said,
accusing the youths of being "closely related to the Chechen
authorities." The fight occurred after the officers quarreled with
three Chechen youths in a cafe, Saratov press reported. The three
left the cafe and later returned with a dozen friends, armed with
knives and baseball bats. Three suspects have been detained.

Several nationalist web sites reported Friday that revenge attacks were
being carried out in Volsk after the Sept. 10 fight. A spokesman for
the Saratov regional police, Alexei Yegorov, said police were worried
and had dispatched more street patrols in Volsk. But he denied any
escalation in ethnic tensions. "There have not been any pogroms in
Volsk after that drunken brawl, no friction whatsoever between the
locals and members of the Caucasus diaspora," he said.

Araik Kosyan, vice president of KRUNK, the biggest Armenian diaspora
organization in the region, said he was not aware of any revenge
attacks. "I’ve talked to representatives of other diasporas, the
Azeris and the Chechens, and they also do not confirm any attacks
against their people," he said.

Politicians might be overreacting to incidents involving Caucasus
natives after Kondopoga, said Boris Makarenko, an analyst with the
Center for Political Technologies. "Now the voices of the ‘hawks’
will be much better received by the public than those of sober-minded
politicians and media," he said.

The public seems to be ready for ethnic violence: Over 57 percent of
Russians believe violence could break out in their towns, according to
a survey this month by the state-controlled VTsIOM pollster. Russians’
belief that their town could be affected grew in proportion with the
size of the town, reaching 89 percent in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Human rights activists said the authorities needed to intervene
to prevent routine clashes from escalating into Kondopoga-style
violence. "Authorities need to state clearly that any calls to expel
natives of the Caucasus will never be met because they are against the
law," said Galina Kozhevnikova of Sova, which tracks ethnic violence.

Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center of Political Information,
suggested that the flare-up in xenophobia might be used by the
government to push through stricter anti-migrant laws.

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