Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999 19:48:27 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: (en) Racism Emergency in Russia
On Monday 13 Sept 1999, in a clear reference to his city's Black population (mainly dark-skinned people from Caucasus), Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov said: “We need to cleanse Moscow of these guests”. Luzhkov heads the powerful Fatherland All-Russia alliance, FAR, and is highly tipped to win in December's parliamentary elections.
Since the recent series of bombings in Moscow and the south, the government and much of the media in Russia have blamed Islamic terrorists.. However many prominent politicians and media outlets have now gone much further down the road in inciting wholesale violence against anyone with dark skin or of Caucasian appearance.
In response to the racist hysteria which has been whipped up, the police and army apparatuses are now being mobilised in a massive campaign of repression against Black people, particularly in big cities like Moscow where they are being expelled wholesale unless they hold residency permits—all of which are now being re-examined and approved by the authorities. This is in flagrant contradiction to constitutional guarantees of freedom of movement within the country.
Over 11,000 people, mainly Caucasians, were imprisoned in the week beginning 13th September, since the second Moscow apartment bombing which triggered this explosion of racism.
A Moscow human rights campaigner forced to queue, alongside hundreds of mainly Caucasian families for hours in the rain to have her papers verified, reported that those without residency permits or whose documents were refused were told by officers to: “go back to the shithole you came from”.
One Black man, witnessed being thrown against a wall by four burly Moscow policemen by a journalist was asked afterwards if he was all right, said that this was the fourth time he had undergone similar “identity checks” in the past hour.
Of course Moscow Mayor Luzhkov is no stranger to racism. Under his administration, following the 1993 storming of parliament all Caucasian traders were kicked out of Moscow. Since that time people who are not pure white (referred to as “blacks”, which in Russia is a derogatory term equivalent to “nigger) have been subject to routine police harassment and frightening levels of violence against them while in police custody. Georgians, Chechens, Azerbaijanis, Armenians. Romani people—and even Italian and Greek people—all find themselves in the same boat, victims of popular racism that stereotypes them all as thieves, terrorists, drug dealers and Mafiosi.
Nowadays, of course, every Black person is seen as an Islamic fundamentalist responsible in some way for the bombings of Russian civilians, even though the vast majority of the population in Dagestan itself (never mind other nationalities more removed from the conflict) actually opposes the Chechen-based fundamentalist leaders.
On the same day as Luzhkov's statement, Viktor Ilyukhin, the Communist chief of the parliamentary security committee, said in a clear incitement to hate, that the authorities had “loosened control and now more than a million people of Caucasian nationality live in Moscow”. This is the same Ilyukhin who was in the news some months ago after making extreme antisemitic remarks.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, for all its pretension to represent all nationalities living in Russia, has an appalling record on racism. In a number of regions they have been directly collaborating with far right racist parties; for example, in Krasnodar, where the Communist governor gave official police powers to local racist Cossack militias to patrol the streets. In that and other regions, dark-skinned people and others seen as foreigners have been living in fear, and some minority groups such as the Meskhetian Turks, have found themselves stripped of residency, employment and other rights. Communist leader Zyuganov himself has used members of the openly fascist Russian National Unity party as his bodyguards, and in an official public statement last December blamed Jews for Russia's economic crisis.
Newspapers, TV and radio speak approvingly of so-called “people's detachments, which will patrol the yards and entryways of their buildings” something which in the current climate is far more likely to lead to large-scale racist violence than to detection of explosives planted by an Islamic fundamentalist organisation, which can easily be smuggled in by paid agents of white appearance. Leading newspaper Izvestia, owned by the powerful Unexim business and banking group, gleefully reported that ordinary Russians' mood was “changing from fear to hatred. The slogan “For each [exploded] apartment in Moscow—a village in Chechnya” is becoming popular. It then threw more oil on the fire by implying that all Chechen businessmen in Moscow were somehow linked to terrorism, and hinted that their businesses “can be easily destroyed”.
When a Lebanese citizen was badly burnt in the Manezh shopping mall explosion, TV stations broadcast the theory that she could have been the perpetrator of the bombing, without a shred of evidence. And a recent television programme provocatively reported that 80% of respondents to its live poll believed that the “solution” to the problem of terrorist bombings was to expel not just known criminals or even all Chechens, but all people originating from the Caucasus, of whatever nationality.
The whipping-up of racist hysteria comes at an important moment in Russian politics. The economic collapse 13 months ago has left millions of Russians without jobs or means of survival. A draconian new Labour Code is currently due to be passed which will impoverish even further those that still work. Already there has been more mass workers unrest than at any time since the old regime collapsed. And elections are coming up. It is easy to see how a number of politicians and powerful business figures stand to benefit from the climate of racist panic and the obsession now taking hold that Russia must move ferociously against Chechnya; the prospect of all-out war of course will be welcome to the heads of the military, the security services (of which PM Putin is former head), and the defence and related industries.
With the enormous control that these interests have over Russian politics, it is probable that the bombs were not planted by Islamists at all. Indeed it would be wiser to look at who might benefit most from increased nationalism amongst Russian people, or even a state of emergency, to see who did organise the bombings.
With the western capitalists pointing the finger of blame for the mess at the dishonest Russian big business oligarchy (in order better to mask their own overwhelming responsibility for the crisis), Russian capitalists are now hitting back by diverting workers attention with a call to war in Dagestan and a universal scapegoat—those Russian workers whose skin is a bit too dark, beard too black, or otherwise not “Russian” enough. From their point of view—what better substitutes for class struggle?
International Solidarity with Workers in Russia—ISWoR—is committed to an anti-racist approach in its work; we consider racism a major offence against Russian workers of ethnic minority background and a major diversionary threat to the struggle against capitalist exploitation itself. We also appreciate and condemn the threat posed to workers in Russia and surrounding nations by Islamic fundamentalists who incite hatred against non-Muslims and against Muslims who do not accept their particular interpretation of Islam.
It is no accident that these hatreds are being whipped up close to the borders of the Caspian Sea, region of massive oil and gas deposits. It is not just Russia by any means that wants to hold onto or gain control of territory in this area. United States big business must capture control over the Caspian/central Asia as its current sources of fuel will not suffice to meet its enormous consumption needs in the next few decades. Other powers such as the countries of the European Union, China and Japan are desperate to gain control of these resources too, which constitute not just economic but political power gained from depriving others of the precious resources. Middle Eastern oil states too need to contain oil production to halt the fall in oil prices from which they have been suffering lately.
The war now opening up in Dagestan and Chechnya is a tragedy for the millions of ordinary people of all nationalities who are involved, working class killing worker class. Meanwhile those who make profit out of the exploitation of the labour and resources of this region will stand by laughing as all class consciousness is dissolved in nationalist war.