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Russia’s ethnic minorities brace for ‘excesses’ as xenophobia rises after Crocus attack

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“I have a Kalmyk friend who is a doctor,” a man who lives in Elista, the capital of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, told RFE/RL. “He told me yesterday that his granddaughter had been arrested in Moscow by security forces. After all, they can’t even tell if a person is Kalmyk, Uzbek, Tatar or Tajik. We are all the same to them.

“In this situation, excesses towards non-Russian citizens of the Russian Federation are possible,” added the man, also of Kalmyk origin.

Across Russia, ethnic minority citizens are increasingly nervous following the March 22 terrorist attack on a concert hall in the Moscow region, which left at least 143 people dead.

Security forces quickly apprehended 11 suspects linked to the violence, all believed to be from Central Asia. When the four Tajik citizens accused of being the gunmen were brought before a Moscow court, it emerged that they had been ill-treated or tortured during and after their detention. Videos posted online purported to show security officers torturing suspects with electric shocks or by cutting off part of a man’s ear.

Ethnically motivated violence and other manifestations of xenophobia have been soon reported across Russia. Free commentators in state media used dehumanizing epithets for suspects.

Many of Russia’s 30 million non-ethnic citizens, many of whom practice the country’s second religion, Islam, are worried. Increased attention from police and other security officials, ethnically motivated violence by self-proclaimed Russian nationalist vigilantes, hateful comments on the Internet, and formal encroachments on the status of so-called ethnic republics like Kalmykia are some of the concerns mentioned in the report. conversations with RFE/RL.

“It would be naive to assume that an average xenophobe will check your birth certificate or passport before humiliating you,” said a woman of Kazakh origin from the southern Astrakhan region. RFE/RL withheld the identities of those interviewed in Russia for this article for security reasons.

The woman added that, even before the deadly events at Crocus City Hall, Russia was a country where “xenophobia… has long been normalized as a background phenomenon.”

Ethnic republics, many of which are on the Volga River or in the North Caucasus, are regions in which minority groups throughout Russia constitute the majority or a large part of the population.

A Bashkir woman from Ufa, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, also said the rise in xenophobia worried her.

“This could also affect non-Russians in Russia,” she said. “This has always affected non-Russians – a contemptuous attitude towards Tatars, mockery towards Bashkirs, insulting epithets for Yakuts. We have all seen it and know it well.

“Say unpleasant things louder”

“(The Kremlin’s) promotion of hatred and xenophobia is poisoning ethnic Russians and putting non-Russians at risk,” the exiled opposition group said. Post-Russia Forum of Free Nationswhich brings together representatives of Russia’s ethnic minorities and calls for the “decolonization of captive nations”. wrote in a March 26 social media post. The message was accompanied by a video showing young Russian men in the Moscow metro verbally harassing a woman of Yakut origin and chanting racist slogans, including “Russia for the Russians”, while passers-by ignored them.

A Tatar living in Ufa said that after the Crocus attack, racists in Russia had already “started saying their ugly things louder.”

An ethnic Tatar living in Izhevsk, capital of the Udmurt Republic, said there had been xenophobic incidents targeting Central Asians in his city. An Uzbek woman who runs a cigarette stand told him that her customers complained of police intimidation to obtain bribes.

“This wave has also reached us, Russian citizens,” he added, “but only in a ‘light’ form. My colleagues started joking about terrorist “pigs.”

A woman from Nogai in Astrakhan said that “contempt for migrants and for non-Russians are directly related things,” adding that she has heard that people who “look oriental” are stopped and checked in Russian cities.

“What do they mean by that?” she says. “I suppose I ‘look oriental’, but I am part of an indigenous community in Russia, as are many people from other communities. I was born here. I am a citizen. I speak Russian fluently. But whatever ? Does this mean I won’t have to endure countless humiliating checks on the subway? That I won’t be brutally turned away by the owners? That people won’t tell me to “go back to my country”? That I won’t hear ethnic slurs or comments about the language I speak…or my religion? Of course, that’s not the case.

She added that she feels solidarity with the Central Asian victims of Russian xenophobia.

“I don’t stand out from those people,” she said. “In fact, I have no choice whether to distinguish myself or not. My compatriots see no difference.”

Although President Vladimir Putin and other officials frequently refer to Russia as a “multi-ethnic, multi-faith federation,” minority activists have long complained that Putin has undermined federalism in the country and diminished the status of the country’s ethnic republics. countries such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Self-exiled Tatar activist Ruslan Aisin, in a essay for RFE/RL’s Idel.Realities, noted that Moscow has used similar crises in the past to further centralize power in Russia. Most notably, following the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis, Putin abolished direct election of regional governors.

“In Russia, the fight against terrorism usually turns into a fight against political opposition, freedom of expression, democratic processes and the rights of the country’s ethnic communities,” he said.

“After the terrorist attack, talk of launching a campaign to liquidate the (ethnic) republics could turn into action,” Aisin wrote. “After all, they need a new internal enemy and a new source of all problems, now that the liberal opposition has been eliminated, independent media closed, intellectuals silenced and young people intimidated. What’s left? Ethnic communities.

After the March 15-17 elections that gave Putin a fifth term as president, self-exiled Bashkir activist Ruslan Gabbasov told RFE/RL that he believed it was possible that the Kremlin would liquidate the ethnic republics this year.

“Such a step would be consistent with the logic of the evolution of the Putin regime,” Gabbasov said, calling the Kremlin’s domestic and foreign policies “imperialist and colonial.”

A Kazan Tatar said she had often felt “like I was a foreigner because I’m not Russian.”

“It seems like we need to remind people that we are a multi-ethnic country and we need to be tolerant of each other,” she said. “I understand where all the anger (after the Crocus attack) comes from. But the state simply cannot encourage intolerance towards migrants.”

Written by RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Idel.Realities. RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Caucasus.Realities contributed to this report



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