Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#7a - JRL 2006-201 - JRL Home
RIA Novosti
September 5, 2006
Russia's problems exposed in Kondopoga

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vasily Ivanov) - An incident of national importance took place in Kondopoga, a small city in Karelia.

As it usually happens, at first everything seemed routine. Men started a row in the Chaika restaurant in the late hours of August 30th. The investigators are still to find out the details but it quickly developed into a massive fight, in which two local residents - Sergei Usin and Grigory Slizov - lost their lives. The locals were locked in combat with the Chechens, who came to the city from the Caucasus. This triggered off what has become the biggest outbreak of interethnic violence in Russia in the past few years. Only OMON (special task police force) managed to stop the fighting, but the authorities are still fearful that violence may spread to the rest of the republic.

During several days, the locals destroyed a number of trade outlets belonging to immigrants from the Caucasus, and repeatedly set on fire the Chechen-run Chaika restaurant, where the murders were committed. At night, the city turns into a scene of looting. The criminals are fanning up unrest in a bid to line their pockets. By the local standards the price is high - the property, a profitable business, and millions of dollars.

In Kondopoga, everything is in a tangled skein. At spontaneous rallies, local residents are demanding that migrants from the Caucasus should be ousted from the city. In turn, the municipal Chechen Diaspora has not been marking time, either, and is sounding alarm. Residents and politicians from Chechnya are trying to help settle the conflict, pushing aside the members of the Public Chamber and Duma deputies en route to Kondopoga from Moscow. Chechen President Asu Alkhanov and Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov have made serious statements. The bad situation is made much worse by the fact that Chechnya has only recently got out of a civil war - it abounds in weapons and hot heads, who are ready to rush to Kondopoga and "put things right there."

The Chechens should be given credit for having turned over the three suspects to the authorities, thereby helping the latter's all-out efforts to curb the conflict. It is now obvious that it has been brewing for a long time. The authorities have promised to shut down the Chaika restaurant, oust Caucasian migrants from the Kondopoga market, and give it over to the local businessmen.

Although interethnic strife is rather common in Russia, the violence in Kondopoga does not have a precedent. Russian politicians like to repeat that Russia is a country of numerous ethnic groups and religions, and for this reason it should pursue a well-balanced and cautious nationalities policy. After Kondopoga it has become clear - these words are very true but the problem is that the Russian authorities are not absolutely sure what this policy should be. Now they are acting at random, trying to make correct decisions in a very complicated situation. Clashes of commercial interests, interethnic tensions, urgent social problems, poor living standards, and discontent of vast numbers of people are settling at loggerheads Russian nationals of different ethnic origin.