Anti-migrant rally in Buzhaninovo raises specter of dangerous Russian nationalism

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The skhod (Source: Novaya Gazeta)

On September 13, more than 300 people gathered for a “popular gathering”, or skhod, outside a dormitory for migrant workers in the city of Bouzhaninovo, Moscow oblast, near Sergiev Posad. Participants at the rally called on local police to investigate foreign migrants following the discovery in a nearby forest of the body of a 67-year-old woman who had been raped and suffered a violent death. Earlier today, the local newspaper Kopek had published a letter from local residents blaming migrants for the murder of the woman and claiming that the village had
turned into a aul [a name for a non-ethnic-Russian region]”Due to the concentration of foreigners at the hostel (Novaya Gazeta, September 13).

Following the skhod, the police said they detained “two citizens of neighboring countries born in 1988 and 1984”. The investigation promised to verify whether the accused persons were legally in Russia and to examine the possible inaction of the officials responsible for monitoring the length of their stay in Russia (Mosobl.sledcom.ru, September 13). The two detained men turned out to be citizens of Tajikistan, and the mayor of the municipality, Mikhail Tokarev, pledged on Instagram to demand the closure of the dormitory where they were staying (Interfax, September 14). The migrants who resided there were then relocated to a protected area about ten kilometers from Serguiev Posad, while the dormitory site was redeveloped – with trees cut and roads repaired – and the residence was reassigned to visitors from the neighboring regions (that is to say of Russian or white ethnicity). Townspeople seemed happy with the changes, and local MP Andrei Mardasov said “people are happy that the problem has started to be resolved, but overall it has left a negative residue. One person was killed. Who can now rest in peace? (Lenta, September 15).

The Boujaninovo skhod– the last of several notable events of this type in Russia over the past 15 years – testifies to a number of more important trends and phenomena in Russian society and politics.

First, these spontaneous “popular” uprisings underscore how xenophobic intolerance continues to be a factor in Russian society, and they provide an indicator of whether these feelings are increasing or decreasing. The first of this ethnic-Russian type skhod in recent memory occurred in the Karelian town of Kondopoga in 2006, which led to several nights of riots and protests directed against the Chechen population. Following skhods followed: in Stavropol (in 2007), in the very center of Moscow (2010), in Sagra (Sverdlovsk oblast, in 2011), in Pugatchov (Saratov oblast, in 2013) and perhaps the most famous, in the Moscow suburb of Biryulovo (in 2013), which escalated into a violent riot (see EDM, October 17, 2013 and March 5, 2014). Given the diversity of the Russian Federation, acts which threaten to unleash inter-ethnic hostility are viewed with great concern by members of the Kremlin. And perhaps even more alarming for authorities, there are signs that similar xenophobic attitudes have now spread to minority populations in Russia, as in 2019. skhod in the ethnic republic of Sakha-Yakutia, which saw the indigenous (non-Russian) population rally against migrants (Ponarseurasia.org, May 20, 2019).

Following the forcible annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in early 2014, there was a noticeable drop in hate crimes in Russia; but that trend already seemed to be reversing just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And now, with the lifting of many government restrictions on coronaviruses, hate crimes are on the rise again across Russia, such as the shooting of a Tajik citizen in Belgorod, an attack on a picket in support of the Crimean Tatars in the Leningrad region, and an anti-Semitic murder in Moscow (Sova-center.ru, August 10, 19, September 8, 2021), the recent skhod in Buzhaninovo is sure to increase temperatures and could eventually become a celebrity cause for radical nationalists across the country.

This leads directly to the second reason why the Buzhaninovo skhod was so important to current Russian politics: demography and its consequences. Even before the pandemic, Russia faced a negative demographic outlook (especially for the Slavic population), a situation that led to both creative and unimaginative measures to increase the fertility rate. Russian experts, rather optimistic, do not expect the pandemic to have major implications for the country’s long-term demographic situation. Yet in the short term, COVID-19 has certainly had an impact on the economic situation, reducing both the propensity and ability of young people to have children and increasing the precarious birth rate (Moscow Komsomolets, February 13). Likewise, Russia’s slow recovery from the coronavirus crisis will increase the attractiveness of emigration for the younger and more educated Russian citizens. A growing desire on the part of the Russians to leave the country has in fact been recorded for months and is now at its highest level since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 (Levada.ru, June 9). The exodus of ethnic Russians from the titular non-Russian ethnic republics further complicates the situation, with Siberia, the Middle Volga and the regions of the North Caucasus being particularly threatened with depopulation by ethnic Russians (see EDM, September 21). In the past, labor shortages have been offset by immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus; but events like the Buzhaninovo skhod, if it multiplies, may diminish the attractiveness of Russia as a destination for guest workers from the former Soviet space.


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