Sunday, October 15, 2006

Putin Makes Statement with a Racist Edge

Volume 6, Number 35
Friday, October 13, 2006


A Weekly Human Rights Newsletter on Antisemitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in the Former Communist World and Western Europe

(News and Editorial Policy within the sole discretion of the editor)

Published by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union

PUTIN MAKES STATEMENT WITH A RACIST EDGE. On October 5, President Vladimir Putin made “an astounding statement for the leader of a multi-ethnic federative state,” “The St. Petersburg Times” wrote on its opinion page on October 10. In a speech addressing regional authorities, Putin called on them to “protect the interests of Russian manufacturers and Russia’s native population” in the country’s outdoor markets. He blamed recent ethnic violence in Kondopoga on poor regulation and law enforcement in the area and called for tough new migration laws. “Putin did not name any particular ethnic group,” the newspaper noted, “but it is no secret that natives of the Caucasus, particularly Azeris, are responsible for the majority of trade in Russian outdoor markets.”

Until the statement, Putin and other officials “trod a careful line, supporting nationalist parties such as Rodina but refraining from making inflammatory statements about Russia’s ethnic groups,” “The Moscow Times” pointed out and then quoted Vladimir Pribylovsky, an analyst who tracks Kremlin politics at the Panorama think tank, as saying: “I did not believe my ears when I first heard this. There has been a lot of nationalism, but there has not been any ethnic nationalism until now. … This is a very dangerous game.”

But which native population did Putin have in mind when he called for the protection of the population’s interest, asked “The St. Petersburg Times.” Kondopoga’s native population is Karelian and the town is in the Republic of Karelia that first became part of Russia in 1721 and belonged to Finland between the two world wars. “Even if he was thinking primarily of Azeris, Chechens, and Karelians when he made his speech to the council for national projects, that is not necessarily the way it will be heard,” the newspaper continued. “Recent events are more likely to conjure up thoughts of protecting Russia’s native population from the Georgians. This is the clear impression state television is giving as it reports about raids on businesses that police say are owned by Georgian criminal groups and shows the apprehension and deportation of illegal Georgian migrants.” Putin’s use of the term “native population” gives a green light for the radicalization of nationalist groups, commented Galina Kozhevnikova of Sova Information-Analytical Center, an independent group that monitors xenophobia.

“The St. Petersburg Times” called attention to “unprecedented harassment of individuals whose only crime was being a Georgian citizen or being born in Georgia.” The “current campaign of racial profiling” and a selective application of the migration law – the deportation on October 6 of 132 Georgians out of an estimated 10 million illegal migrants is a case in point — reminded the newspaper’s editorial writer of ethnic cleansing. The writer called for a condemnation of this latest campaign and urged all citizens, even if they are from the “right” ethnicity, to remember anti-Nazi theologian Pastor Niemoller’s famous remark that began with “First they came for …” and ended with the chilling line: “When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”

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