Monday, January 01, 2007

Locals

In the Chicago Tribune, Alex Rodriguez writes about the growing tide of nationalist feeling in Russia. Focusing on a Sunday morning in the Moscow suburb of Reutov, he describes the arrival of three busloads of Russian teenagers wearing armbands that bear the inscription "Mestnye" (Locals). The teenagers

stormed into a bustling produce market in this Moscow suburb, screaming "Down with migrants!"

They stalked past aisles of dried fruit and pickled garlic, singling out traders with non-Slavic faces and demanding to see passports and proof that their produce was safe. Some of the teens looked to be as young as 14. Though they had no authority, they carried on like immigration agents, barking out demands and commandeering the market for nearly two hours.

"They were humiliating us, and I don't know why," said Zoya Abdullayeva, 40, a native of Russia's restive Chechnya province who sells cabbage at the market. "They looked for anyone with dark hair and dark skin. It was a circus."

Citing the information gathered by agencies like the Sova Centre, a Moscow human rights organization, Rodriguez points to alarming evidence that shows that "ethnic violence is on the rise, nationalist movements are picking up steam and the government has passed anti-migrant laws aimed at placating a nation warier than ever about foreigners' place in society."

What makes the situation even worse, he says, is that xenophobia has acquired respectability even among the more educated strata of society:

In the long run, the Kremlin will have to reconcile its crackdown on migrants with a dwindling population that loses an average of 700,000 people each year and labor shortages that could cripple the economy.

But with parliamentary elections next December and a presidential election in March 2008, the anti-migrant measures are sure to garner favor among Russians who argue that foreigners take away jobs and raise crime rates. Those sentiments are no longer harbored only by Russia's disgruntled and poorly educated; in many ways, nationalism has gone mainstream.

"In Russia, these xenophobic ideas are shared by well-educated people, well-educated, politically active youth and even by academics," said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center. "It has become the dominating idea in
society, and that's a bad sign."

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