Friday, June 29, 2007

Sublimating the past

At Prague Watchdog, Dr Dmitry Shlapentokh takes a look at the recent ethnic violence in Stavropol, where ethnic Russians and Chechen migrants fought one another in a mass brawl reminiscent of the scenes at Kondopoga in September 2006. He reveals that to many Russians, the present government of Mr. Putin is seen as actually supporting ethnic minorities at the expense of the native Russian population. And he notes the following:
The presence of tension is also indirectly indicated by Putin’s extreme reluctance to discuss revolutions, even those in the past, such as the February and October (Bolshevik) Revolutions of 1917, which took place exactly 90 years ago. While there are some structural similarities between the revolutions of the past and the present tension, they are separated by one clear difference. Today, much more so than in the past, the social conflicts are sublimated in ethnic conflicts.

It is this fear and dislike of people from the Caucasus, especially Chechens, that has contributed enormously to the general xenophobic thrust of Russian society. One of my old friends from Moscow stated that hatred of people of Caucasian nationality and of Jews has spread. And, indeed, this ethnic animosity has replaced the sense of social hatred that was so strong at the time of the Russian revolutions of 1905-1921; to be precise, the social animosity has been sublimated in ethnic animosity.

My conversation with a young Russian woman on one of my recent trips to Russia could illustrate this point. While travelling, we observed through the train window the nearby villages; and she commented on the houses we passed, saying that some are good and some are bad. In order to check her sense of social animosity, I replied, “Capitalist landlord and poor peasants.” She snapped angrily, “I don't like to divide people along social lines.”

The statement of my casual interlocutor should, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. It simply means that social divisions have been transformed in the minds of many Russians into ethnic divisions while minorities - including Chechens but not only Chechens - are affiliated with the elite, whereas Russians are implicitly seen as the representatives of the lower class.

The involvement in crime of Chechens and other people from the Caucasus is seen in a sort of twisted way as an additional manifestation of oppression/harassment of ethnic Russians by those minorities and the government/elite on their side. It is not surprising that this feeling of animosity is spreading not just against the “people of Caucasian nationality” but also against the government.
Read it all.
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