How tolerant Russia can be?

42822.jpegOn December 21, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had a meeting with the leaders of Russian football fans. Putin made a number of harsh statements during the meeting.

The murder of 28-year-old Yegor Sviridov, a fan of Spartak football team, on December 6, triggered a series of events which shocked the Russian society and received extensive media coverage in many other countries.

"Eight bandits from the Caucasus shot down five Russian guys. Two of them were football fans, our guys. Yegor died almost instantly," the message posted on the website of Fratria, the association of Spartak fans, said. The murder triggered the blocking of Moscow's busiest road, riots on Manezhnaya Square, numerous clashes near Kievsky Train Station and many other incidents, all of which were connected with the standoff between Slavic and non-Slavic youngsters. The issue, as it turned out, existed itself, without any informative injection, without any attention from the federal mass media.

It does not really matter, who came to Yegor Sviridov's funeral, who took part in the riots on Manezhnaya Square and who appeared on the square in front of Kievsky Train Station. Many Russians would never distinguish a football fan from an ultra-right nationalist. However, it was clear for everyone that a group of migrants from Dagestan killed a Russian young man.

"We often set people of different nationalities against each other, but criminals do not have a nationality, they are supposed to be held accountable for what they do," State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov stated. "The situation with the murder is an unpleasant one, but many of those, who took part in the mass events, did not even know what brought them together," the official added.

Gryzlov's statements may raise disputes, because many of those people, who partook in the actions, were not Spartak fans, but they were perfectly aware of the reason why they were doing all that. The slogan that could be heard on Manezhnaya Square "F*** Caucasus, f***!" clearly described the intentions and the mood of the rioters. The subject of ethnic strife was snowballing in the society very fast spreading from football fans to organizations and groups distant from both football and any type of constructive activity per se. The participation of 15-16-year-old teenagers in the recent actions (on both sides) became an extremely unpleasant symptom - it could develop into a global interethnic conflict, and it would be very hard to stop it.

It seems that the Vladimir Putin's meeting with spokespeople for associations of football fans reversed the dangerous trend.

Putin clarified his stance in the very beginning of the meeting. He said that representatives of different football clubs "often sort things out with each other very emotionally."

"But the tragedy that has recently happened touched upon your entire, or, let's put it this way, our entire community. A member of your club died at the hand of a recidivist. Actually, I believe that all of you - and I'm sure that this is what you think - must perceive this as an attack against you all regardless of your place of residence, national or religious affiliation. Yegor Sviridov, a young man, died. This is a big tragedy," Putin said and offered to honor his memory with a moment of silence.

Afterwards, the prime minister said that he was concerned about the weakening of the public immunity to various manifestations of nationalism and xenophobia. "By the way, it is manifested in the activities of fan clubs. I can see nationalist slogans on stadiums at times. Who plays in those teams? Who raises them, those teams?" Putin said.

It is worthy of note that the problem with intolerant slogans and chants on football stadiums is not a purely Russian problem. The authorities and football officials of many countries of Europe come across the same problem.

Russia is a huge country, and "everyone of us has their own little motherland," Putin said. "I will not give 10 kopeks for the health of a person, who came from, for example, Central Russia to one of the republics in the North Caucasus and treated the Quran impolitely. But the people, who come to the Russian Federation from the North Caucasus, must respect local customs, local culture, local traditions and local laws too. Only if we respect each other we will use the advantages of our great Motherland and the advantages of our diversity," the prime minister said.

The recent clashes between Russians and migrants from the Caucasus showed what mutual miscommunication and disrespect can lead to. As for the case of Yegor Sviridov, it is the migrants, who are guilty of what happened.

"The person, who is guilty of his murder, has served two prison terms, if someone doesn't know it. He was convicted of hooligan actions that caused severe bodily harm and of drugs possession. He was convicted in 2009, and it is not clear how he could find himself in Moscow already in 2010," Putin said.

Putin believes that the authorities are also guilty of what happened. "One should create jobs where people were born and where they live. One should give people an opportunity to receive education and so forth - to work on the entire territory of the country. But if we do not understand what I am saying now, if we do not respect each other, then what do we have to do? To put it mildly, we will have to amend the rules of registration in the country, especially in large centers. Moscow and St. Petersburg are large cities, but we have liberalized those rules as much as possible, in accordance with the Constitution," the chairman of the government said.

One can say for sure that the recent riots will not be forgotten soon. Research centers already conduct polls in the country trying to find out what people think about the possibility to separate Russia from the republics of the Northern Caucasus, introduce visa entry with them. Some believe that one should establish special groups to struggle against ethnic crimes and investigate the influence of ethnic groups and national diasporas on the authorities. It happened after Yegor Sviridov's murder, when the police arrested the perpetrators, but then released them after a visit of their relatives and friends. It is not ruled out that someone will voice the idea of creating national ghettos that on the one hand will give migrants an opportunity to integrate into the life of the metropolitan city and on the other hand protect native residents from possible conflicts with migrants.

All those discussions will most likely bring positive results, because one can find the right solution only as a result of a dialogue.

Igor Kulagin

Read the original in Russian

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov