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Russia's Year of Pogroms

Locals take to the streets in Arzamas, 10 December 2013, YouTube screenshot.

Locals take to the snowy streets of Arzamas, 10 December 2013, YouTube screenshot.

2013 has been a particularly virulent year for race violence in Russia. RuNet Echo has recently covered two such cases: a riot in the Moscow suburb of Biryulyovo and mass unrest in the city of Pugachev. In both of these cases the riots were a response to the murder of an ethnic Russian by an outsider. The most recent incident, which took place this past weekend in the small city of Arzamas, located 255 miles east of Moscow, was no different. A 26-year-old Russian man died from a knife wound on December 7, 2013, in a street fight outside a local café. Hours later, another young man involved in the brawl passed away in the hospital. An Armenian employee at the café was blamed for the stabbings.

Local authorities tried to smooth things over with the residents of the city, who took to the streets demanding arrests and justice, but weren't particularly effective — according to a local blogger [ru] the city mayor actually blamed the locals for escalating the situation at a December 8 townhall meeting. At the same time, the unrest was used as an excuse to detain a local dissident, member of the “Other Russia” party, Dmitri Isusov [ru]. Isusov [ru] had earlier demanded the resignation of the local authorities for failing to deal with the double homicide. 

Local blogger drugoi_nnover saw the riots as a manifestation of popular distrust, writing [ru]:

Выступающие арзамасцы подвергли жесткой критике правоохранительную и судебную систему города, выразили крайнее недовольство коррупцией, пронизавшей местную власть, сращиванием власти и криминала этнического происхождения, отсутствием реальных шагов по обеспечению общественной безопасности.

Speakers from the Arzamas locals have heavily criticized the law enforcement and judiciary system of the city, expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the corruption that penetrates the local government, the merger of government and ethnic criminals, and the lack of any real steps to ensure public safety.

An activist of the radical political organization, the Left Front, Andrei Rudoi, published an essay [ru] on Ekho Moskvy in which he disagreed with such a reading of the situation — instead he blamed the authorities for creating a false enemy in order to unite Russian society.

On the other hand, LiveJournal blogger kosarex thought [ru] that incidents like Arzamas show that the authorities are afraid to prosecute people from the Caucasus, but that the situation was changing — more and more of those who take to the streets look like they are off-duty policemen. Eva Vasiljeva also asked [ru] in her blog why the authorities are so willing to ignore the incidents that lead up to such events:

Неужели людям надо постоянно устраивать погромы, как в Бирюлево, чтобы следствие выполняло свои обязанности?

Do people need to constantly organize pogroms, like in Biryulyovo, in order for investigators to fulfill their responsibilities?

Political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko said [ru] that the problem actually ran deeper than most people suspect:

Существует действительно много проблем с этническими группировками, с этническим бизнесом, которые пренебрегают местными правилами. На самом деле межнациональных конфликтов даже больше, чем те, что попадают в СМИ. Я часто общаюсь с представителями силовых структур. Они говорят о массовости подобных столкновений.

There really are a lot of problems with ethnic groups, with ethnic businesses, which ignore local rules. In fact, there are more inter-ethnic conflicts than those reported in the media. I often talk with representatives in the law enforcement agencies. They talk about the mass character of such clashes. 

Back in Arzamas, protests were again planned for Saturday evening, a week after the stabbing took place. Unfortunately it seems that the authorities’ need for a common enemy combined with their corruption, laziness, and fear of migrants means these kinds of conflicts will only continue.

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