A day after mass riots broke out on the streets of Biryulevo,a run-down suburb on Moscow’s southern rim, following the murder of a local man, ultranationalist politicians and some State media blamed migrants from the Caucasus, including Chechnya, are to blame for rising crime in the capital.
Although police and local people said that a small group of local ultranationalists were responsible for the riots, some outlets insinuated that the protests were more an outpouring of local anger against an impossible situation created by criminal migrants.
The unrest began following the October 9 stabbing murder of 25-year-old Igor Shcherbakov, after a man — allegedly a migrant — hassled his girlfriend. When nobody was arrested, tens of local residents protested, blaming police for inaction. The protests took on an increasingly right-wing nationalist flavor, with a strong anti-migrant tone, with a local group named the People’s Assembly calling for stringent controls on migration and the closure of a local vegetable warehouse staffed mainly by migrants from the Caucasus.
Video — Footage of part of Sunday’s rioting
On Sunday, matters came to a head when around 1,000 Russians rioted against police and the OMON special forces, eventually broke into the vegetable market and later a shopping mall. Cars were burned, windows smashed and stones thrown at police. A total of 380 people were arrested.
Nationalist Rhetoric In The Wake Of The Riots
In the wake of Sunday’s riots, the nationalist rhetoric that typified the protests increased with ultranationalist politicians putting out the line that migrants from the Caucasus are to blame for unrest, because of their criminal behavior.
The Russia 24 TV channel broadcast an interview with ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the National Democratic Party. Zhirinovsky says the reason for the unrest in Biryulevo is a clash of culture and civilization caused by migrants from the Caucasus.
The situation would not have arisen, Zhirinovsky said, had the neighborhood been filled with migrant workers from Ukraine or Moldova; whereas the influx of migrants from the Caucasus led to unrest “time and time again”. Incidents involving the “use of cold weapons” did not come from the Russian population, he added.
Zhirinovsky also put a nationalist spin on the event that sparked the riots: “A Russian lad tried to defend the honor of his girlfriend,” he said, later adding, “This is a problem when you have a large number of people from a different culture, different rules, different behavioral norms.”
State news outlet RIA Novosti downplayed allegations that ultranationalist elements had incited Sunday’s rioting, with comments from a local woman, “Lyudmilla”, saying that the riot was a response to terrible conditions in the neighborhood. “Citizens and migrants” were constantly walking around with knives, threatening local people and making unpleasant approaches to women, she related:
“Yesterday was just a collection of residents , yes, there were tipsy (people there). There weren’t so many nationalists here— about 15 people who bullied riot police — but thousands of others came here because the murder of Igor, with whom I live in the same apartment block , was the last straw that just broke the camel’s back.”
One RIA reader, commenting on the story, wrote:
“The riots are a positive sign, people are waking up. But the spontaneous riots will not solve the problem, it should be viewed in a broader sense. Why do the authorities and the police take the side of “persons of Caucasian nationality”, and the non-indigenous population? The main problem is that our people do not have their own state.”
Notably, other outlets including Russia’s Channel One had a very different angle, reporting that police and local residents had blamed a small group of “provocateurs” from a group named the People’s Assembly for the riots.
The Response From Radical Islamic Groups In The Caucasus
One of the responses to the growing expression of ultranationalism against migrants — mostly Muslim — from the Caucasus has been an increased radicalization among some Caucasian Muslims.
The pro-jihad radical website Kavkaz Center focussed on the ultranationalist element of the rioting, noting that, “Several hundred people chanting nationalist slogans, went to the local mall which is rumored to belong to some Caucasians. After smashing the shopping center, the crowd went to the vegetable warehouse. While moving, the number of protesters increased to 3 thousand people. The vegetable warehouse was chosen for the attack on the grounds that it employs many migrants from Central Asia. The crowd voiced the idea that the “killer may be hiding in the vegetable warehouse.”
Kavkaz Center tweeted this image of the Kremlin in Moscow with the caption, “This is the real entrance to the vegetable warehouse”:
— Kavkaz Center (@kavkazcenter) October 14, 2013
Kavkaz Center also tweeted comments that it claims were made by Russians taking part in the riots, including this:
"Не для того наши парни воевали в Чечне, чтобы нас резали в Москве..Ууу..! Россия для русских, Москва для москвичей..!" #Бирюлево
— Kavkaz Center (@kavkazcenter) October 13, 2013
“This isn’t why our lads fought in Chechnya, so that they’d stab us in Moscow… Ooooh! Russia for the Russians, Moscow for Muscovites.”
Another tweet notes, “Before it was trendy for Russians to call themselves Slavs. How are they Slavs when half of them don’t know how their fathers are?”
It is interesting to note that Kavkaz Center conducted a poll via Twitter, asking respondents to give their opinions about who is to blame for the clashes between Russians and Caucasians, with 116 people blaming the Russian authorities, 79 blaming Caucasians and just 15 people saying that Russians were responsible.