The national question is a theme that is hotly debated in Russian politics, with proponents of ethnic and civic models battling it out. As in Western Europe however, it is the civic version that is dominant, and Russia possesses its very own variant of multiculturalism. What makes the national question such a live issue is the relative demographic decline of ethnic Russians which is paralleled by a surge in immigration from nearby Muslim states and higher birth rates amongst Muslim indigenous ethnic groups within Russia. Violent Islamism continues to bedevil the country and over the past decade the DPNI (Movement Against Illegal Immigration) has sprung up to address concerns about the mass influx of non-Russians. Presidential contender Vladimir Putin evidently thinks that votes are to be won by touching upon this theme, for he has just published his thoughts on the national question in Russia (see the forthcoming article ‘Russia and the National Question: Putin the Patriot?’).
The soft underbelly of the Russian state is the North Caucasian Federal District, of which the Muslim republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia form component parts. It is from this region that the bulk of Russia’s domestic Islamist threat originates. Abutting onto this is the Southern Federal District, of which Rostov-on-Don is the administrative centre. Last week Rostov bore witness to a mass brawl between local Russian students and ethnic Ingush (the latter being a Sunni Muslim ethnic group) that resulted in two individuals being taken to the local hospital to be treated for concussion. The fight was brought to an end when one of the as yet unidentified participants drew out an ‘Osa’ pistol and fired several shots into the air. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, “the incident took place a week ago next to a dormitory building of the Don Technical University” and local officials have subsequently taken “measures to forestall the appearance of extremism and interethnic conflicts.”
According to Kavkazskii uzel, additional information suggests that “on one side were local residents aged 25 and 19, on the other, seven students from the technical university, having come from Ingushetia to study. Almost all of the students were of the same age: namely 19.” The fight is said to have been sparked by a slanging match that arose between the two.
The local authorities are concerned by this incident because it is not an isolated case. Kavkazskii uzel notes that there have been recent mass brawls in the city and elsewhere in the Rostov District, notably on 2 January when a 38-year-old died of a chest wound and three others were hospitalised; four were hospitalised with serious injuries following a violent ethnic clash in Rostov-on-Don’s Lenin Square in August last year; last July two dozen people were injured (nine hospitalised) in the hamlet of Mel’nikov in the inappropriately named Veselovskii (literally ‘cheerful’ or ‘merry’) region, and another fight between students broke out in the port city of Taganrog on 9 February 2011.
The wounding and subsequent death of Russian student Maksim Sychev by an Ingush student named Khazbulat Markhiev at the Rostov State Construction University at the end of November 2010 caused uproar in Rostov. On 12 December that year a protest was held that attracted some 2,500 participants bringing together “students, football fans, national-patriotic and other informal opposition bodies”. Markhiev was later charged with bringing about Sychev’s death through inflicting “traumatic brain injury” for which he received a three-year sentence.
Taking into consideration the aforementioned context, it can be no surprise that the atmosphere in Rostov must therefore be rather tense. The question that naturally poses itself is this: are these incidents unrelated, or are they symptomatic of something more worrying in the state of Russo-Ingush ethnic relations?
Russians and Ingush Clash in Rostov-on-Don
(picture courtesy of Russkii obozrevatel')