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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

November 27, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Race project | Nationalism divides multiethnic Russia

Several thousand Russian nationalists rally in Moscow, venting against the migrants they accuse of pushing up the crime rate and taking their jobs. (Pavel Golovkin / The Associated Press

Russian nationalists rally recently in Moscow, venting against the migrants they accuse of increasing the crime rate and taking their jobs. (Pavel Golovkin / The Associated Press)

I have been reading about ethnic confrontations in Russian between Russians and Caucasians (people from countries in the Caucasus, a region located in the south of Russia). I didn’t really understand the conflict and how it affected me until I went back to Moscow last summer.

I was walking in the subway when I heard some people began to fight. Two were Russian and their opposing partners were Caucasians; all four no older than 20 years of age. Suddenly, one of the migrants slapped a Russian boy’s face and insulted his mother. Tears rolled down his face from anger and despair of not being able to fight back as the police approached and the foreigners escaped into the passing train.

Being ethnically Russian, I found myself siding with the Russians and an absolute dislike toward the fleeing two. After this incident and reading about the recent nationalist movement in Russia, I started thinking about what could be fueling it.

The Caucasus region includes republics and countries such as the Republic of Chechnya, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Dagestan, and others. With over 11 million immigrants, Russia is second after the U.S. with the largest immigrant population. The continued increase in these numbers spurs ethnic tensions in the country. Ethnic Russians complain that migrants take their jobs, get federal benefits, commit crimes and don’t assimilate into their culture. Many feel that the government should address these problems or the conflict will escalate.

I’ve noticed a similar trend in the U.S. The number of undocumented immigrants is rising and American citizens demand a solution from the government. While the situation has not reached the extremes it has in Russia, negative stereotypes against Latinos and Muslims exist on a large scale.

Last month, Moscow experienced a burst of nationalism in the streets. It was sparked by the murder of an ethnic Russian man allegedly committed by an immigrant from Azerbaijan, who is in custody. This was far from being the first incident where a crime committed by a migrant against a Russian resulted in riots. In addition, an annual march of nationalists has become a tradition on November 4, with thousands of people proclaiming “Russia is for Russians.”

“Sometimes walking on the street it’s hard to tell whether I’m in Russia or in the Caucasus,” said Nikita Korolev, 21, from the Moscow region. “If only they respected the country they are coming to but they scare our teenagers, fire guns on the streets, and act like they are the owners here. If the law enforcement can’t protect us, we have no choice but strike back ourselves.”

Researching the problem in Russia and talking to my peers made me realize that ethnicity is not only the problem. Nationalistic feelings are intensified by feelings of injustice. Many Russians feel like law enforcement treats foreigners better than ethnic Russians and this creates a divide.

The U.S. is already dealing with similar immigration-related problems. A country that’s been built on welcoming immigrants for a better life is now looking at the issue through a different lens. There already exists a day called the National Remembrance Day for Americans Killed by Illegal Aliens. It’s worrisome. Can we find a peaceful solution?

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