The nationalistic frenzy in Russia in the wake of ever deepening rift between Russia and Georgia is taking an ugly turn into the past. Or, maybe it is a window of what lies ahead for Russia and people that live there. The conflict has moved from squabbling diplomats and Russian Duma (parliament) members sarcastically imitating Georgian accent in personal attacks on Mikhail Saakashvili. Several recent events are moving the conflict into an area dangerously bordering on ethnic cleansing. No, no Serbian style massacres have been reported yet. But the conflict moves fast and deep into the fabric of Russian society.
On Thursday, the Deputy Head of Russian Federal Migration Service Mikhail Turkin stated that Russia does not need migrant workers from Georgia and will not issue quotas to Georgian citizens. It is totally unclear what makes Mr Turkin believe that Armenians are so much more different and so much more desirable as workers in Russia.
Fontanka.ru reports about internal police memos in St. Petersburg directing all police departments to carry out "a Georgian hassle." All police departments and services are encouraged to concentrate on maximum efficientcy of finding and deporting illegal immigrants specifically from Georgia. Apparently, Moscow is working very hard on compiling statistical data specifically about numbers of Georgians involved in illicit activities in Russia.
On Thursday a well known Georgian cuisine restaurant in Moscow was inspected and searched. Two large and very fancy Moscow casinos were closed by the authorities for tax violations. Care to guess ethnicity of business owners? Kommersant reports a large scale hassle of businesses owned by ethnic Georgians.
Kommersant Daily and Radio Echo Moskvy today both reported that several schools in Moscow received memos from local police authorities to disclose lists of students with Georgian last names. Public school education is available to all children regardless of their legal status, but offer an easy mechanism for authorities to "track" or "reveal" illegal immigrants. According to the Kommersant article all regional police departments received directives to compile lists of all illegal migrants from Georgia and the easiest by far way is to use school children information.
Naturally, very appropriate parallels with ethnic cleansing, Nazism and antisemitic past of Russia been drawn by the Daily and by Echo Moskvy, the only two reasonable media outlets left in the country.
Echo Moskvy also reports that a very famous Russian author Boris Akunin (real name Georgi Chkhartishvili - an ethnic Georgian) has been under scrutiny from tax authorities. "I never have thought that I would live to see ethnic clensing in this country" the author is quoted saying.
Coincidently, tax authorities suddenly revealed tax violations by Russian Academy of Fine Arts. The head of the Academy is Zurab Tsereteli - an ethnic Georgian.
Transportation between Russia and Georgia is still cut off except planes chartered or owned by Ministry of Emergencies. Two of such planes have arrived in Tbilisi to deliver some 140 deportees and pick up Russian citizens that wish to leave Georgia.
The situation is very dangerous, and it is difficult to see where actual directives from the one and only central authority end and where brown nosing activism of local authorities begins. Russia has an old saying perfectly ilustrating the developing situation just like it demonstrated Khruschev's forays into corn production or Gorbachev's fights with drinking - teach a fool, to pray and he will have a concussion.
In any case, what started as a vulgar political squabble is aquiring "popular grassroots" and those grassroots in Russia very often lead to ethnic intolerance.