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Monday, October 09, 2006

Putin the Racist Maniac Shows his True Colors

A Moscow Times editorial exposes the horror of electing a KGB spy president:

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday made an astounding statement for the leader of a multi-ethnic federative state. Putin called on regional authorities to "protect the interests of Russian manufacturers and Russia's native population" in the country's outdoor markets. He cited recent ethnic violence in Kondopoga as evidence of the problems resulting from poor regulation and law enforcement in this area.

Putin did not name any particular ethnic group, but it is no secret that natives of the Caucasus, particularly Azeris, are responsible for the majority of trade in Russian outdoor markets. It was a conflict between an Azeri bartender and his Russian customers that ended so badly in a Kondopoga cafe in late August. Chechens -- who purportedly provided protection for the Azeri-owned restaurant -- stabbed two Russians to death. True, Azeris cannot be described as native to modern Russia, but more than a million of them live here, including hundreds of thousands who hold Russian passports.

Chechens, meanwhile, are the native population of Chechnya, a region that Russia has fought two wars to keep in the past 12 years.

Kondopoga's native population is Karelian, as the town is located in the republic of Karelia, which first became part of Russia in 1721 and belonged to Finland between the two world wars. So which native population did Putin have in mind when he called for the cleaning up of the markets and the protection of the population's interests?

Even if he was thinking primarily of Azeris, Chechens and Karelians when he made his speech to the council for national projects, that is not necessarily the way it will be heard. Recent events are more likely to conjure up thoughts of protecting Russia's native population from the Georgians. This is the clear impression state television is giving as it reports about raids on businesses that police say are owned by Georgian criminal groups and shows the apprehension and deportation of illegal Georgian migrants.

Georgians are paying a high price for their president's decision to arrest purported Russian spies, perhaps in hope that a heavy-handed Russian retaliation would force the West to side openly with Tbilisi in its struggle with pro-Moscow separatist regimes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But in its retaliation, the Kremlin's zeal has reached far beyond Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his regime. LR: Maybe he was just hoping to put the people who tried to subvert his country's democracy in prison so they could do no further harm? And is there anything wrong with a small country looking for allies when being assaulted by a huge one?

The past few days have seen unprecedented harassment of individuals whose only crime was being a Georgian citizen or of being born in Georgia. Even the best-selling author Georgy Chkhartishvili, who writes under the pen name Boris Akunin, has complained of being targeted over his taxes.

This campaign of racial profiling and selective application of the law contains elements reminiscent of ethnic cleansing, with 132 Georgians being deported Friday, even though they account for only a fraction of all foreigners living here illegally.

Even more outrageously, Moscow police are demanding that schools provide them with lists of students with Georgian-sounding last names to help the authorities find Georgians who are living in Russia illegally.

All people, regardless of their ethnic background, should take a stand against this campaign and condemn the practice of racial profiling. Even those who are convinced they are safe because they are from the "right" ethnic background would do well to remember the words of Martin Niemoller, the anti-Nazi theologian who's famous poem "First They Came ..." ends with the sobering line, "When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the original phrase was "защищать интересы российских производителей и коренного населения России">, using the word rossiiskikh rather than russkikh for Russian, in other words the interests of citizens of Russia, not necessarily those of ethnic Russians, need to be defended. Similarly the word korennoi does truly mean native in the sense of born in Russia, regardless of ethnic group, and is often used to refer to minorities themselves rather than to exclude them. So that would include defending the interests of the Karelian residents of Kondopoga. I'm not promoting racial profiling here, just pointing out that the phrase is much more sinister sounding in the translation than in the original.