Periphery as a Way of Life

October 16, 2013
A police officer guards a street after mass rioting in the southern Biryulyovo district of Moscow, Oct. 13, 2013. / GETTY

In the wake of last Sunday’s race riots in Moscow, we have been translating the voices of various Russians in order to better understand how this topic is being discussed in the press and public spheres. We have already translated an editorial from a former Moscow mayor, as well as a statement from opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Below we have translated an editorial from a political scientist, Gleb Kuznetsov, in the Kremlin-linked news outlet Izvestia. It echoes some of the statements that are now common — that ethnic tensions are not just about racism, but a corrupt system of governance. In this system, businesses are incentivized to hire cheap migrant workers, those migrants often live in crowded and unsafe living quarters, and police and public officials often take bribes to look the other way.

The article argues that people are now paying attention because the violence has reached Moscow and can no longer be ignored. One could argue that the pages of Izvestia are carrying such sentiments specifically because of this very reason. – Ed.

Nothing happened in Biryulevo that had not happen in Kondopoga  [site of ethnic violence in 2006 – Ed.], Pugachev [recently gripped by ethnic violence – Ed.], Demyanovo [site of ethnic fighting in 2012 – Ed.], and many other places, that have and at the same time have not received nationwide notoriety. The only thing that makes events in Biryulevo different is that everything happened 20 kilometers from the Kremlin, not a thousand kilometers.

A smoldering conflict, problems not solved for years, and then – a high-profile crime, usually a murder. People’s gatherings, initially peaceful, but inevitably resulting in violence against those people appointed guilty. Since the days of Kondopoga, a universal mantra of the five components has been formulated: “alcohol”, “nationalist provocateurs”, “social networks”, “gang violence”, “domestic character.” The result is an improvised mix of these components. And anyone who thinks otherwise is a pillager, a provocateur and an enemy of the state, and it’s not such a bad idea to check him for stirring up national hatred and punish to the full extent of Article 282.

What else do all those unknown Demyanovos and Biryulevos of the country have in common? All of these areas are characterized by low cultural and educational level. Located far from the regional centers. Yes, Moscow is also a Russian region, just like Kirov or Saratov regions, and it lives according to more or less the same rules and principles. No major enterprises that require innovation, quality human capital. Businesses with high potential for corruption (timber, for example, or vegetable trade) are usually in the hands of diasporas.

And what about diasporas? In accordance with some kind of evergreen Marxism they seek political dominance through the capital they control, which they understand as impunity and a total buy-and-sell game with the district authorities. And not the best representatives of diasporas end up in “remote areas”. Those people lack education and appropriate social skills.

But the problem is not in the diasporas. The problem is that in these small enclaves, located far away from centers of civilization, a special system of government is formed, where a local bureaucratic elite, in uniforms or without, is united by common interests. And there are only two interests — money, and making sure everything is hush-hush, staying within the boundaries of the area, because money likes silence.

The flip side of the vertical of power in “important”, “central”, or “advanced” areas of virtually any subject of the federation is a real lack of accountability and the complete irresponsibility of an average civil servant in the depressed parts of the region. Whether a police chief, or a district manager, they are invisible to the central government that does not care about them. Governors and mayors are preoccupied with important large-scale projects, and these places become white spots on the maps of the regions. Maybe, from time to time a deputy minister would ask a district chief over the phone: “So, Mikhailovich, is everything alright with you?” – “Yes sir, everything is alright. We are working.”

Do you want to know how the work is done in such cases? District heads, the chief of police and other small and medium-sized managers summon the leaders of diasporas and tell them the following: “Do you see what’s going on? Be careful out there. Calm your people down. Oh, by the way, this month you need to pay a little more money. Given the complexity of the situation.” That’s all. The work carried out, they will report back to the center. Until next time something like this happens.

Under the management system based on vested interests, there is no mechanism whereby grievances and problems of the residents could be addressed, or at least become known outside of the region. Residents of peripheral regions do not have political representation, politicians, both at federal and local levels, work with electorate that they feel more comfortable with. What is left is a protest mood that inevitably turns into the proverbial Russian riot. Senseless and merciless. This kind of riot can be easily described by the words “outrage,” “nationalist provocateurs”, “punish the criminals.” And round and round it goes. In Demyanovo, in Kondopoga, in Biryulyovo, in Pugachev, etc.

At the macro level the “periphery” should get back its policies and politicians. LDPR [a Russian nationalist party – Ed.] has apparently lost the ability to perform with the functions of a political representative of this segment of the population. We need a new party that can use populist rhetoric in the interest of social stability.

At the regional level, changes are needed in the police, the situation where the police start acting only when a domestic crime becomes a “high-profile” case is not acceptable. We have to work every day. And not only on the “very serious” cases, but doing the routine policing, countering relatively minor violations of immigration laws, cracking down on underground casinos, taking measures against disorderly conduct, against free-riders and bullies in public buses.

Next, heightened attention of the regional authorities to the “depressed” parts of the region on a daily basis. Improving the overall situation, destruction of “clubs of officials” through personnel changes – this is the case when the “leapfrogging” that bureaucrats dislike so much will do some good. All this sounds trite, but there are no other, less banal, solutions.

A decision should not even be searched for, it should be implemented. Depression, fungus, cancer – this is what tends to spread throughout the body. Unlearned lessons of Demyanovo and Kondopoga have resulted in the Moscow events. Even today, based on the initial reports, there is a desire to reduce the analysis of the situation to the “Russian outrage” and “migrant mayhem”, but the root of all evil is not the quality of the people, no matter local or visitors, but the quality of government.