Russian Media Neglecting Domestic Ethnic Problems Since Crimea – and That is Only Making Them Worse

October 13, 2014
Photo by Ruslan Alibekov/RIA Novosti

Staunton, October 8 Media attention to Ukraine has “eclipsed” all other cases of inter-ethnic tension in Russia, according to a survey of 70 specialists on nationality issues there. And that neglect, they say, has allowed these problems to worsen because officials are not paying attention and outside forces are exploiting the situation.

In its second annual report on ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation, the Moscow Center for the Study of Nationality Conflicts, says that the number of such conflicts has fallen by about a third over the last year because Russian society has been united by the events in Ukraine.

That has meant, the compilers of the report say, that “the serious concern about nationality problems” that Moscow demonstrated at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 “has been replaced by a sense of complacency” and the belief that everything is going perfectly well.

But that, the report’s authors say, is a mistake. Most of the nationality problems that existed before continue to fester: the influx of immigrants from Central Asia, the radicalization of Islam in certain areas, the fighting in the North Caucasus, and demands by one or another group for greater access to resources.

A conference last week organized by the Guild of Inter-Ethnic Journalism underscored this problem. Vsevolod Bogdanov, the head of the Union of Journalists, said it was critically important that journalists accurately and in a timely fashion report about what is happening in relations among various nationalities so that any problems can be addressed.

Margarita Lyange, a Radio Rossiya journalist, told the group that if Russian journalists minimize what she called “the ethnic theme,” then it will be taken up and inevitably exacerbated by “hawks in the information war beyond the borders of our Motherland.” To prevent that, Russian journalists must “unite into a special information unit” to counter that danger.

Journalists working on this theme, Lyudmila Belousov, the editor of the Kryashen newspaper Tuganaylar in Tatarstan, said, must improve their knowledge about ethnic issues. “The overwhelming majority of journalists” in Russia, she continued, “do not have elementary knowledge about the life and special features of the peoples of Russia.”

But many speakers suggested that the real problem arising from the decline in coverage of ethnic issues is that the authorities are not getting timely early warnings about what is going on and thus are not in a position to take actions to prevent situations in various places around the country from deteriorating.

Two journalists from the Komi Republic, for example, pointed out that almost no attention has been given to the efforts of one subgroup of Komis to gain the status of a separate nation, which they call the “Iz’vatas.” That may seem a marginal issue, they said, but in fact, it is all about gaining access to money from natural resources and thus has an all-Russia dimension.