Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Putin gives up salary for Jewish museum - Stavropol riots against the Chechens : Ethnic Problems in Russia

Vladimir Putin during a meeting with the Russian Rabbi Ben Lazar, made a personal contribution of a month's salary to help build a Jewish museum to promote tolerance and respect between faiths. Paradoxically, the same day Russia's southern city of Stavropol saw a second day of ethnic clashes between members of Russian ethnicities and those of the Southern Caucasus ethnic backgrounds.

In the Russian president's residence of Novo-Ogarevo, Vladimir Putin and Ben Lazar discussed the growth of ethnic and racial tensions, which have spilled out into numerous clashes between nationalistically-minded Russians and members of different ethnic backgrounds, that still constitute a large minority of Russia's population. As the Guardian reports:

"I think many would want to help the project aimed at promoting peace and harmony among faiths. This illustrates the strength of our multi-ethnic and multi-faith country."

The Kremlin declined to confirm how much Mr Putin's monthly salary amounted to, but local media suggested it would be in the region of 70,000 roubles (£1,360).

Rabbi Lazar said discussions about a museum had been ongoing for a number of years and the time was now "ripe" for construction to start.

"The aim of this museum is to educate the younger generation [about] tolerance and respect for one another", he said, according to Russian news agency, Interfax.

Yet, despite the focus of the Russian president on the issue, Russia's Stavropol saw another alarming day of ethnic conflicts. On Monday a demonstration passed through the city's streets, and as Gazeta.ru reports, the mood of the demonstrators was very unwelcome to the ethnic minorities of the city. The demonstrators, organized together after a funeral (picutred - Reuters) of two Russia's thought be killed by local Chechens, demanded the resignation of the city administration, and the deportation of the Chechens living in Stavropol. The reason for the demonstration was the Sunday killing of two students, which many associate with a revenge for a killing of a Chechen in a fight on May 24th. Both of the incidents are thought to be racially motivated. Rumors are circulating throughout the city of more ethnic clashes, even shootings, but according to the Russian internet newspaper, the rumors have not been confirmed.

The city has initiated unprecedented measures of security as a result of these tensions, most of the city's parks have been closed, bars and restaurants have been shut down early in the evening on Monday. This is not the first of such heated situations in Russian cities. Last year, the northern Russian city of Kondopoga saw very severe clashes between the Chechen minority and the Russian ethnic majority of the city, which was followed by the burning of cafes owned by the Chechens, and major fights between the two ethnic groups and the OMON special police units.

The number of such incidents has escalated in the past few years in Russia, despite the disappearance of the main cause of such feelings, the war in Chechnya, and the terrorist acts in Russia's main cities. The escalation can be attributed in part to the revival of nationalistic feelings as a result of mixed messages sent by the Russian government. The "rise" of Russia's economy and power-status on the world arena has not been duly complemented by efforts to emphasize Russia as a country of a multitude of nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and religions. Though the Russian government cannot be blamed for stirring up the feelings of ethnic strife, it is clear that not enough effort has been made to suppress them.

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