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Governor of Russia’s southern region wants to stop migrants from North Caucasus

August 06, 2012, 16:19 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, August 6 (Itar-Tass) — Alexander Tkachev, the governor of Russia’s southern Krasnodar Territory, who came under severe criticism after a recent devastating flood, has found himself in the epicenter of a new scandal. This time, public discontent has been stirred up by his initiative to use Cossacks to hamper migration from North Caucasian republics.

Representatives from Caucasus diasporas say Tkachev’s initiative may trigger interethnic clashes, they call on the federal authorities to send the governor to resignation. Russia’s Public Chamber said it would request the prosecutor general’s office to probe into Tkachev’s pronouncements as inciting ethnic hatred.

On July 26, the Krasnodar Territory Legislative Assembly passed in the first reading a bill to engage from September 1 one thousand Cossacks to safeguard law and order at public places along with policemen. The bill came almost unnoticed then. But on August 3, governor Alexander Tkachev turned attention to it as he spoke at a meeting with the region’s top police officers. He then drew attention of the policemen to the fact that in neighboring Stavropol Territory other ethnic groups, primarily from the North Caucasus, are taking lands “very easily,” while “the Russian population are feeling uncomfortable there.”

According to Tkachev, the Krasnodar Territory should not repeat the Kosovo history [however, he confused Serbs and Croats]. “We see it on the example of former Yugoslavia – Albanians, Croats: first, Croats accounted for 80 percent of the population, and Albanians – for 20 percent. Now it is vice versa,” he said.

The current ethnic balance, in his words, should be preserved. For these ends, Cossacks should do something to make the living of “aliens” here uncomfortable. “We have no other way, we shall push them out, impose order, demand documents, be more attentive to migration policy issues (where come here from and what for),” he pledged.

Police have considerable competences in counteracting the activity of “uninvited guests” but “there are restrictions – democracy and keen attention to human rights, civil society,” he admitted. The way out, in his words, is to involve Cossacks to fight against illegal migration, which will be done from September 1.

Meanwhile, representatives from Caucasus diasporas met Tkachev’s initiative with criticism saying its might instigate interethnic tensions. “It is a provocative statement which infringe upon interests of people living in the Caucasian region and may trigger interethnic lashes,” the Kommersant newspaper cites Aliy Totorlukov, the chairman of the presidium of the Russian Congress of Caucasian Peoples. According to Totorlukov, Tkachev’s initiative may backfire on residents of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Karachayevo-Cherkessia who came to the Krasnodar Territory to build Olympic facilities.

Representatives from the Russian Public Chamber said they would ask the prosecutor general’s office to probe into Tkachev’s pronouncements as instigating ethnic hatred. “We will request the prosecutor general’s office to check the lawfulness of this decision. Moreover, I will raise the issue at the first autumn meeting of the presidential council for interethnic relations,” said Alexander Sokolov, a Public Chamber member.

According to Sokolov, Tkachev’s pronouncements can obviously be taken as instigating hatred. “He recognized North Caucasus regions as foreign enemy territories and called to fence them off using illegal armed formations. These armed formations are tasked to hamper migration from one region of the same state to another, rather than to secure law and order,” he said. “It is a crying fact.”

Another Public Chamber member, Elena Topoleva, said herself and her colleagues planned to ask President Vladimir Putin to send Tkachev to resignation.

In the meantime, in his Twitter microblog, Tkachev denied any nationalist motives underlying his words, saying he meant illegal migration. “There are Russian federal and territorial laws, which vest us with the right to take measures to control migration,” he wrote. He pledged he would not change his position, which is shared by residents of the territory.

According to political scientist Alexei Malashenko, the Krasnodar territory governor’s words were prompted by desperation. “Tkachev’s political career is hanging by a thread after the flood in Krymsk, and now he has to shore up his positions. That is why he has opted to play the nationalist card,” the Kommersant cites the political scientist.

Nonetheless, this point of view is shared by leader of the opposition party Yabloko Sergei Mitrokhin. “Tkachev’s pronouncements are nothing else but an attempt to divert attention from the Krymsk tragedy. More to it, they conflict the current laws and the constitution,” the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper quotes him as saying. If such words had come from a petty person, consequences would have been much more dramatic, he noted. “But these ideas were voiced by the governor of a region with an uneasy interethnic situation. It might give rise to separatism and entail the collapse of the country,” Mitrokhin stressed.

The subject of tense interethnic relations and intolerance of some ethnic Russians towards migrants has been in the focus of public attention for a long time. After nationalist riots in Moscow in December 2010, the Russian Public Chamber initiated a public opinion poll to find out the roots of such intolerance.

Thus, despite of disapproval of extremist methods (76 percent of the polled denounced actions by skinheads), Russian society has strong Caucasianphobe moods: as many as 39 percent of respondents said they had negative feelings towards representatives of Caucasian peoples, and 26 percent of the polled said the North Caucasus should be separated from the rest of Russia. Another 14 percent had no clear position but tended to support the idea of separating the North Caucasus from Russia, although they were dubious if it could help.

The authors of the report were shocked to find out that “neither of the polled said that the Caucasian republics are home to ‘brotherly peoples,’ and their separation would mean the division of the common Russian identity.”

Another such poll was conducted by Levada-Center at about the same period. The poll revealed that 41 percent of Russians believe that the slogan ‘Russia for Russians!’ might be realized to a certain extent. A total of 19 percent of the polled said they openly share this idea and believe “it is high time to realize this slogan.”

Commenting these results in an interview with the Caucasus Politics portal, Vladimir Mukomel, the head of xenophobia studies department of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, stressed that growing nationalist and xenophobic moods have been a tendency throughout the entire 2000s.

MOSCOW, August 6