Monday, September 04, 2006

Riots in Kondopoga

Last weekend there were riots in the city of Kondopoga, Russian Karelia. Very big riots, considering that the city is only about 35000.

On Wednesday night there was a fight in a restaurant owned by Chechens between ethnic Chechens and ethnic Russians. It is unclear who started and who won, but in the end of the fight the Russians left. The Chechens asked for reinforcements, who arrived somewhat later with knives, pipes and similar weapons that properly belong in Lunch Money, found no trace of the original Russian adversaries, and attacked some Russians who had absolutely nothing to do with the original fight, since Russians are quite numerous in Russia anyway so you can always find some, and since one really shouldn't travel all the way to the restaurant for nothing.

Two men were killed. There were rumors of a third one who died later, but nobody is still quite sure.

The population was quite shell-shocked, the night was quiet, people were discussing things on the local web forum (in Russian, and half of the messages are censored for swearing, calls for violent crime, or both). The main gist of the conversation, both among the people calling for genocide and among the people who considered it a bad idea, was a total and probably well-founded belief that the authorities are not going to do anything useful in any way.

The next night - or was it Friday night - large groups of local Russians burned down the restaurant in question, as well as pretty much all other businesses owned by Chechens, as well as the businesses owned by people from Caucasus who were not in any way or form Chechen. The forum was full of people calling for deporting all Chechens from Russia back to Chechnya, although some undoubtedly disloyal citizens did point out that the problem with this approach, apart from the usual ethical and logistical problems associated with ethnic cleansing, is that Chechnya is in fact in Russia.

On Saturday there was a meeting of about 2000 people demanding kicking all the Chechens and preferably other Caucasians (in the sense of a person from Caucasus, obviously, and not in the sense of "white") out of town. It was a bit late since by that point all the people from Caucasus had already left town (the tendency to stay in town during ethnic riots has been culled from the gene pool in Russia a long time ago).

Eventually the enraged citizenry ran out of things to burn, whereupon the fearless leaders banned alcohol sales and sent in some OMON troops who arrested 100-something rioters and two Chechens or other Caucasians.

Observation 1: things easily get ugly when the population does not trust the authorities at all.

Observation 2: Russians currently have ample reason to hate Chechens, and the other way around, too, but from the times of my childhood I remember very well that a lot of Russians used to hate people from Caucasus for reasons totally unrelated to terrorism, religion of peace or crime. In fact I still have no idea what they hated them for. They spoke with funny accents, sold overpriced produce, tended to have more money than the Russians (or maybe just flashed it more) and harassed women in an annoying but usually nonviolent way, which does not quite explain the amount of hatred. Also, a lot of other people from Caucasus tended to hate Chechens.

Observation 3: my mother's friend Rita sometimes says "I would believe anything about Russia, even if you tell me that all the people there suddenly grew horns", and the more I read Russian news in general, the more I think of her.

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