Medvedev and Putin slam xenophobia

Tackling inter-ethnic clashes in Russia has been in the spotlight of the National Council, where President Dmitry Medvedev and Premier Vladimir Putin offered their vision of how to combat the problem.

Putin suggested using Soviet experience and teaching Russians patriotism, while Medvedev called the USSR “a very harsh state” and said that it is impossible go back to its practices.

“There were no such problems with inter-ethnic relations in the USSR. Soviet leadership managed to create inter-ethnic peace…The USSR managed to create some substance that was above ethnic or inter-confessional relations,” Putin said. “Unfortunately, it had ideological character. It was the idea of socialism.”What could replace that idea now, according to the premier, is raising patriotism.

Medvedev, for his part, agreed that Russia does need new approaches. However, the idea of using Soviet experience did not seem appealing to the president.

“[Putin] recalled the Soviet Union found its own way in achieving certain results in maintaining peace between nationalities.Is it possible to repeat what was done in soviet period? We are realistic people and we understand that it is impossible,” the president said. “But we do need to work out new approaches,” he added.

What both Medvedev and Putin are unanimous on is that inter-ethnic peace is fundamental for Russia’s existence.

The tandem, as well as heads of regions, ministers and representatives of Russian political elite, discussed on Monday how to deal with xenophobia that has lately risen to a dangerous level.

Ethnic conflicts "deadly dangerous" for Russia

"Inter-ethnic conflicts are lethal for Russia, no matter where they occur," Medvedev said at the joint session of the State Council and the presidential council on nationality projects. He added that such conflicts are tense in many regions of the country.

Underlining the importance of the problem and necessity to urgently address it, the president changed the agenda of the council, which initially was to focus on the support of families, maternity and childhood.

It follows a number of violent conflicts between different ethnic groups this month. The most serious disorder erupted in central Moscow on December 11 as thousands of football fans and extremists rallied over the killing of a Spartak Moscow supporter in an earlier brawl with members of ethnic minorities from the North Caucasus.

Speaking on Monday at the council meeting, Medvedev stressed that maintaining harmony between ethnicities is crucially important for Russia, and that a person of any nationality should feel safe in any region of the state.

The president also named concrete steps to be taken in order to rectify the alarming situation.

“First of all, heads of regions should personally control issues of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations as well as nurturing tolerance and judicial culture,” he said. Secondly, republican leaders should develop work with national communities in other regions and help to normalize relations between different ethnicities. Thirdly, the government should analyze programs of civil education in schools and universities and come up with ideas for their improvement.

“All peoples should learn to live together. It is difficult, but our country is no stranger to that. Our country is truly, really multinational.” 

Finally, law enforcement agencies must intensify their efforts in countering illegal immigration.  The president noted that other countries’ experience could be utilized when dealing with these problems. 

“Any attempts to rouse national hatred or provoke clashes should be suppressed immediately,” Medvedev said.

­“We can’t let nitwits ruin our home”

According to the Russian leader, dialogue, cooperation and education are the key to maintaining peace, and force can be used only as a last resort.

At the same time, “we can no way flirt with those who do not want dialogue and act with enmity towards the entire society”.It makes no sense to offer a hand to those who will never shake it.

“We cannot let all sorts of nitwits ruin our common home. Especially since they didn’t build it and they are not its owners.No national features, customs or social problems can justify rudeness, vandalism, violence and disorder,” Medvedev said.

The president also stressed that officials at all levels must be unbiased and fair.

“People girded with power have no right to support one of the sides in any inter-ethnic conflict,” he stressed.All state servants – no matter what post they occupy and in what region – must act in interests of the entire nation, not its separate groups.

There will be no “Chinatowns” in Russia

The president noted that Russia is ranked second after the US in the number of immigrants.

“On the one hand, it shows that our country is attractive and millions of people from other states pin their hopes for better living [on Russia]. And, perhaps, it is not bad for our self-appraisal. On the other hand, such external demographic pressure creates a huge number of problems,” he said.

In addition to the inflow of immigrants, migration within the country is also high.And the “ethnic balance of many territories is changing under our very eyes”.Those changes are rather painful and often lead to ethnic clashes, which are stirred up by “political extremists or ordinary criminals”.

Medvedev ruled out the very possibility of compact settlements based on ethnicity.

“Indeed, there can be new constructions, but we will not deliberately create our own Russian Chinatowns,” he said.

Other countries’ experience in coping with inter-ethnic conflicts can also be considered. Medvedev recalled that just 40 years ago people of different races and nationalities would often sit “on different benches”. But now American society is rather tolerant and “we should not be ashamed to learn”.

Russia is a united country and it is necessary to learn to live in peace. “Otherwise, we will not succeed. And the worst forecasts that were made with great pleasure by some foreign analysts in the beginning of the 90s will come true. You remember what a sad fate they predicted for the Russian Federation,” he added.

Medvedev pointed out that “some representatives of the public and business” saw nothing wrong with the country being divided into several pieces as it made it easier to manage it and make money. Such approaches are criminal he said. While the dissolution of the USSR was relatively quiet, the consequences of such a scenario for Russia would be completely different.

Extremists use soccer fans as “cannon meat” – Putin

Premier Vladimir Putin, who was sitting on Medvedev’s right-hand side at the session, agreed with the president that the topic of peace between ethnicities is not paid enough attention.

“Indeed, we should bring it back into our routine since there is nothing that would be more important. It is the issue of the country’s existence.”

The premier underlined that it is necessary to distinguish between those who are interested in national culture and nationalists who speculate on national feelings."We should distinguish between football fans and extremists who are trying to use them as cannon meat and drive them to the streets," Putin said.

According to the premier, work on fighting corruption should continue. What angers people is that authorities often shelter those who should be punished.

The head of the government also stressed that any crime committed on ethnic grounds should be brought to court.