On July 25, a large-scale fistfight broke out between Chechen youths and the local Russian population near Tuapse, a port town on the Black Sea in the Krasnodar region. Four hundred Chechen youths and children along with their older caretakers were on holiday in the Don summer camp when a small fight between young vacationing Chechens and Russians spiraled out of control. As the Chechens first gained the upper hand in the battle, the Russian side of the conflict summoned supporters from nearby towns and villages, who eventually smashed the Chechens and the summer camp facilities. The ethnic brawl claimed no lives, but dozens were treated in local hospitals and the Chechen tourists as well as other visitors left the summer camp (www.kp.ru, July 27).
The incident provoked an immense public outcry both in Chechnya and in ethnically Russian Russia. Chechen authorities accused the summer camp administration of orchestrating the attack, alleging that the deputy director of the camp had done military service in Chechnya and was biased against Chechens. Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, described the incident as “a mass beating of Chechen children,” while Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, lodged complaints with the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and President, Dmitry Medvedev. The police considered the fighting to be nothing more than a casual event with no ethnic motivation, while the camp director accused the Chechen holidaymakers of misbehavior, alleging that the Chechens attacked him, tore a Russian flag and shouted anti-Russian slogans (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 27).
Russia’s ombudsman for children, Pavel Astakhov, refrained from blaming any side in the conflict. He pointed out that the camp administrators, instead of calling the police, had tried to resolve the conflict by themselves, and that this was a mistake (www.gazeta.ru, July 28).
Meanwhile, the fistfight attracted so much attention that, along with Chechen officials, Krasnodar Governor, Aleksandr Tkachov, weighed in and tried to down play the significance of the incident as news about it was aired on a major Russian TV channel. Nukhazhiev called the Krasnodar region the most problematic in terms of its intolerance for the Chechens, but Tkachov said the region was historically very mixed, with over 120 ethnicities. The Krasnodar region, with a population of 5.5 million, has the longest coastline on the Black Sea and enjoys over 12 million tourist visits per year (RIA Novosti, July 28).
Whoever was to blame for starting this latest brawl, the publicity it received and the scope of the official reaction were striking. Despite the officially proclaimed end of the second war in Chechnya, the aftermath of the conflict never received a proper assessment; instead, Russian authorities have tried to hide it under the rug. Incidents like the ethnic brawl in Krasnodar quickly renew Russian-Chechen animosity and draw a distinct line separating the two communities within what is supposed to be a single country.
The recent clashes in Krasnodar likely received more attention because of another fight that occurred in Moscow on July 10. Yuri Volkov, an employee of the Rossiya TV channel, was killed in a fight between Russian and Chechen youths (www.vesti.ru, July 10). Some reports portrayed Volkov as a Russian nationalist, but others called him just a soccer fan. On July 14, about 400 people came out to commemorate Volkov’s death. Some inscriptions left around the location of the commemoration (such as “a Russian [was] killed by the Chechens”) were quite incendiary (www.kp.ru, July 14).
Russian authorities are trying to deal with the growing annoyance of ethnic Russians with the North Caucasians by issuing new instructions. A deputy to the Russian presidential envoy to the North Caucasian Federal District, Vladimir Shvetsov, recommended that republican authorities in the North Caucasus instruct their youths on how to behave when they travel to Russian-speaking regions. According to Shvetsov, some youths from the North Caucasian republics do not take other people’s feelings and opinions into consideration when they travel to Russian-speaking regions like Stavropol, and while not breaking any laws, they still breach the “norms of behavior.” Shvetsov pointed out in particular that Russians become quite nervous when Caucasians dance their ethnic dances. He revealed which particular ethnicity he was concerned about, saying: “It would be about the same, if we took girls in short skirts and went about in Grozny. We would immediately hear that they [the local Chechens] are not used to such behavior” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 28).
General Vladimir Shvetsov is responsible for the law-enforcement agencies in the North Caucasian Federal District as the deputy to Alelsandr Khloponin. Before his appointment in March 2010, Shvetsov headed the Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in North Ossetia (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 9). The scope of the intolerance problem must be very high for a high-ranking official like Shvetsov to come up with the idea of issuing special instructions for North Caucasian youths.
According to the Moscow-based Sova center, which monitors xenophobic trends in Russia, in the first six months of 2010 at least 167 people were the targets of racially-motivated attacks or attacks on members of anti-Nazi groups, and 19 of those victims died. The trend is actually a positive one, given that during the same period of 2009, 242 people were attacked and 52 of them died. However, the center is better equipped to monitor events in big Russian cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod (www.sova-center.ru, July 14).
Ethnically-motivated clashes serve as a stark reminder of the recent and ongoing conflicts in the North Caucasus. They indicate that real people on the ground have their own understanding of interethnic relations, which has little in common with the eternal interethnic peace proclaimed by the authorities. This factor is certain to contribute to further violence in the North Caucasus and as the recent events in Tuapse indicate, may even spark occasional conflicts throughout Russian Federation.