North Caucasians Grow Impatient with Accusations by Ethnic Russians

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 20

An unusual public protest took place in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, on October 14, when an estimated 70 protesters demonstrated against anti-Caucasian hysteria in the Russian media and government.  The protest was triggered by the harsh punishment given to participants in a September 30 Dagestani wedding procession in Moscow, who were accused of shooting guns in the air and other minor offences and sentenced to administrative arrests and fines. While the Moscow police initially did not find fault with the Dagestani wedding in the capital, Russia’s traditional and social media continually focused on the incident, and the Russian authorities ramped up their rhetoric and punishment for the wedding participants. The protesters in Makhachkala brought up another issue: the arrest of Dagestani boxer Rasul Mirzaev, who has been in custody on murder charges since 2011. Mirzaev’s supporters say that even though he did kill ethnic Russian Ivan Agafonov in a fistfight in Moscow in August 2011, the killing was an accident and Agafonov was the aggressor. Instead of judging the incident impartially, many people in Dagestan believe that Moscow court decisions are influenced by Russian nationalist sentiment (, October 14).
There have been numerous protests against North Caucasians staged by ethnic Russians in Moscow and other big cities, and sometimes even in small Russian towns. However, people in the North Caucasus have come out into the streets for the first time to condemn publicly discrimination against them in Russian regions outside the North Caucasus. Rising Russian xenophobia and the corresponding rise of nationalism in the North Caucasus have converged, confirming the existence of two parallel processes in the Russian Federation that work against its unity.
An increase in public discontent in Dagestan over the mistreatment of Dagestanis in Russia is matched by frustration on the part of the republican government. In an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Dagestan’s President Magomedsalam Magomedov condemned the shooting in the air by the Dagestani wedding procession in Moscow, but implied that the emphasis on the ethnicity of the perpetrators of the crime was misplaced. “I do not understand the stir and hysteria that have unfolded around this story,” he said. “They are trying to create an interethnic conflict out of nothing and this worries me. He shot (in the air) not because he was a Dagestani—hooligans and people brought up badly can be of any nationality. Also, it is still unclear who exactly was doing the shooting. We in Dagestan also have various crimes, including trivial and grave ones. However, no one ever says that an Avar, a Dargin, a Lezgin, a Russian or someone like that shot or run down a pedestrian”—the president of Dagestan stated, implying that the emphasis on the ethnicity of crime perpetrators was misplaced (
Incidents such as fistfights, shootings and killings that take place in Slavic Russia involving ethnic North Caucasians are regularly reported on in the Russian media. While before the news of such incidents would spread through the social media websites, now even Russian state-controlled TV broadcasts reports on such incidents, as was the case with the Dagestani wedding procession. Ethnic Russians regularly complain that North Caucasians move into the rest of Russia in large numbers and misbehave, undermining public safety and order and generally causing discomfort for the native Russian population. The stereotypical North Caucasian does not work, but has significant amounts of funds that he uses to bribe Russian officials to have his way. In addition, the popular view is that the birthrates in the North Caucasus are much higher than among ethnic Russians, while there are very few jobs in the region. Therefore, increasingly more North Caucasians migrate to Russian-majority regions of the Russian Federation.
The Russian journalist Yevgeny Pozhidaev set out to explore the veracity of beliefs that ethnic Russians hold about people from the North Caucasus. According to Pozhidaev, the population of the North Caucasian republics, excluding Adygea, is 6.6 million, of which about 600,000 are ethnic Russians. The remaining six million comprises only 4.2 percent of the total population of Russia, the reporter pointed out.  Moreover, Pozhidaev found that as of 2009, the birthrates in all North Caucasian republics, with the exception of Chechnya, were lower than the level of population replacement, which is 2.15 children per woman. In Kabardino-Balkaria the rate was 1.51 children per woman; in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, it was 1.75; in North Ossetia, 1.84; in Dagestan, 1.96; in Ingushetia, 1.97; in Chechnya, 3.38. The average birthrate in Russia as a whole was 1.537. Thus, according to Pozhidaev, North Caucasian nationalities are on their way to acquire “European population reproduction” patterns. The rapid growth of the population in the North Caucasus is the result of its earlier high birthrate, the journalist argued. In 1988–1990, the birthrate coefficient in Dagestan was 3.07—nearly 1.7 times greater than average in Russia. However, in 1991–2006, the birthrate in Dagestan fell much faster than it did in the Slavic part of Russia, and the two birthrates were nearly the same, Pozhidaev concluded (
The Russian statistical service’s website, however, indicates that in 2009–2010, the natural growth of population, measured as the net addition of individuals per 1,000 people, across the North Caucasus significantly outperformed the rest of Russia. Russia as a whole experienced a net loss of population of -1.7 and -2.0 per 1,000 in 2009 and 2010, respectively. In the same period, the growth rate in Dagestan was 11.8 and 12.2 per 1,000; in Ingushetia, 14.2 and 17.8; in Kabardino-Balkaria, 4.1 and 4.9; in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, 3.6 and 3.2; in North Ossetia, 2.7 and 3.6; in Chechnya, 23.3 and 23.0 (Russian state statistical service, So not only did the North Caucasian republics have a significantly higher population growth rate than the rest of Russia in 2009, but all of them except Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Chechnya further increased their population growth rate in 2010.
Russian official statistics can be tricky. Whatever the ratio of the birthrates in the North Caucasus to those in Slavic Russia, Russian public opinion appears to be intent on exaggerating and focusing on the differences between the two groups, and it is unlikely that statistics are powerful enough to reverse this trend.