Pugachyov and the ‘Kondopoga Technology’

By Richard Arnold
The recent events in the small town of Pugachyov, Saratov Oblast, provide yet another reminder of the power of ethnic Russian nationalism. The murder of Ruslan Marzanov, a half-Tatar paratrooper, by a drunken Chechen youth led to days of rioting, with local police having to close off a road to prevent nationalists from out of town coming to join in. The events started with the murder of the soldier on the night of July 6, but really exploded as a popular cause following the funeral of the murdered man on July 8. Following the murder, local inhabitants tried to block the Volgograd-Samara highway and storm a café belonging to Chechen refugees (https://lenta.ru/news/2013/07/15/nazirov/). Blocking the highway was symbolic resistance to the entry of more Chechens to the town. The chief of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, condemned the events as a “tragedy” (https://regions.ru/news/2466917/).
If the scenario sounds familiar, that is because it is, right down to the involvement of Kadyrov in matters involving Chechens outside of his territorial jurisdiction. First, the events in Pugachyov were merely the latest “race riot” in Russian towns in a series of events. The first took place in the Karelian town of Kondopoga in 2006. Others took place in Stavropol in 2007, Sarga (Sverdlovsk Oblast) in 2011, and once again in Stavropol oblast earlier this year in the small village of Nevinnomysk (see EDM, February 4). Of course, the most notable such riot occurred in Moscow in 2010, when 5,500 extremists gathered on Manezh square chanting “f**k the Caucasus.” Alexei Navalny, one of the leaders of the protest movement against Putin in Russia, also claimed to see similarities between what happened in Pugachyov and the above-mentioned events (https://democratia2.ru/group/a47e81dc-97e8-48e0-9697-16fa4afb2875/content). In fact, this strategy of bringing attention to issues of identity through popular action has been christened by Nikolai Silaeev as the “Kondopoga Technology” (https://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/discussions/2007/01/d10062/)—eponymously named after the town in which the initial disturbances occurred. This name has since been taken up by Moscow’s SOVA center for monitoring extremism. The “technology,” such as it is, is the name given to a tactic that “essentially consists of stoking widespread aggression against non-Slavic minorities in response to or retaliation for an isolated incident” (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/news-releases/2012/11/d25706/). Of course, the “technology” must have certain pre-conditions in order to function effectively, such as animosity between the host population and the supposed new arrivals. Yet, in other ways also the “technology” speaks to the growing Balkanization of Russian society.

Take, for example, Kadyrov’s willingness to become involved in protecting ethnic Chechens—which is another element of similarity with previous race riots across Russia. Following the disorder in Kondopoga in 2006, which Kadyrov said “expressed an anti-Caucasian and anti-Chechen character,” Chechnya sent a delegation to the northern town to assist Chechens living there (https://lenta.ru/news/2006/09/04/kadyrov/). Similarly, after the Moscow riots in 2010, Kadryov again felt himself able to speak for the community, saying that “not one Chechen went to the “European” shopping plaza on December 15” (https://grani.ru/War/Chechnya/m.184452.html). What is really important here is not the content of what Kadyrov said in itself, but rather the fact that he felt able to speak on behalf of all Chechens regardless of where they actually happened to reside in the Federation. As far as logical consistency, that sentiment ought to be worrying for anyone interested in the stability of a country founded on a supposedly civic Rossisskii identity (as opposed to an ethnic-Russian, or Russkii, one). There was, of course, another politician in a former Communist country who proclaimed himself “President of all the Serbs,” and that ended with the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia. Indeed, the democratic darling of the protest movement, Alexei Navalny, stuck up for the rights of ethnic Russians and called on “citizens of Russia to show solidarity with the inhabitants of Pugachyov” (https://democratia2.ru/group/a47e81dc-97e8-48e0-9697-16fa4afb2875/content). Once again, ethnic allegiances trump supposed civic ones. It may be premature to speak of the Balkanization of Russia, but appeals to ethnic identity over national identity certainly make it more likely.