Russia: Taxi Drivers Versus Dagestanis in Ryazan

Last week, Global Voices covered the ugly rhetoric of some nationalist Russian bloggers responding to medal-winning ethnic-minority wrestlers representing the Russian Federation in the Olympics. On August 14, 2012, one such blogger, Pavel Rasta, published a post [ru] that began in an all too familiar fashion by belittling the achievements of those Dagestani athletes and claiming that Russians do not view their medals as an Olympic victory.

As an example of rising tensions, Rasta described an episode of recent ethnic violence in the city of Ryazan, a medium-sized regional center not far from Moscow. While part of the story had already appeared in a local online newspaper [ru] prior to Rasta's blog, it was not reported on by the mainstream media in any great detail. After publishing his version of events to his blog, it has since spread [ru] throughout the Russian Internet.

Here are the basic plot points. On August 7, several taxi drivers got into a fight with a group of Dagestanis exiting a club in Ryazan. Reportedly, the taxi drivers were defending a woman. During the fight, more Dagestanis arrived in a van, but eventually retreated after other taxi drivers turned up to help their colleagues. The taxi drivers chased the van, but lost sight of it.

“Autocross.” Ryazan, Russia, 27-28 August 2011, photo by dm_401, CC BY-SA 2.0.

In one version of the story, the Dagestanis robbed a taxi driver the night before the fight. In Pavel Rasta’s version, the Dagestanis previously beat up several taxi drivers with metal pipes. Whatever the case, combined with this new altercation, it led to dozens, and possibly hundreds, of taxi drivers organizing, apparently with the help of a local Cossack leader.

Throughout the next day, taxis circled the town looking for the Dagestani van, to no effect. Later, a column of two hundred cars (taxi drivers and civilians) drove to Kanischevo, a Ryazan suburb and Dagestani enclave.

What exactly happened in Kanischevo is unclear. The available descriptions are sparse and metaphorical. Consider [ru]:

Дальнейшее описывать смысла нет: Канищево буквально вспахали и засеяли. Годы беспредела, расползавшегося оттуда, даром не прошли.

It makes no sense to describe what happened next: Kanischevo was literally plowed and planted. The years of lawlessness that spread from there weren’t forgotten.

Or [ru]:

Изначально хотели отыскать совершавших избиения. Но когда прибыли на место, стали разбираться со всеми подряд. Горцы разбегались в разные стороны.

Originally, the plan was to find those who committed the assault. But when they got there, they began to deal with everybody. The highlanders ran in all directions.

Regardless of the specifics, if this excursion was not a pogrom, it was definitely “pogrom-like.” Ironically, the van still remained elusive.

The taxi drivers then returned to town, and established themselves on the main square, which prompted a visit from the riot police. Amazingly, the riot police talked to the protestors and refused to clear the square. The drivers eventually dispersed, but not until establishing their own street patrols [ru]. Some taxi drivers have also begun to discriminate against Dagestanis, tweeted [ru] Ryazan-based @Maninshadow.

Такси “двоечки” в Рязани не рекомендует водителям брать пассажиров кавказской национальности.

“Doubles” Taxi in Ryazan recommends that its drivers don’t pick up passengers of Caucasian descent.

The lack of reporting makes it difficult to judge the validity of some aspects of the story. Ryazan locals on one IT forum [ru] claim that the news was fabricated. There was indeed fighting between taxi drivers and Dagestanis, but it was over territory.

Nevertheless, the details above are upheld by original reporting [ru] from “Free Press,” an online publication edited by writers Zahar Prilepin, a National Bolshevik, and Sergey Shargunov, a former member of the political parties Rodina and Just Russia. Russia’s Migrant Federation also released an official comment [ru], saying that they will send a group of observers to the region, in order to forestall any further conflict.

If true, the situation is particularly troubling because of parallels with the notorious Kondopoga ethnic riots of 2006 [ru]. Events like this raise questions about Russia's capacity to effectively cope with its multiculturalism, especially now, when the situation on the ground in the North Caucasus is so troubling. Eduard Limonov, writer and founder of the National Bolshevik Party and a perpetual leader of the opposition, is of the opinion [ru] that:

 Дагестан вот-вот перестанет быть территорией Российской  Федерации

Dagestan is just about to stop being a part of the Russian Federation.

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