30.05.2016

Migrants: presumed guilty

Recently the Russian media has seen yet another surge of “anti-immigrant” publications, which were centered, as it already became usual, around criminal news. The story, which was discussed most loudly, was dubbed “the massacre at Khovanskoye cemetery” or “the battle of Khovanskoye” with the catch-line being “officials say illegal immigrants hiding from the FMS [Federal Migration Service], were behind these clashes”. Three citizens of Tajikistan were killed in this massive brawl, while another four people were put in intensive care and over a hundred participants in this fight were detained by the police. Orchestrating this carnage, as usual, were people with completely Slavic names and surnames and it was discovered later that the most active participants in the fight were “patriotic-minded” athletes associated with the organization “Combat Brotherhood”, composed of ex-servicemen.

Common TV news viewers firstly received a very clear message that the fight at the cemetery was started by undocumented illegal immigrants. News reporters relished the incident, making their guesses concerning the reasons for the fight: the TV audience was offered a choice between ethnic Tajik criminal groups fighting against ethnic Caucasian criminal groups for spheres of influence or illegal immigrants from Tajikistan hiding at the cemetery from Russian migration officials. Only a week later the Russian Investigative Committee officially stated that the fight was in fact provoked by the director of the cemetery, who was looking to force migrant workers at the cemetery to pay him half of their income, and when he realized that they were not going to agree on this, he decided to resort to help from his fellow criminals in “solving the problem”.

Another example was the story reported by some news websites, which informed that the Federal Security Service (FSB) “detained a group of citizens from the republics of Central Asia, who had been preparing terrorist attacks in Moscow during the public celebrations”. Reports stated that the detainees had connections to the leaders of international terrorist organizations based in Syria and Turkey. Among the 12 people arrested were natives of Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan, we were told. A shocking story, if only it was true! It later turned out that there was a serious error in the reports: 8 out of 12 detained people were not terrorists, but were later deported from Russia for violating immigration regulations. These “terrorists” were not even shown on television (“in the interests of the investigation”, of course). Criminal cases were also for some reason filed not based on the “terrorist” charges, but for arms trafficking and attacks on government officials instead. Whether these people were terrorists or were mere criminals also remained a mystery. But the job seems to have been done and it does not matter whether these people were real terrorists, illegal immigrants or simply migrant workers who found themselves at the wrong time in the wrong place. Premium payments to officers were given, the ratings of TV channels were on the rise again. It seems that for some people it was very convenient to come up with a story of “a terrorist attack being planned” and then “prevented”, while it is hard to imagine a better occasion for propaganda of hatred against people coming from Asia.

How high are the chances that in a similar situation “people of Slavic appearance” would be suspected of some similar crimes without good reason and the story would then be discussed in the media with the same frenzy? Are there any positive developments related to the life of various ethnic groups in Russia, which are being reported on TV and in the newspapers? However, as soon as we have some criminal offences related to persons of “non-Slavic appearance”, the press immediately gets involved in ever increasing anti-migrant hysteria. And it is often not at all clear where truthful information is reported or whether we deal with half-truths or complete misinformation. It is also stunning how regular daily news for some reason supposedly require broadcasting the views of various experts, while in covering more tragic and certainly socially important events involving foreign nationals, for the media it is enough to simply add “according to the authorities” line and cite some law enforcement officer.

For many years Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” studies the problems of Tajik migrants in Russia. These largely disempowered people often become hostages of official Kremlin policies (one can recall the mass deportations of Tajiks as an “asymmetrical response” to the detention of Russian pilots in Tajikistan, for example). Of course, it would be wrong to assume that the problem of bias in the mass media concerns only the topic of migrants. But because of a recent vogue for news like “Now, look, how the Europe is sunk because of its tolerance, it can not cope with the problems of migration”, the problem of criminality of migrants in Russia once again becomes a potent weapon for manipulation of public opinion. In the two news stories cited above the audience of mass media was given the message that citizens of Tajikistan had been involved in crimes and everyone was to draw some conclusions from this and start to fear. However, when the information turned out to be false, the Russian media were not in a hurry to retract earlier reports. Meanwhile, thousands of Tajiks continue to live peacefully next to us, work in Russia, their children attend schools together with Russian children, who are likely to also had heard the news reports and made some conclusions regarding their classmates, neighbors or playmates in the school yard. And if some of them after watching such “news” will later attack an Asian-looking janitor for “being a terrorist”, nobody is likely to not know about this, and if it is being reported, incitement to violence by media is not likely to figure in the investigation.

Unfortunately, anti-migrant rhetoric also becomes an integral part of the intellectual discourse: journalists and news commentators, who claim to have expert knowledge and progressive views, harp on about the dangers posed by migrants, and when they are caught lying, they are in no hurry to make refutations or if they do retract, they do so in a very peculiar way. For example, Yulia Latynina, a famous “expert on everything”, hastened to accuse migrants from Central Asia of brutally murdering the family of a senior police officer in Syzran and even of having links to the militants of “Lugansk People’s Republic”. When it turned out that other people were behind the murder in Syzran, the only thing Latynina admitted was that she had made a “big mistake”. But her florid invectives (“how many Russian families these criminals killed in the Donbass” and “how they received Russian citizenship for their services of killers”) did their job catching the imagination of quite liberal and progressive audience, introducing yet another portion of hatred into people‘s minds.

The conclusions that these mass media reports, both the “advanced” and the “crudely-made” ones, want us to make (the need for visas or other restrictions for migrants) are false, but the worst thing is that they also trigger aggression and result in new hate crimes. On the contrary, independent thinking would lead us to quite different conclusions. The country has seen a definite flourishing of crime; both corruption at the very top and the gloomy day-to-day crimes are terrible (the recent murder of bikers being just one example). But these daily crimes are horrible not only as such, but in what constitutes their “ideological” motives (we can recall murder of journalist Tsilikin based on hate against homosexuals or racially motivated attacks on Tajiks in Moscow metro). But the media cynically and irresponsibility claim that the responsibility for crimes is on migrants, that they are a source of danger to society. New doses of hatred are channeled onto the audience of the media. This creates a vicious circle. In addition, the readymade solutions to the problem of crime offered by the pseudo-analysts are worthless: introduction of visas does not stop “illegal” immigration or crime (not only transnational crime, but even petty crime). It is also quite clear that no visa regime with former Soviet republics of the Central Asian will be introduced: quite the opposite, Russia tries to re-establish some analogy of the Soviet Union in the new form of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC).

However, we, as the citizens of Russia, who are being bombarded by the news about the “anti-terrorist operations” and the accusations of immigrants broadcasted by the mass media, can expect little else than new, additional restrictions. While we continue believing these reports, no serious measures to combat crime are taken, people in uniforms continue arresting innocent people under the pretext of fighting against “militants”, the TV continues to show this, strengthening the belief in the need for “strict measures” and more repression. Meanwhile, under the pretext of “fighting against terrorism”, the State Duma gets ready to adopt new restrictive laws, definitively depriving us of freedom of movement. And all of this will be, as always, done “for our own good”.

Sergey Mikheyev

Migrants detained by the police, photos by A. Zotova https://twitter.com/alasta_ven

First published on the website of Radio Liberty