Russian Federation: Ethnic Discrimination in Southern Russia / 1

Russian Federation: Ethnic Discrimination in Southern Russia / 1

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 August 1998
Citation / Document Symbol D1008
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Russian Federation: Ethnic Discrimination in Southern Russia, 1 August 1998, D1008, available at: [accessed 28 May 2019]
Comments Ethnic discrimination in the Russian Federation has persisted and perhaps even worsened since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The government has failed to combat discrimination and is in many ways responsible for perpetuating discriminatory practices.
Disclaimer This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Ethnic discrimination in the Russian Federation has persisted and perhaps even worsened since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The government has failed to combat discrimination and is in many ways responsible for perpetuating discriminatory practices. While this is evident in much of Russia, it is striking in Stavropol and Krasnodar, two provinces in southern Russia that make up part of the North Caucasus region. A common form of state-sponsored discrimination in these provinces is police harassment of ethnic Caucasians through selective enforcement of residence requirements (propiska) and mandatory registration of visitors. Police selectively enforce these rules, sometimes together with Cossack units — paramilitary organizations composed of ethnic Slavs that in southern Russia operate with government sanction — through arbitrary identity checks on the street, on highways, and in homes, during which victims are often forced to pay bribes and sometimes are beaten and detained.

From April 1996 through February 1998, the Russian Constitutional Court handed down several decisions that gradually ordered regional governments and the federal government to relax requirements for visitor and permanent residence registration. This is clearly a step toward freedom of movement and the elimination of the most-used tool of ethnic discrimination. However, it is unclear how regional governments will implement the Constitutional Court decisions. There is sound reason to fear that regional officials may informally continue to enforce older, more stringent rules even after they finally adopt new norms. This fear is founded in part on the continued harsh enforcement of overturned registration rules in 1996 and early 1997 by regional officials, and on more recent developments in Krasnodar province, where the fiercely chauvinistic ethnic Cossack movement and residence permit requirements have brought new urgency for refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and economic migrants. Cossack involvement in anti-migrant actions rose there after the 1996 gubernatorial elections brought Nikolai Kondratenko to the post of governor. Governor Kondratenko, whose anti-Semitism is a matter of public record, sponsored even more stringent residence restrictions and gave new authorization to Cossacks to conduct passport checks jointly with the police.

Human Rights Watch conducted three field missions to document the selective enforcement of residence requirements; in April 1996, visiting Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces, in August 1996, Stavropol province, and in March 1997, traveling to Volgograd province, which borders the North Caucasus region. We interviewed scores of refugees and IDPs, long-term residents, representatives of local ethnic societies and local and federal officials.

Like Moscow and other major Russian cities, both Stavropol and Krasnodar authorities have strictly enforced laws and regulations setting out registration procedures for potential residents and “visitors.” These included, respectively, the law on Administrative Responsibility for Violating Rules on Visiting and Obtaining Permanent Residence in the Stavropol province (adopted October 18, 1994, and updated in 1996), the Law on Registration for Visitation and Residence in the Krasnodar province (adopted June 7, 1995), and the Krasnodar Province Resolution on Measures to Strengthen State Control over Migration in Krasnodar Province and Ameliorating the Negative Consequences of Excessive Migration (adopted June 16, 1997). These set out bureaucratic procedures and daily fees for registering visitors (including relatives), as well as tough sanctions — in the form of fines and administrative detention — for violators. Volgograd enforces similar regulations.

While the rules applied to all individuals who were not residents, in Stavropol and Krasnodar they were enforced overwhelmingly among ethnic minorities, and especially among ethnic Caucasians (that is, peoples whose ethnic origins are linked either to the countries of the southern Caucasus — Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia — but who may or may not have lived in these countries, or to the republics of Russia’s northern Caucasus — such as Chechnya, Ingushetiya and the like). Among them are people who are citizens of Russia but who do not have residency permits for the region; refugees from other C.I.S. countries, some of whom are stateless; and citizens from other C.I.S. countries who otherwise do not require a visa to visit or work in Russia. Even Russian citizens ofCaucasian ethnicity who have residency permits are often stopped for identity checks and harassed solely because of their ethnicity.

Police routinely approach people who look distinctly non-Russian and ask them for residence documentation. If they fail to produce it, police sometimes beat or humiliate them, or rob them of whatever money or valuables they carry as an informal “fine” for the violation. Often, police will raid the homes of people they know to be refugees, non-Russians, or others who are likely not to be in possession of a propiska. These actions are intensified after violent events, such as Chechen commander Shamil Basayev’s raid against a hospital in Stavropol in July 1995 and a similar raid in Dagestan by Chechen fighters in January 1996.

Several factors help explain the rise in xenophobia in the south and the continued enforcement of laws that have been ruled unconstitutional such as those establishing the propiska system. First, the flawed nationalities policy of the Soviet period has resulted in grievances and resentment among the peoples of the Russian Federation. During the Soviet period, calls for “friendship of the peoples” and “internationalism” served as a smoke screen for a system in which ethnic Slavs dominated key leadership posts and in which the government ignored or exploited grievances among ethnic groups. The repression of nationalism resulted in the explosion of national feeling during the perestroika period of a political liberalization ushered in by the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Increasing nationalism among ethnic minorities in time gave rise to a counter-nationalism among many ethnic Russians. Second, ethnic minorities — especially ethnic Caucasians — became scapegoats for the continued economic hardship suffered by most of the population because of the collapse of the command economy. The prominent participation of ethnic Caucasians in some sectors of the market economy, such as small trading and vending, has further caused tension among a populace reared on fixed prices. Third, the provinces of Krasnodar and Stavropol have been magnets for hundreds of thousands of people who fled war and inter-ethnic and political unrest in nearby Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Chechnya. At the same time, both provinces received little revenue from the central authorities in Moscow, who have been slashing expenditures for social services and infrastructure. Although a majority of migrants during this period were ethnic Russians and other Slavs, ethnic Caucasians are blamed for overcrowded hospitals, buses and stores. Fourth, the war in Chechnya caused a backlash of hostility toward ethnic Chechens and by extension toward other peoples from the North Caucasus region. Legitimate measures of heightened security, responding to such events as Shamil Basayev’s raid on Budennovsk in June 1995, often led to excesses against Chechens in general and other ethnic Caucasians. Finally, the rise of crime since the collapse of authoritarian Soviet control has led to the scapegoating of ethnic Caucasians. While ethnic Caucasians are represented in organized crime gangs to be sure, so are other ethnic groups in Russia.

Consequently, a negative, collective image of ethnic Caucasians has been born in the minds of many Slavs. A new term, “individual of Caucasian nationality” (litso kavkazskoi natsional’nosti) has entered the vocabulary of post-Soviet Russia and is used to convey images of ethnic strife, crime, drug trafficking, wild free market capitalism, speculation, and undeserving migrants. The media, which often demonizes ethnic Caucasians, has been part of this process.

The rebirth of the Cossack movement has also seen a rise in anti-Caucasian tensions. An armed cavalry group that helped conquer and guard borderlands of the Russian empire under the tsars, the Cossacks were brutally subjugated by the Bolsheviks and suffered repression during the Stalin era. During perestroika, the Cossack movement — like ethnic, cultural, and religious groups in general — experienced a rebirth. Descendants of the Kuban Cossacks in Krasnodar and the Terek Cossacks in Stavropol reformed into Cossack units. Part of the Cossack ideology is virulently anti-ethnic migrant and its expression often degenerates into a general hatred towards all ethnic minorities, especially Chechens, Armenians, and also the Jews. Cossacks, who until recently have operated as a vigilante force, not answerable to any government authority, but closely associated with some officials, now have government authority to conduct joint patrols with police units. In the name of law enforcement, they sometimes commit abuses against the local population, particularly ethnic Caucasians.


Human Rights Watch respectfully submits the following recommendations for action.

To the Governments of the Russian Federation:

· In accordance with the Constitutional Court ruling of February 1998, repeal all existing residence requirements that serve as anything beyond notification, and discipline civil servants who continue to deny individuals’ basic rights or access to services based on residence requirements;

· Conduct thorough investigations of attacks on and threats and discrimination against Russian citizens, refugees, and IDPs, and vigorously prosecute the perpetrators;

· Cease immediately arbitrary and discriminatory identity checks and raids by law enforcement agents;

· Establish and enforce penalties for law enforcement agents, Cossacks and other paramilitary groups who commit racially discriminatory acts or acts of violence.

· Request the Council of Europe to conduct a study tour of Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces to examine the treatment of ethnic minorities;

· Strengthen protection of human rights, with particular attention to the rights of ethnic minorities;

· Publicly denounce racial discrimination and all violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and introduce a vigorous education and training campaign for civil servants in order to improve implementation of these protections; and

· Conduct a public education campaign in Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces on ethnic tolerance.

To the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights:

· Request the U.N. Center for Human Rights to deploy human rights monitors to southern Russia, with the primary goals of making regular, public reports on their findings and disseminating them among the refugee and IDP populations; and

· Establish a field office in southern Russia — preferably in Krasnodar — that would work with local authorities to implement Russia’s refugee legislation and train local officials in refugee protection. In addition, such a field office would, in accordance with the U.N.’s mandate under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, provide protection services to stateless people in the region.

To the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe:

· Through the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) work with government officials to lessen ethnic hostility through inter-ethnic dialogue and training courses; and

· Fund a public service campaign in Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces on ethnic tolerance.

To the Council of Europe:

· In the context of the monitoring processes of the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, condemn the abuses committed in Russia against non-ethnic Russians;

· Conduct a study tour on the protection of ethnic minorities in Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces and make public the findings;

· Help fund a public service campaign to promote ethnic tolerance in Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces; and

· Conduct expanded programs of intergovernmental exchange and training, particularly targeting Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces, to educate law enforcement and other government officials about standards of ethnic tolerance required among Council of Europe member states.

To the United States Government and the European Commission:

· During the upcoming U.S. – Russia summit, President Clinton should express concern about abuses being committed against Russian citizens, refugees and IDPs in the Russian Federation, and should urge President Yeltsin to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice; and

· Fund a public service campaign on ethnic tolerance in Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces.

· Fund non-governmental organizations in Krasnodar and Stavropol devoted to promoting inter-ethnic dialogue and tolerance.

· Include in training programs for Russian law enforcement, curricula emphasizing human rights in generals and minority rights in particular. Target law enforcement personnel in Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces for such training.


Stavropol and Krasnodar provinces (krai) lie in southern Russia just north of the Caucasus Mountains.[1] Consequently, the region is also referred to as the North Caucasus. Both provinces are famous for their tourist facilities and sanatoria, such as Pyatigorsk in Stavropol and Sochi on the Black Sea in Krasnodar, as well as for their agricultural wealth, especially wheat.

In the late eighteenth century, the Russian empire began to make serious inroads into the North Caucasus and over the next seventy years systematically subdued and colonized the region. A major impetus for this action was the desire to secure a land route to the kingdom of Georgia, which became a protectorate of the empire in 1783. Russian methods of conquest in the North Caucasus included scorched-earth campaigns and the forced migration of native peoples; the in-migration of ethnic Slavs, especially Cossacks, and Christian minorities such as Armenians; the cooptation of local notables; and the construction of fortified lines of communication. For example, Stavropol was founded in 1777 as a fort on the Azov-Mozdok fortified line, while Krasnodar was constructed in 1793 as a post of the Black Sea Cossacks. Between 1861 and 1864, a majority of the Adygei, the native people of the Krasnodar region, fled to the Ottoman Empire after resisting Russian advances for decades.[2] Some put their numbers at 500,000.

The territorial unit comprising present-day Stavropol province was formed in 1924; until 1937, it was known as the North Caucasian province (Severnyi-Kavkazskii krai). In 1957, three districts of Stavropol (Kargolinskii, Shchelkovskii, and Naurskii) were given to the reconstituted Chechno-Ingush Autonomous Republic. In 1991, the Karachai-Cherkessk Autonomous Oblast, which lay in the southwest of Stavropol province abutting the Caucasus Mountains, detached from Stavropol and became a republic of what is now the Russian Federation. Krasnodar province was formed in 1937; in 1991, the Adygei Autonomous Oblast, which hitherto had been part of the province, became a republic of the Russian Federation. The Karachai-Cherkessk and Adygei republics are the last territorial vestiges of the native peoples that existed there before the Russian expansion into the Kuban and Stavropol regions.

While the population of Krasnodar and Stavropol is predominately ethnically Russian, substantial minority populations exist. According to the 1989 census, Russians comprised 86.7 percent (four million) of the population of Krasnodar, followed by Ukrainians, 3.9 percent (182,100), and Armenians, 3.9 percent (172,200).[3] The total population of Krasnodar according to the 1989 census was 4.62 million, which is believed to have climbed to fivemillion today.[4] Conflict-related in-migration most likely boosted the Armenian, Kurdish, Meskhetian Turk, and Russian populations of Krasnodar.[5]Stavropol’s population of 2.41 million in the 1989 census is believed to have grown to about 2.65 million, as of 1995. According the 1989 census, Russians comprised the vast majority (71 percent), followed by Karachis (5 percent), and Armenians (2.5 percent). Volgograd’s population in 1989 totaled 2.6 million and was led by Russians (89 percent), followed by Ukranians (3 percent), and Kazakhs (1.5 percent).





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