THE BLOG
22/10/2013 10:07 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Biryulyovo Revised

Let us be honest. Nothing, which happened last week in Moscow's Biryulyovo, is a positive sign for CIS migrants in Russia, nor could it contribute positively to Azerbaijan-Russia relations, given the mixed sentiment currently existing on both sides. Surely, this is not the end of the world and the street murder of Yegor Sherbakov could have never become a reason for Baku and Moscow to break off diplomatic relations. At the same time, the situation does need to be objectively analyzed in order to dispel the intensity of the national mood, which, as history showed, was never good for Baku, nor was it positive for Russia as a multicultural empire.

The first warning came in August 2013, in the aftermath of the incident in Moscow's Matveyevsky market, when 500 labor migrants from Vietnam, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan were placed in a tent camp ahead of their deportation from Russia for violating migration laws, whereas dozen others were detained on suspicion of immigration offences. One could suggest that the murder of Yegor Sherbakov in Western Biryulyovo by a man of Caucasian origin (presumably Azerbaijani) and the public resonance it received could drive the former Soviet Republics away from Russia. In this connection, speculation about a threat of mass deportation (1,5-2 million Azerbaijani currently work in Russia), as a tool of Putinism designed for political pressure on CIS states, becomes instantly popular in the shadows of the post-Soviet space.

If one is to put emotions aside, there is nothing unexplainable here though. Russia is the major receiving country in the CIS zone. Therefore, her decisions in the field of migration management and cooperation with partner countries would have a major impact on the socio-economic and political situation in the entire region. Doctor of Political Sciences at MGIMO Valeriy Solovey is positive that no country except Russia is keeping her borders open to drug producing countries and that the implementation of the visa regime with the Central Asian countries could significantly improve the existing situation. Most of the Russians believe that the increase in migration results in a greater level of crime and that, as a consequence, any nationalistic party could have easily received a third of popular support.

Azerbaijan, in its turn, tries to ably approach the issue, for the mass return of migrants could hurt the socio-economic balance in the country and thus, result in a socio-political instability. No less significant was the earlier statement made by the Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Alexei Ulyukayev about the current economic development in Russia, which according to Mr. Ulyukayev is "below the world average". "Unfortunately, we don't see opportunities in 2014 to get up to the world average", were the words of the Minister. Therefore, a strong degree of solidarity between Baku and Moscow is extremely important in order to maintain clear and comprehensive measures to respond to the current situation and to avoid rhetoric, which could lead to a greater misunderstanding.

There is another big fact that seems to be highly overlooked. The tragedy that happened to Yegor Sherbakov is notable not because it indicates Russians' fair infuriation over the "invasion" of illegal migrants who, in many cases, do not seek cultural assimilation and social integration within the Russian society (deep rooted cultural reasons), neither should the proud sense of self-preservation of Russia's peculiar culture come as a surprise (one of the major reasons behind Russia's past imperialist victories). Even anti-Putinist Aleksei Navalny, who has been popular for his "realistic agenda" (aimed at combating illegal immigration and ethnicity based organized crime groups, as well as bringing order to the North Caucasus), supported the loud initiative to install the visa regime concerning the post-soviet Republics after the incident in Biryulyovo had taken place. Sherbakov's case is, inter alia, important, because it tells a lot about how strong Azerbaijani national identity became, and that it clearly seeks every possible way for self-expression. This sense of national identity is craving for a global recognition and, as a result, becomes extremely sensitive to potential injustice. Such a force, if exploited rightly, could well be an engine for beautiful societal transformations. For instance, national awakening in Europe grew out of an intellectual reaction to the Enlightenment that emphasized national identity and developed a romantic view of cultural self-expression through nationhood. Moreover, a sense of nationality was the basis that held modern European societies together in the age when religious allegiance was in decline. But history has known other examples, where political repression pushed nationalist agitation underground. A good example could probably be the disintegration of the Soviet Union, where the powerlessness of Mikhail Gorbachev's administration in face of the escalating violence in the Caucasus started a chain reaction of national uprisings, which in 1991 resulted in the total collapse of the USSR. The revival of historiographical nationalism in Eastern Europe in the context of the collapse of Communism (Yugoslav wars) also served as a reminder that the power of nationalism was never a thing of the past.

Another interesting thing is that despite the fact that Azerbaijan has long been a good example of a secular state and it certainly still is, the government's concern over "some malicious flows, hiding behind the canons of religion" seems to be gaining some grounds. "Although this problem is not actual for Azerbaijan, we cannot state that we are fully insured against such threats. Only a proper religious propaganda on the part of religious communities will help prevent malicious tendencies", was the recent statement made by the head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations Elshad Isgandarov. Unfortunately, many of those who were crushing the stalls in Biryulyovo underwent "religious education" and, as they believe, were participating in the "clash of cultures". Therefore, the cooperation between Baku and Moscow becomes increasingly important in the light of the growing religious intolerance, which in the case of the CIS states could easily expand beyond the states' borders.