“When I get on the bus, I don’t want to see the flag of another republic hanging there”
Representatives of radical Yakut nationalist groups Us Tumsuu and Uraankhai refused to comment. It’s likely that it was these groups recorded the videos of attacks on fruit and vegetable stands in Yakutsk. In January, for instance, they organised nationalist raids on nightclubs in the city, with a similar rhetoric and methods.
Kseniya Baishiyeva, a Yakut representative from the Tulagino suburb of Yakutsk and chairperson of the Sakha Omuk organisation, agreed to speak to me about these groups’ motives. “We live in Russia after all. When I get on the bus, I don’t want to see the flag of another republic hanging there. We live in Russia and we should live according to the laws of our republic and Russia.”
Baishiyeva also shared her personal attitude to the events. “It’s really bad when someone is raped. So when the men [from the nationalist groups] said that this shouldn’t happen, I think they were right. They did the right thing. Why do people always think that our men have given women complete freedom.”
Baishiyeva looks on the official presence at the anti-migrant protest favourably. “I support our president, he’s together with the people. Now he will request that the law enforcement agencies ensure that the laws are enforced. Aisen Sergeevich [Nikolayev] is a good man, I support him very strongly in this case, because usually when we have a spontaneous protest, he can be uncontrollable. And everything happened in a controlled way.”
Baishiyeva recognises that the information circulating online is fake. WhatsApp has long turned into the main media platform in Yakutia – any significant news in the region instantly gains a media echo. First, there is a hysterical report about what happened, then a call for “maximum repost” and then, finally, a wave of fake news reporting.
This is what happened with the “news” that the city’s fruit and vegetable stands were giving away their produce for free as an apology to local residents. Ksenia Baishiyeva believes that the source of this news is located outside of Yakutia. “There’s often fakes on WhatsApp. People are already asking us, who is sending these messages? I think these fakes come from outside the republic. Law enforcement needs to check who is sending these messages and from where, and stop them.”
When I ask Baishiyeva how to solve the problem of social and ethnic tension, she presents a simple solution – pretend there is no problem: “Personally, when I get too many messages on my phone, I just turn it off and don’t look at it. People work most of the time, they don’t have time to read messages. We’re a Northern people, we work hard.”