Policy Memos

What Happened on Manezh Square? Ideology, Institutions, and Myths Regarding the Anti-Migrant Riots of December 2010

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The nationalist riots that swept over major Russian cities in mid-December 2010 took nearly everyone by surprise. Anti-migrant sentiment was on the rise, but no one expected the protests to be so massive, well organized, and violent. Another unexpected aspect of the events was the reaction of the police. It had been taken for granted that any unauthorized public manifestations would be perceived by the regime as an immediate threat, so everyone expected the nationalist riots to be put down in the same uncompromising manner as are demonstrations of the liberal opposition. However, the police proved to be extremely inefficient in coping with at least the first major clash on December 11 in Manezh Square in the heart of Moscow. This first bloodshed had an irreversible impact on the entire political situation. The apparent inability of the security forces to prevent or suppress the outbreak of violence gave rise to a wide range of speculation, including theories about the Russian special services, or even the Kremlin itself, secretly encouraging the ultra-nationalists. The fact that Russia was entering an election year gave additional credibility to various conspiratorial exercises. [...]

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About the author

Professor, EU–Russia Studies
University of Tartu, Estonia