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Police Seek Lists of Georgian Schoolchildren

Moscow police are asking schools to turn over lists of children with Georgian-sounding last names, raising fears that a state campaign against Georgians is spinning out of control.

With 132 illegal Georgian migrants being deported by plane, Russia's weeklong campaign had expanded by Sunday to envelope Georgians of all ages and walks of life, from purported thieves and mafia bosses to refugees, celebrities and schoolchildren.

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili condemned the continuing sweeps in Moscow and in other cities as "ethnic cleansing."

Several Moscow schools received police orders on Thursday and Friday for lists of suspect students, ostensibly to locate Georgians living here illegally.

Teachers at two Georgian schools in the capital told children Thursday to stay home Friday, a priest at a downtown Georgian church said. The priest said he learned of the warning through his son, who attends one of them, School No. 1331 near the Novoslobodskaya metro station.

City Hall distanced itself from the police initiative, saying it did not support it and that all schoolchildren were equal, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Schools that received the request did not turn over lists, said Alexander Gavrilov, a spokesman for Moscow's Department of Education.

Police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev downplayed the initiative, blaming it on several zealous police officers who had "incorrectly evaluated the situation in Moscow." He said the only schools that had received orders for lists were located near the two or three police stations where the officers worked.

Kommersant, citing a senior law enforcement source, reported Friday that the Interior Ministry had ordered all Moscow police stations to track down illegal Georgian migrants and advised them that going through schools would be the easiest way to find them.

Schools Nos. 223 and 1680, both of which offer classes in Georgian, said Friday that they had not received a request from the police.

Officials at Schools Nos. 658, 554, and 1847 -- which Kommersant reported had received police orders -- denied receiving orders and refused to give their names.

Police began raiding Georgian-owned businesses last week, cracking down first on casinos and then targeting Georgian-owned restaurants. Russia said the efforts were part of a drive against Georgian organized crime following last weekend's standoff with Georgia over Tbilisi's arrest of four Russian officers on spying charges. The officers were quickly released, but Russia pressed ahead with sanctions, severing all transportation and postal links.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, and the U.S. State Department urged Moscow to reconsider the sanctions, but President Vladimir Putin on Friday laid all the blame on Georgia.

Putin said the OSCE should focus on "stimulating a cardinal correction in the course of Georgia's current leadership, which is aimed at inflaming tension."

Until late last week, Putin and other officials trod a careful line, supporting nationalist parties such as Rodina but refraining from making inflammatory statements about Russia's ethnic groups. On Thursday, however, Putin called for tough new migration laws that would protect the interests of "the native population."

"I did not believe my ears when I first heard this," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, an analyst who tracks Kremlin politics at the Panorama think tank. "There has been a lot of nationalism, but there has not been any ethnic nationalism until now. ... This is a very dangerous game."

Putin's use of the term "native population" gives a green light for the radicalization of nationalist groups, said Galina Kozhevnikova of Sova, a nongovernmental group that studies xenophobia.

Vyacheslav Volodin, a senior official with United Russia, also appeared to back a state campaign against non-Russians late last week, telling reporters that markets should be swept of "half-criminal elements" and "illegal immigrants."

Police swept Moscow outdoor markets for illegal migrants, and authorities deported 132 illegal migrants from Moscow and the Moscow region on an Emergency Situations Ministry plane. The Georgian Embassy complained that some of the migrants had not been in court when their deportations were ordered, Interfax reported.

Federal Migration Service spokesman Denis Soldatikov said all due procedures for deportation had been observed.

In St. Petersburg, Federal Migration Service employees checked documents at Georgian restaurants and deported an intern and a visitor with expired Russian visas at one of them, Fontanka.ru reported.

Also, investigations surfaced involving several prominent Georgians.

The federal Audit Chamber said the Russian Art Academy, headed by Georgian-born sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, had spent 2.1 million rubles ($78,397) for unauthorized purposes. It said it discovered the problem during a scheduled audit.

Popular novelist Boris Akunin, an ethnic Georgian whose real name is Grigory Chkhartishvili, told Ekho Moskvy radio that tax police had been questioning him for the past two days about his income. He characterized the raids as "ethnic cleansing."

The Civic Assistance Committee, a nongovernmental organization aiding refugees and displaced persons, extended its hours Friday to accommodate an influx of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia with complaints about harassment. Anti-organized crime police inspected the documents of people in the offices of the Moscow Georgian Community, a social and educational organization, on Wednesday and searched the offices Friday, said the group's vice president, Roin Konjaria. "I have no idea what they were looking for, but whatever it was, they didn't find it," he said.

Six ethnic Georgians -- all Russian citizens -- grimly discussed the situation outside a Georgian cultural center on Arbat on Friday afternoon. "I just don't understand this," said one man, who asked that his name not be printed for fear of harassment. "Why does the simple Georgian who has done nothing wrong have to answer for the actions of [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili?"

The men told of an incident Thursday, when two Georgian citizens who were registered as factory workers had their passports torn up by police and deported from Domodedovo Airport.

The Georgian Embassy has set up a 24-hour hot line for Georgians to complain about harassment and rights violations. The number remained busy throughout the weekend.

On Saturday, police detained more than a dozen liberal youth activists participating in an unsanctioned pro-Georgia rally outside the embassy.

The ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration is calling on its supporters to report the addresses of suspected illegal migrants and Georgian-owned businesses to its headquarters.

The growing clampdown could escalate the Georgian-Russian crisis even further, said Anatol Lieven, a senior research associate at the New America Foundation. "Putin's policies have been pretty pragmatic, even when ruthless, but my fear is this is one area where Putin is liable to be overcome by emotion," he said.

"Saakashvili is also a man liable to be overcome by emotion," he said. "That creates the risk of a real clash. We're dealing with genuine hate-filled emotion on both sides, which has in the past started wars."


(The Moscow Times 09.x.06)

 
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