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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: May 16, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Investigators Say Director of Cemetery Company to Blame for Mass Brawl of Workers; 3 Killed, 26 Injured
As we reported over the weekend, 3 people were killed and 26 injured in a mass brawl in Moscow at a cemetery in a "turf war" over which groups of workers could control jobs at the site. reported today, May 16, that the former director of the Khovanskoye Cemetery, Yury Chabuyev, has been placed under investigation on suspicions of having provoked the conflict.

Investigators say Chabuyev was among the organizers of an attack on labor migrants from Tajikistan who had been working on the grounds. Chabuyev is head of District 3 of Ritual, the funeral bureau now managed by the city of Moscow; other Ritual workers have also been placed under investigation. Ritual, which administers burial plots, was reformed by the mayor's office last year after a three-year effort and put on the city budget.

Workers say that racketeers from Ritual showed up to threaten them. According to LifeNews, one worker said:
"They warned us that they had come from Chabuyev, the boss of the cemeteries, but I never saw him. They began to demand cash, but we said we wouldn't give cash. How could that be? We will work but they will walk around with their hands in their pockets. That's not how it will be. Then they said: alright, we are coming on Monday. But unexpectedly, they came today [Sunday] with iron rods and pistols and attacked us."
A source in law-enforcement said the issue was a division of "turf" regarding who will hand out burial plots and perform maintenance work. Ritual has 10% of the orders for plots, but others are controlled by private firms where the Central Asian workers were employed; this was the occasion for the conflict.
Gazeta reports that Chabuyev served as deputy director of Ritual from 2006-2009 and then head of District No. 3 in 2013. He also heads a company that promotes the funeral industry which was founded by Ritual and another company, Kapital Service whose founders are Kapital and a company registered in Cyprus, Julverso Holdings, Ltd., where Chabuyev's wife, Oksana, was listed as a co-founder. Kapital often received orders from Ritual.

The Khovanskoye Cemetery is the largest in Moscow, occupying two square kilometers, and has its own crematorium and head-stone workshop. A number of famous people are buried there including "Tiger" (Aleksei Khomich), the goal-keeper for Moscow's Dinamo and Ded [Grandfather] Khasan (Aslan Usoyan), a legend of the Moscow underworld.

Gazeta reports that as many as 500 people were involved in the mass fight (earlier reports had said 200) and that 3 people were killed (not 2 as earlier reported) and 23 injured, including 3 in critical condition. The conflict involved disputes over pay, working conditions, and "turf" and pitted Caucasians from Russia's North Caucasus against Central Asians from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Police said 12 of those involved in the fight had no working papers and 15 were in violation of migration law.

Authorities are now checking Moscow's 78 cemeteries to see if there are any violations of financial or migration law.

The cemetery was closed to the public yesterday but was re-opened today. Visitors complain that prices for services are high at cemeteries, so people make use of illegal workers to perform grave-digging and maintenance of graves. 

"The management of the cemetery often prefers to hire migrants including illegal ones to pay them essentially kopecks and pocket the rest of the amounts," a cemetery administrator who requested anonymity told Gazeta.

A cemetery worker might make 4,000-5,000 rubles per day $61-$76, but he has to give up to a third to his brigade leader. That brigade leader must "share" with the cemetery administrators, and they in turn must pay off others up the chain, leading to the director. Reformers believe that only by nationalizing the cemetery industry could these issues be fixed.

Anton Avdeyev, head of the Union for Workers of Ritual Funeral Services, said that Ritual is a monopoly only on grave-digging, but other aspects of the funeral industry, such as the making and placement of monuments, are divided up among a few dozen competing firms. He believes that "muscle" was hired deliberately to attack these smaller firms and extract payoffs from them. He said the funeral industry, like others in Russia, has fallen on hard times. Its peak was in 2007 when business in Moscow was valued at 10 billion rubles; today it is valued at 2 billion (about $31 million).

The brawl has shed light on yet another aspect of Russian ordinary life that has been invaded by corruption and mafias, and also exposed the underlying tensions in and between migrant labor populations and Russians.

The incident reminded many of the "wild 1990s," when street fighting and mafia hits were common. 

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick