Baku, May 1 – A small group of ethnic and religious activists staged a peaceful protest in Moscow’s Novopushkinskiy Square yesterday to protest the spread of neo-Nazi violence across the Russian Federation and the government’s plan to introduce courses on Orthodox Christianity in the country’s schools in violation of the Constitutional rights of Muslims and others.
Assembled by the Vatan Peoples Patriotic Party, the demonstrators called for the government to seek a change in Duma legislation authorizing the introduction of courses on “Orthodox Culture” and to support the equal rights of non-Christian and non-Russian groups (www.islamnews.ru/news-11459.html and www.islam.ru/rus/2008-04-29/?single=20952).
The protesters distributed appeals noting that “the authorities are openly ignoring the multi-national and multi-confessional nature of the country. The 2002 census showed,” the broadsheets asserted, “that Orthodox make up 45 percent of the population; Muslims, 20 percent; Buddhists, five percent; and other [believers], one percent.”
Echoing many of the protesters’ complaints were a veritable flood of reports in the media about violence against ethnic and religious minorities. The SOVA Center reported yesterday that during April, “there had been no less than 24 racist and neo-Nazi attacks as a result of which six died and not fewer than 38 wounded” (xeno.sova-center.ru/29481C8/AFFFAFC).
Those figures bring the total number of victims of such skinhead and neo-Nazi crimes in Russia to “no fewer than 211 people since the beginning of 2008, of whom 53 have died,” the widely respected Moscow human rights group added. That death toll is 37 more than from such crimes during the same period in 2007.
SOVA also pointed out that Russian neo-Nazi groups feel strong enough to openly threaten leading Russian officials, including judges who they believe have failed to convict non-Russians guilty of crimes or, alternatively, held one of the neo-Nazis or skinheads responsible for their actions (xeno.sova-center.ru/6BA2468/6BB41EE/AFFE0C7).
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, an article in Moscow’s Novyye izvestiya surveyed the views of Russian human rights activists who were unanimous in their view that Russia is threatened by “a well-armed and very dangerous” neo-Nazi underground, fully capable of engaging in even more violence in the future (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-04-29/89456/).
Unlike 15 years ago when extremist xenophobic attitudes were confined to the older generation, now, lawyer Sergei Belikov told the paper, it is the younger generation that holds these views most strongly and is even more prepared to act on them, a pattern that does not bode well for the future.
Young Russians have been transformed, he continued, “from an amorphous mass of followers of the counter-culture and various informal movements” into “several youth groups with an independent and completely formed political ideology,” including some that are part of the extreme right.
This rightist element “which has existed in Russia about ten years, already exerts an enormous negative influence precisely on the sphere of inter-ethnic relations,” Novyye izvestiya said. “According to investigators, 141 youth groups of an extremist direction operated in Russia in 2007.”
Unfortunately, several of the activists told the paper, the authorities did not act quickly, and even when they did charge and convict members of these groups for violent acts, the latter often returned from prison and resumed their violent actions, something SOVA analyst Galina Kozhevnikova suggested shows that the situation is changing for the worse.
And Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, summed up the views of many. The neo-Nazi extremists, he said, “are well armed, undergo special training and [even] prepare explosive devices. Thus, they represent a serious threat to the security of [Russian] citizens.”
In the face of these pessimistic assessments, there was at least one slightly brighter spot. Earlier this week, some of the extreme nationalists took part in a roundtable in Moscow with representatives of non-Russian groups living there. And while they did not find a common language, at least they were talking (www.vremya.ru/2008/75/51/202955.html).
Nonetheless, even this effort at getting each side to better understand the other featured some disturbing ideas. One participant, for example, suggested that instead of hating each other, something that had destroyed the Soviet Union and threatened Russia, they should find “a common foreign enemy,” like perhaps the United States.