Thursday, May 8, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Celebrates Triumph over Hitler in 1945 But Fails to Fight His Russian Followers Now

Paul Goble

Baku, May 9 – Today, people across Russia are marking the 63rd anniversary of the triumph of the Soviet Union over Hitlerite fascism. The Russian government is staging the first military parade in Red Square since the end of the USSR. And many Russians are pleased that in the words of some Moscow has returned to the Russian people a sense of pride in themselves.
But even as Russians and many others celebrate this important date, a leading Russian human rights activist says, the Kremlin continues to “play with fascism” in Russia today, not only failing to crack down on the actions of Hitler’s Russian followers but acting in ways that give such people encouragement (
This schizophrenia about fascism – what Novaya gazeta headlined yesterday as “Fascizophrenia” – Aleksandr Brod, the head of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, said, is impermissible because “one must not fight with Nazism while at the same time playing with [its Russian manifestations].”
During the first four months of 2008, national extremists in Russia engaged in “new fewer than” 117 attacks against members of ethnic and religious minorities, killing 65 people and wounding 124, according to monitoring by Brod’s organization. As in the past, the greatest numbers of such attacks were in Moscow, Moscow oblast, St. Petersburg, and Sverdlovsk.
Tragically, virtually all societies have small marginal groups of people who are attracted to the cult of force and to the notion that their ethnic community is not only superior to others but justified in attacking members of other groups. But Russia today has more than its share, Brod noted and pointed to the attitudes of Russian officials and politicians as a partial explanation.
Not long ago, he recalled, “a whole group of highly placed bureaucrats” attempted “to minimize the extent of crimes committed on the basis of xenophobia” by “accusing representatives of [non-Russian] diasporas and human rights activists of intentionally provoking the situation.”
On April 9, Col. Gen. Vladimir Pronin, the head of the Moscow militia, “declared that there is no organized movement of skinheads in Moscow,” and the following day, Iskander Galimov, the a senior Russian interior ministry official, refused to say during a Duma hearing that there were “groups specializing in the murder of citizens of the non-titular nation.”
Moreover, Brod continued, Russian government officials do everything they can to minimize the number of such attacks that are reported as “xenophobic,” preferring to blame them on “hooliganism” or to seek other causes, an approach that means the statistics these officials offer dramatically understate the problem.
Such an approach, of course, only encourages Russia’s skinheads and neo-Nazis to think that they either have intimidated the government or enjoy support within it. And that latter feeling, Brod continues, has been intensified by the actions of some Duma deputies who have openly backed the skinheads and their xenophobic attacks.
One Duma deputy, for example, not only has routinely invited representatives of these extremist groups to his office but has even “handed out diplomas in the Duma to [radical nationalist] hackers who have attacked the websites of human rights, Jewish and [other] anti-fascist organizations.”
Asked what the Russian authorities should do in order to fight the neo-Nazis in the Russian population, a group that as he pointed out is currently spreading into many regions far from Moscow, Brod said that “the authorities must sharply and clearly articulate what is the glory of Russia and what is [its] shame.”
The situation is too dire, he argued, for officials to simply continue to react as they have up to now. Some parts of the Russian government – the general procuracy, for example –are taking some useful steps. “But up to now there is no adequate assessment of such shameful phenomena as the Russian Marches, which took place three years ago.”
During that action, Brod pointed out, “one of the leaders of the DPNI [the Movement Against Illegal Immigration] Belov-Potkin showed off a knife” and said that it and others like it should be used “to cleanse Moscow” of non-Russian migrants, an action that brought no serious official response.
Even when officials appear to be taking action, they often do so with such delays that those who are charged escape punishment and thus the pedagogical value of such official actions is lost, often allowing the neo-Nazis to argue that they enjoy the support of officials, claim another victory, and thereby recruit addition Russians to their cause.
Indeed, Brod said, it sometimes happens that individuals who have been charged continue to be at large and to act in precisely the same ways that brought the charges in the first place, even as the Russian authorities say that they cannot track them down. “What kind of signal does [Russian] society get from that?” Brod asked.
And he concluded by pointing to the latest such shameful act. Prosecutors have renewed charges against DPNI’s Belov. “But the website of his organization continues to flourish. One of its forum pages features the declaration: ‘The Great Liberator Hitler died with a machine gun in his hands, defending us from [the Jews], but his cause lives and will be victorious.’”
Such a declaration, the longtime human rights activist pointed out, is at all times and all places immoral and offensive, but it is all the more so in this case because it comes “on the eve of [the commemoration of] the Day of Victory over fascism,” a event that the Russian people and many others have every right to take pride in.

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