Vienna, October 20 – In the face of a rising tide of skinhead violence against ethnic and religious minorities, the Russian government is devoting more police resources and bringing more cases to court. But human rights activists in Moscow say that such force measures by themselves will not do much to solve the problem.
Sol far in 2008, the Moscow Human Rights Bureau told “Novyye izvestiya,” there have been “no fewer than 250” xenophobic Russian nationalist attacks on minorities, actions that have resulted in 112 deaths, 337 serious injuries, and a sharp deterioration of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-10-20/100112/).
The bureau’s Aleksandr Brod said he and his colleagues were pleased both by the actions of the country’s law enforcement and judicial agencies and by the absence in the present Duma of “radically inclined deputies who have supported nationalistic groupings ideologically and in part financially” in the past.
But he said that these developments, however welcome in themselves, will do little to solve the problem. At present, he said, “the powers that be are not proposing any measures for the prevention of nationalistic attitudes among young people,” mistakenly believing that “force methods alone” can solve the problem.
In fact, among skinheads, the government’s increasing willingness to impose tough sentences against them for committing hate crimes is having just the opposite effect, making heroes of those convicted and spreading their poisonous ideas throughout the prison system where they serve their sentences.
If Russia is to get a handle on this type of crime, Brod continued, it will have to be more active in countering neo-Nazi slogans and actions and also devote far more resources to educational work among young people who, because of their age and the difficulties many of them face, are all too willing to listen to or even follow the extremists.
(Unfortunately, there is evidence that some officials in the interior ministry and the FSB have relationships with the nationalists that are anything but hopeful. For one recent example of such potentially dangerous liaisons, see the statement of a leader of a group calling itself the Slavic SS Union at blogs.mail.ru/community/ssslavarusi/77D823DA7974B743.html.)
More to the point, the last several days have brought evidence not only that hate crimes may find support or at least a certain sympathy among an enormous share of the Russian population but also that some additional political groups are prepared to get involved in this area in dangerously counterproductive ways.
With regard to the first, “Kommersant” reported today that an estimated 67.5 million Russians now say that they do not like people from the Caucasus, an enormous fraction of the country’s population, although intriguingly slightly lower than the 81.5 million Russians who say they don’t like Muscovites (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1044074).
And with regard to the second, the new Left Front at its constituent congress yesterday welcomed a speech by Islamic Committee head Geidar Dzhemal who said that the diasporas in Russia could serve as a surrogate proletariat to fight the Russian nationalist groups around the United Russia party of power (www.kontrudar.ru/material.php?id=340).
Still more worrisome in its implications for the possibility of more hate crimes in Russia, the Left Front adopted a resolution saying that it supports the struggles of Muslims in the North Caucasus republics for social and political change, a position that will infuriate many Russian nationalists (www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=700).
These developments make the Moscow Human Rights Bureau’s warnings especially timely, because they suggest that unless the Kremlin changes course in the way in which it is dealing with xenophobic crimes, Russia will have even more of them in the future, something that could tear apart a country where a quarter of the population is not ethnically Russian.