Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Hate Crimes in Russia Up More than 60 Percent This Year, Officials Admit But Still Undercounted, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 11 – The number of extremist crimes in the Russian Federation rose 62.4 percent from 2007 to 2008, senior officials say, but Moscow experts suggest that this figure “has nothing in common” with reality and that the actual number of hate crimes is perhaps five times greater than the number reported.
Yesterday, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation Procuracy, said that there had been 380 hate crimes reported to the authorities in the first three quarters of 2008, “62.4 percent more” than in the same period a year ago (www.newizv.ru/print/101290).
Moreover, he added, many of the hate crimes registered this year are more violent and destructive of human life and property than they were in earlier years, a disturbing trend that he suggested the Russian Federation’s militia and prosecutors are doing everything they can to reverse.
But as frightening as the data Markin presented, independent experts disputed it, arguing that the authorities were including many incidents that should not be counted as hate crimes even as they ignore the far larger number of criminal actions that are never reported to the militia or that the militia refuses to deal with at all.
Galina Kozhevnikova, the deputy director of the SOVA Analytic Center which tracks xenophobic crime in Russia, said that Markin’s committee included some cases which are simply arbitrary violence or reflect the desire of officials to intimidate one or another group but added that a far more serious problem was the committee’s failure to include unregistered cases.
According to the statistics her center has collected, Kozhevnikova said, “the number of murders committed on the basis of inter-ethnic hatred grew in the last year, but the total number of attacks declined. But in fact, the number of attacks is approximately five times greater than we have been able to register.”
Increasingly, she added, “far right groups who use force have begun to mask their attacks” by taking actions that look as if they could be simply ordinary crimes. That makes it “practically impossible to identify them” and consequently SOVA does not include them in its listings.
Nonetheless, the SOVA list is long and disturbing enough: Over the last 11 months, the center has recorded 81 deaths and 320 wounded from far right nationalist attacks. According to Kozhevnikova, the total number of such attacks over this period “is somewhere around 700,” far more than officials acknowledge.
There are several reasons why the SOVA figures and the official ones diverge, she said. Approximately a third of the victims of such incidents do not report them to the militia. “Some of them simply fear the militia more than they fear the Nazis; others consider that it is useless” to see official help, attitudes she said were understandable given the views of many militia officers.
And the number of hate crimes in the Russian Federation seems certain to rise as the economic crisis there hits a larger share of the population. Valery Khomyakov, director of the Moscow Council on National Strategy, told “Novyye izvestiya” that the crisis itself will lead those “with less stable psyches” to commit more illegal acts, including hate crimes.

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