Vienna, February 5 – A Chelyabinsk court convicted an activist of the Russian National Movement of extremism for preparing leaflets intended to promote “hatred toward persons of Chechen and Jewish nationality,” an indication of both the increasingly ugly tone of the nationalists and the ease with which their hated toward one group can rapidly spread to another.
The Magnitogorsk resident, the New Region news agency reported, was sentenced under the terms of paragraph 282 of the Russian criminal code, which prohibits “the organization of an extremist community,” to serve seven months of corrective labor. The authorities also announced that they had destroyed the leaflets as well (www.nr2.ru/chel/218838.html).
This is one of the few bright spots in what has become, especially since the onset of the economic crisis last fall, an otherwise almost unrelievably bleak picture of a rising tide of increasingly violent attacks by increasingly well-organized Russian nationalist and xenophobic groups against their opponents, human rights monitors say.
According to the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, “since the start [of 2009], the activity of skinheads has grown markedly,” and “cases of murder on the basis of racial hatred have increased.” The bureau recorded skinhead attacks during January alone which had left 16 people dead, a far higher mortality rate than in the past (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-02-04/105212/).
Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the head of the SOVA Center which also monitors such attacks, told “Novyye izvestiya” that “it is easy to explain this trend if you take into consideration that now nationalist groups have become more organized,” with a clear hierarchy, an older and more experienced membership, and a more clearly articulated agenda of hatred.
The Moscow Human Rights Bureau for its part said that it has discerned another distressing development, the use by nationalist organizations of what may be called “the Kondopoga technique,” one that takes its name from ethnic clashes in that Karelian city in 2006 and involves exploiting the smallest clash to promote more violence.
That trend and the glee which some nationalists and xenophobic extremists have expressed over the high profile murders of attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova have prompted more and more journalists and experts to try to explain why skinheads, Neo-Nazis and fascists are now on the rise in Russia.
One of the most thoughtful discussions of this troubling trend, based on an examination of recent court cases involving such people and the explanations they and their attorneys have given for why such people do what they do is offered by Yekaterina Savina in the current issue of “New Times” (newtimes.ru/magazine/2009/issue100/doc-60563.html).
Among the reasons people in these cases offer for such actions, Savina says, is the impact of what the celebration of violence in the media, a desire to have Russian stand up again and to beat its enemies in order to show that it has, and unfocussed revenge for the suffering that particular individuals and the Russian nation as a whole have undergone since 1991.
The “New Times” journalist also surveyed the expert community in her search for an explanation. SOVA’s Verkhovsky told her that on the basis of his experience, he was convinced that young people were engaged in such violence “not because of poverty and not because they identify themselves or are identified by others as marginal members of society.”
Instead, he continued, most young people – and the skinheads are disproportionately in their teens and 20s -- who “commit crimes on the basis of nationalism have travelled along a certain mental path and have read a particular kind of literature. As a result, they are able not only to beat someone to death but also to explain why they have beaten him.
But another expert, Moscow psychologist Tatyana Mukha offered an alternative explanation. In her view, young people who commit such crimes do so out of a sense of defenselessness and alienation. “Young people need the possibility of self-assertion; they do not want to be victims.”
“And the simplest way for them not to be a victim is to become an executioner.” In addition, she pointed out, “youths relate to crimes in a different way than adults do. They have more aggressive tendencies, are less prone to reflecting before acting, and have a highly developed sense of being all-powerful” regardless of the situation they find themselves in.
Such young people, Mukha argued, “choose as their victims representatives of other nationalities and races [not on the basis of some elaborate political doctrine but] because it is “easier to define who is a member of their own group and who is an alien, and they are most afraid of those whom they do not understand.”
However, that may be, there is now more such violence in Russia than there was in the past, and the problems economic, demographic and political the people of that country now face make it likely that this frightening trend will continue, all the more so because the Russian prosecutors, and courts seem incapable of dealing with all but a tiny fraction of the violations.
Indeed, most xenophobic crimes go unsolved, either because police and prosecutors are not all that interested in moving against such groups or because members of these groups have learned how to act in ways that make it difficult if not impossible for the government to bring charges or gain convictions.
And that makes one avenue those who are victims of such violence either by individuals or Russian officialdom especially important. Today, “Argumenty nedeli” reported that Russians are increasingly turning to the European Human Rights Court. Indeed, in 2008, they filed some 27,246 appeals there (www.argumenti.ru/publications/8908).
That Russian number constituted 28 percent of the total of the Strasbourg court’s caseload and was more than twice the number from any other country. (Appellants from Turkey constituted 11.4 percent of the total, those from Romania 9.1 percent and those from Ukraine 8.5 percent.)
The court has been supportive of those Russians who have lodged appeals with it, backing the appellants against the position of the Russian authorities 233 times out of 245 cases over the last year. But that in itself calls attention to the paucity of positive decisions by Russian courts like the one cited above and the threats that unfortunately confront residents of Russia.