Vienna, March 25 – The International Union for Assistance to Migrant Workers announced over the weekend that its members will form “self-defense” units to defend themselves against attack if what they described as “fascist” tendencies in Russia intensify over the coming months.
The union, led by Islamic Committee chairman Geydar Dzhemal’, held a regional constituent congress in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Organizers stressed that they plan to recruit and defend both workers from former Soviet republics as well as from non-Russian regions of the Russian Federation (www.zaks.ru/new/archive/view/55087).
At the session, Dzhemal said that “we will create such conditions in which such fascist measures as deportation will be impossible,” adding that he did not exclude that “if fascist tendencies in Russia cross a definite line,” then, in the words of one report, “the Union will create self-defense units” to protect its members (www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/11778/).
Other speakers were equally outspoken and political. Aleksey Aksyonov, a representative of the Eurasian Union of Youth, for example, said to the applause of those assembled that the group needs to take steps “to force deputies of the Sate Duma and the president to be held responsible for their actions” (bia-news.ru/news/78536).
The St. Petersburg meeting is the second of what are planned to be sessions in each of the seven federal districts. The first took place in the Urals a month ago, and others are now slated to occur in the others. After that, the group plans to set up an All-Russian International Union, which will not play the role of a political party but will advance “political demands.”
In the overheated atmosphere in major Russian cities where some xenophobic skinheads have already armed themselves and used a variety of weapons to attack non-Russians, the desire of at least some of the latter to take steps to defend themselves is understandable but represents a dangerous new development in that it makes future clashes more likely to result in deaths.
And just how dangerous the situation could quickly become was underscored by two reports yesterday. In the first, Leonid Bogdanov, chief of the St. Petersburg city council’s committee on law and security. He told the government that “manifestations of extremism,” involving “ethnic and religious conflicts” are “sharpening” (www.fontanka.ru/2009/03/24/014/).
According to Bogdanov, terrorism remains a threat as do extremist acts, as a result of “the political processes that are taking place in Russia” at the present time. He said city officials are monitoring three “youth groups of an extremist orientation and also more than 1600 youths, two-thirds of whom identify with skinhead groups.”
And he expressed particular concern about “the general growth in the number of young people inclined to extremism. For the first nine months of 2008, he said, this category had increased by more than 1,000 people, and its members thus present a challenge to the residents of the city and the government’s ability to control the situation.
And in the second, the SOVA Analytic Center which tracks religious and ethnic issues in the Russian Federation said it was worried by the consequences of the appearance in Moscow and other Russian cities of Orthodox popular militias, which are operating without clear supervision or rules (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=29398).
The SOVA experts noted that even if these groups are not armed, their organization along ethnic or religious lines has the potential to spark “conflicts on a religious basis,” especially if the appearance of groups tied to one religious or ethnic community leads members of others to form their own in response.
Not only do the rise of such Orthodox groups and the likely response of non-Orthodox ones represent a direct threat to “the civil character of the state,” but this combination of the two entails a direct challenge to “the freedom of conscience” the Russian Constitution mandates and the possibility of violence, the SOVA Center said.