Vienna, April 25 – The number of cases of “extremist actions” by Moscow school children has increased dramatically over the last three years, making the face of extremism in the Russian capital ever younger and constituting a trend Russian officials say reflects at least in part the indifference of many teachers and students to such actions.
Speaking to a meeting of the Moscow city education department this week, Grigory Krasnov, the deputy chief of the capital’s militia, said that “if in 2006, pupils committed six extremist crimes, in 2007, we recorded 20, and in 2008, 64,” most in ethnically mixed areas of the Russian capital ( www.newsmsk.com/article/22Apr2009/school_extrem.html).
Given that sociologists and rights activists have suggested that such crimes are often not reported or registered by the authorities when individuals affected try to get the powers that be to take action, these numbers are all undoubtedly too low, but the trend that Krasnov points to is disturbing on two grounds.
On the one hand, it suggests that xenophobic attitudes are increasingly common in the schools of the Russian capital given the general cultural messages in the media and the increasing share of the student bodies of these schools which members of non-Russian nationalities now constitute.
And on the other, and perhaps even more worrisome, is Krasnov’s observation that “when we asked about the characteristics of the youths have committed crimes, we found out that class leaders describe them as conscientious, not inclined to conflict and on the whole positive personalities.”
In addition, the Moscow militia officer said, “the extremist manifestations [which his officers registered] were not identified by inspectors working in the schools, even though the young people did not reveal their views and had adopted [the kind of clothes, language and behavior associated with extremism.”
“This is either indifference,” Krasnov continued, “or an attempt to minimize the situation.” But regardless of which explanation is correct, he suggested, that approach by those who should be on the first line of defense against crimes of this and other kinds almost certainly is making the situation worse.
The militia official also discussed the broader problem of crimes committed by young people. He said that the number of such crimes was growing not because native Muscovites were committing them – the number of crimes committed by them has actually fallen, Krasnov said – but because of crimes committed by young people “coming in from nearby regions.”
Such outer suburbs – Lyubertsy is perhaps the most infamous of these areas – have long been a source of criminal and xenophobic activities, but Krasnov’s comments suggest that residents of such places are now preying on residents of the central districts, a trend that if true could point to even more crime in the future.
Meanwhile, in a related development, Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Investigations Committee of the Russian Federation Procuracy, provided his own explanation for the rise in crime among young people and his own prescription for what the Russian authorities should be doing to counter it (www.rosbalt.ru/2009/04/23/635818.html).
He told a meeting in St. Petersburg this week that “the liberalization of the 1990s had led to a growth of crime among minors. Children rape and beat one another,” he continued, “something that didn’t happen in the times of the USSR.” And he suggested that it was time to return “to the Soviet system of Pioneer and patriotic camps.”
Bastrykin also lashed out at the media, complaining that in recent years, media leaders have been “unwilling” to face up to the consequences of the violence they report and show, apparently having failed to think “that they have their own children and [the latter] may see all this dirt.”
The Moscow prosecutor urged that the country “reestablish the old Soviet system which included sports and patriotic camps in order to correct this situation” and help young people escape from the moral “collapse” of recent times. In this, he was supported by his St. Petersburg colleague Sergey Zaytsev, who said such steps would in fact reduce youth crime.
But several participants in the meeting in the northern capital sharply disagreed. Dmitry Dubrovsky, the director of the Smolny Institute’s Human Rights Program, for example, said that those who sought to excuse the actions of skinheads by saying they “incorrectly understood” the meaning of patriotism are wrong.
“Skinheads,” he said, are “least of all like poor confused children. On the contrary, they have an ideological base, and they correctly understand specifically Russian patriotism, which is based on a search for an external and internal enemy and the conducting of an active struggle with it.”
“In this sense,” Dubrovsky continued, Russia’s skinheads “understand our patriotism correctly and are carrying it to its logical conclusion.” More than that, many Russian Nazis, he said, are the products of precisely the military-patriotic sports clubs that Bastrykin and his allies see as a panacea for this problem.
Those clubs, the human rights activist pointed out, have “their own definite system of values, literature, symbols, music and films. Many current Russian patriotic camps not only do not deflect youths from extremist ideas [as Bastrykin says he would like them to do] but on the contrary make it more likely” that young Russians will accept these ideas rather than any others.