Monday, June 22, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalist Radicals Now Targeting State Institutions, SOVA Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 22 – Russian national extremists are increasingly targeting state institutions such as military draft offices and militia stations rather than immigrants and members of domestic ethnic and religious minorities, according to a SOVA report entitled “Spring 2009: From Racist Murders to Political Terror.”
In releasing the report today, Galina Kozhevnikova and Aleksandr Verkhovsky, two experts whose information center has long tracked ethnic and religious violence in the Russian Federation, said that the number of racially motivated violent attacks had continued to fall, at least in part because the militia has had some success against its perpetrators.
But Kozhevnikova said that “the real threat” is now elsewhere: “the shift of the ultra-right” nationalists to “terrorist actions against organs of state power,” including military committees and militia offices, an even more direct challenge to the Russian state than attacks on minorities (
While this shift has not yet assumed a mass character -- calls by some radical Russian nationalists to attack the authorities on May 5 had little impact – the recent spate of such attacks is disturbing because such things were virtually unheard of earlier, Verkhovsky pointed out (
Indeed, until the last few months, Russian nationalist radicals attacked militiamen or other officials only as an act of revenge for a specific action against the radicals by the siloviki, a motivation that the SOVA analyst suggested appears to be absent in most if not all of the latest violence against officials.
Instead, it appears that the radicals have redirected their attacks either because of the success the militia has had in at least some places in countering their violence against minorities or out of a belief that the current economic crisis in Russia provides the radicals with an opportunity to destabilize the current regime or even gain power on their own.
However that may be, neither Kozhevnikova nor Verkhovsky was prepared to dismiss the seriousness of Russian extremist attacks on migrants and other minorities. Kozhevnikova noted that the extremists were continuing their propaganda not only against those groups but also against those institutions, including the courts, which attempt to defend the minorities.
As prosecutors have brought more of the extremists to trial, the extremists, particularly in the case of the openly xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) have sought to discredit the courts, “create a positive image of the accused,” and when all else fails, “publish data about jurors” when they are involved as an act of intimidation.
Meanwhile, Verkhovsky focused on the ways in which the government has used existing anti-extremist legislation against its opponents and in which this dangerous trend could become even worse if proposed amendments to that law setting punishments for those who challenge Moscow’s interpretation of World War II are passed.
But at the same time, Verkhovsky indicated that the SOVA Center does not support the calls of some Russian human rights activists to disband the “anti-extremist” departments within interior ministry structures. Eliminating these offices by itself “would change nothing,” he said. What is needed is a better law and greater obedience to it.
Unfortunately, he continued, there is little hope for any serious improvement anytime soon, especially now that Moscow has explicitly rejected the recommendations of the United Nations to bring Russian “anti-terrorist and anti-extremist legislation into line with international legal norms.”
And equally unfortunately, the Russian authorities are sending mixed messages to the radical Russian nationalists, seeking to rein in actions by the latter but simultaneously putting out statements like the one prosecutors issued last week concerning ethnic crime that only contribute to anti-minority attitudes of the radicals (

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