Vienna, October 10 – Russian nationalists have long complained that Russian prosecutors and courts have used that country’s anti-extremist laws almost exclusively against ethnic Russians rather than applying them to non-Russian immigrants, who, the nationalists insist, violate these laws far more often.
But now for the first time, according to the Russian media, a Moscow court this week convicted six young people from Azerbaijan who had been charged with beating two ethnic Russian teenagers in May 2008 while shouting “Kill the Russians!” and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms (www.vremya.ru/2009/186/46/239281.html).
And while Russian nationalists say that the six, who the media but not the courts have said are members of a gang called the Black Hawks, should have received even more severe punishments and would have had the ethnicity of the perpetrators and victims had been reversed, at least some Russian nationalists are taking credit for the convictions.
In a commentary about the case on the “Russkoye obozreniye” portal, Konstantin Krylov said that the conviction of the Black Hawks was “a sign” of the times, although he said it was “scandalous” that the people involved had not been charged with hate crimes, as he said Russians would have been, and given even longer sentences (www.rus-obr.ru/day-comment/4388).
According to the nationalist commentator, “a very large role n this case was played by the pressure of Russian society,” pressure that prevented the authorities from treating it lightly. Indeed, he argued, “I am practically certain if the case had remained behind the scenes … then the Black Hawks would have been given [only] suspended sentences.”
And consequently, “in this relation, it is possible to say that Russian civil society showed that it is not indifferent to what is taking place, that it demanded a serious investigation of this case, although one should not say that pressure was exerted on the court” itself, as some might think.
Krylov continued with the observation that “in any democratic state, socially important cases are matters not only for the courts and political organs but for society as a whole.” And thus “if Russian society will get involved in cases of this kind and develop in this direction, then it means that society is ready for democracy and ready to take its fate into its own hands.”
That means that the Black Hawks case is a signal event “also in the sense that it was one of the first cases between migrants and Russian civil society. And it is a good thing,” Krylov argued, “that in this case, the interrelationship of civil society and government institutions was more positive” than it has sometimes been.
He said that the Russian Movement will be watching what happens next, either in the course of appeals of this case or in other cases. Any effort to vacate the original court’s verdict, he said will lead to a renewal of the “public campaign,” an implicit warning to the Russian powers that be against such an outcome.
Krylov and other Russian nationalists, including the xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), are likely overstating their influence in this case: One MVD officer told journalists that the non-Russians might not have received such harsh treatment had they not posted a video showing what they did on the Internet (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/160418/).
But even if that is the case, the convictions of the Black Hawks do mark a turning point at least in the eyes of the human rights community and the mainstream media. Mariya Rozalskaya, a SOVA expert, said that the convictions of the non-Russians had “no precedent” but that “the appearance of such groups was ‘logically necessary” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/160418/).
That is because, she said, “if there are [ethnic Russian] nationalistic youth bands, then sooner or later there will appear organized bands [of non-Russians] created according to the same schema but ‘from the other side.’” And the rise of both points to more violence and more clashes ahead.
Commentators at “Vremya novostei” agreed: “the wave of force on the basis of racial hatred arising initially only from the side of the skinheads, in the absence of a sufficient reaction from the side of the state has called forth a spontaneous wave of cruelty from the side of their potential victims (www.vremya.ru/2009/186/46/239281.html).