Thursday, April 1, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Muscovites’ Suspiciousness toward Muslims ‘Doesn’t Exceed the Norm,’ Serbsky Institute Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 1 – “Muscovites relate to Muslims and Caucasians with a level of suspiciousness which [even in the wake of the Moscow subway bombings] has not exceeded the norm and has not taken the form of hysteria,” according to a source at the Serbsky Institute, a place still notorious for its role in using psychiatry against political dissidents in Soviet times.
According to a report on the news service, the Serbsky Institute source said that “over the course of the first two days after the terrorist acts in the Moscow metro, there were more than 800 telephone calls to the Serbsky Institute, to which people were turning for advice on how to cope (
Most of those calling the institute, the source said, reported that they were afraid to go into the metro or were afraid for their relatives to do so. “There were [also] calls from Muslims and Armenians who were subjected to insult from the side of those around them.” But suspiciousness toward Muslims “has not exceeded the norm or acquired the form of hysteria.”
Irina Gurenkova, a psychotherapist with the Serbsky, said in another comment that the terrorist attacks naturally represented “a most severe emotional trauma” but she suggested that Muscovites “should not be afraid to go into the metro” or begin to hate any ethnic or religious group (
According to Gurenkova, “people begin to hate those whom others ‘point out to them,’” noting that “reports have already appeared in the Internet suggesting that a passenger on the metro had attacked two Muslim women,” the kind of inflammatory reporting that she clearly believes must be avoided.
But the Serbsky psychotherapist placed the blame for such attitudes and actions not only on Internet reporting but also on what she described as the imposition on Russians of “the American idea that money is more important than anything else,” something that, she says, has reduced the number of Russians who are prepared to assist those in need.
However psychologists at the Serbsky feel, many Russians acknowledge that there has been an explosion of xenophobia against “people from the Caucasus” and Muslims in general since the explosions and, what is especially worrisome is that this anger appears to be addressed particularly at Muslim women who may be wearing the hijab.
In an article on yesterday, Zinaida Troitskaya bluntly stated that “the explosions in the Moscow metro added fire to the xenophobes” in the Russian capital, with radical nationalists calling for Russians to “beat” them, humanists urging restraint, and Muslim women increasingly living in fear (
Meanwhile, Muslim sites report that Muslim women in Moscow are afraid and that more than one Muslim leader in the Russian Federation has now said that they are free to dispense with wearing the hijab (veil) if they feel that keeping it on will put them at risk of being attacked (
Unless the most senior members of the Russian powers that be take a far clearer and more public stance against such attacks, they almost certainly will increase given both the behavior of local interior ministry officials and statements by relatively senior Russian government officials that can only be described as inflammatory.
As one would expect in the wake of a terrorist act, Moscow interior ministry officers are stepping up their checks of identification and residence permits of all people who appear to be other than of Slavic nationality. That is dangerous enough, given that the militia appear likely to stop people they feel “look different” even if there is no probable cause for suspicion.
But that danger has been radically increased in the last day or so because the MVD has decided to work with the openly xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) to find and identify such outsiders (,, and
Not only will that heighten fears among Muslims that the Russian government is now aligned with some of the most anti-Muslim and anti-Caucasian groups in the country, leading some to fear and others to anger, but it will likely send a signal to many Russians that the government will be on their side if they attack such people.
And that danger is even greater when officials suggest that there is reason to engage in such a witch hunt. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s representative to NATO, said yesterday that he is “convinced that there exists an extremist underground in Moscow.” If that were not the case, he said, terrorism would not occur (

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