Hate crimes in Russia: protests or defense?

Lately the number of hate crimes has been growing in Russia. The situation leads to tougher competition between the antifascist projects. By and large, since the beginning of last year the government has shown a rather political and “strained” approach to dealing with the tendency. These days the policy is beginning to take shape.

The last two weeks brought about plenty of reasons to discuss a mounting problem of nationalism in Russia. Elkhan Mirzoyev, a TV producer from NTV station, was beaten up while riding in the Moscow metro on April 3. Three days later, on April 6, a group of teenagers shouting “ Russia is for Russians only!” beat up the Minister of Culture of Kabardino-Balkaria Zair Tutov near a center for cultural and social activities in Moscow. On the same day a Senegalese student was shot dead in St. Petersburg. Earlier this month the man accused of killing a Tajik girl was convicted of hooliganism by the jury in St. Petersburg. The jury decided the crime did not relate to racial hatred. Last year St. Petersburg police registered 1,073 crimes committed against foreigners and residents without citizenship. Reports about attacks against foreigners keep coming from Russia’s regions too.

In light of the above, the revival of fascism in Russia becomes a frequent topic of discussion. The commission on tolerance and freedom under the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation has published the results of a recent public opinion poll. The results show that up to 53% of the multinational population of Russia are in favor of the motto: “Russia is for Russians only!”Chechens, Gypsies, and Azeri nationals are among the most hated foreigners in Russia. The relations between Russia and some foreign nations whose citizens fell victims to racial hatred in this country deteriorate too. Tajikistan expressed concern about the outcome of the trial following murder of the Tajik girl.

Political struggle relating to the issue of struggle against fascism in Russia is picking up at the same time. President Putin was the first one to speak about xenophobia at the highest level while taking part in the commemorations in Auschwitz last year. President Putin publicly acknowledged the existence of the problem in Russia and asked for forgiveness.

At the beginning of last year the struggle against fascism in Russia was largely tactical on the part of the authorities. They identified it with the struggle against the “orange threat” in most cases. The authorities set up the antifascist youth movement Nashi (Us) which soon declared members of the National Bolshevik Party as the nation’s main fascists. Several leaders of the Yabloko Party, Union of the Right Forces, and the émigrés Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin were also put on the list. The number of antifascist i.e. anti-orange political projects began to increase. Accusing some party or politician of fascist tendencies became a weapon of choice in the fight against the opposition.

By the end of last year the Rodina Party was accused of instigating interracial enmity following the release of a scandalous promotional video. By using nationalistic slogans the party could have enjoyed greater popularity with a wider range of social groups, the tactics would have been regarded as conniving at fascism. In the meantime, the authorities should have admitted that the antifascist “second front” was required to tackle growing numberof crimes relating to xenophobia and racial hatred.

“Hostilities” are conducted at the two fronts at the moment.

The first front is a tactical one. Primarily, it is a weapon aimed at the political enemies. United Russia has recently come up with a proposal of signing a pact, which in fact targeted Rodina.

Back in 2003, the year when Rodina was formed, the Kremlin did not seem to mind the presence of outspoken nationalists on the party lists.

The second front has to do with actual steps taken by the authorities in an attempt to express its stance on fascism and oppose the tendency. It is worthy of notice that the Kremlin appears to have made the law-enforcement agencies start reviewing its attitude to hate crimes. Following the beating of Zaur Tutov, prosecutors initially started legal proceedings stipulated in Part 1 of Article 112 (“infliction of bodily harm of medium severity”). However, later the Prosecutor General’s Office demanded that the incident be investigated as a crime stipulated in Part 2 of Article 112 (“deliberate infliction of bodily harm of medium severity on grounds of national hatred”).

The latest surge in xenophobic incidents resulted in tougher competition between several antifascist projects. The liberals actively accuse the authorities of conniving at fascism. It is a well-known fact that the Free Russia Party, a party that used severe criticism of Yabloko as a means of running for the Moscow City Duma last December, had put on its lists Yegor Kholmogorov, one of the ideologists of Russian nationalists.

Politicians and organizations closely associated with the Kremlin are becoming more active too. The Public Chamber is planning to discuss the issue of growing extremism during its first session. On April 7, the Public Chamber condemned the killing of a Senegalese student in St. Petersburg. The State Duma also intends to deal with fascism following the request by the deputy Alexander Khinstein. Russia’s Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov and Chairman of the Supreme Court Vyacheslav Lebedev were invited to take part in the Duma discussions.

Various steps are being taken at the sociopolitical level. Lyudmila Narusova, Chairwoman of the Commission on Information Policy under the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, recently co-founded the Association of Civil Resistance to Fascism. According to her, “the public should sound the alarm and create an atmosphere of intolerance to any manifestations of xenophobia in our society.” Las week the leader of the Social Democratic Party Vladimir Kishenin presented International, an antifascist political union. By and large, the above initiatives look like a bid to put up competition against the Communists, who are to promote the spirit of internationalism by definition.

The subject of the struggle against fascism in Russia is becoming a politically fashionable trend. Nearly all political forces including the Kremlin are trying to make the most of it. However, all the activity is normally politically motivated. Meanwhile, a steady flow of reports on attacks against representatives of this and that nation inspires respective organizations to some extent. And the number of attacks is getting bigger like a snowball. All the above may be used as a pretext for passing a more severe law on extremism.


Translated by Guerman Grachev

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov