April 20 is the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birth, and as strange as it might sound, nowhere on earth are more people aware of this day of infamy than in Russia—the country that did so much to defeat fascism almost six decades ago. In one of history’s supreme ironies, Russians—who lost tens of millions to the battle against the Nazis—collectively held their breath that day in anticipation of mass skinhead violence against people from the Caucasus, dark-skinned foreign students and Jews, all in honor of a man who once vowed to wipe Moscow off the face of the earth. Over 1,000 extra police were deployed on the streets of Moscow2 , and most other cities took similar measures. After last April’s attack on the Yasenevo market by 150 skinheads, and last October’s even larger (300 skinheads) attack on the Tsaritsyno market, which resulted in three fatalities, the Moscow city authorities were clearly taking no chances. Neither was the national leadership. In his state of the nation address two days before the notorious anniversary, President Vladimir Putin warned that: “The growth of extremism presents a serious threat to stability and public safety in our country. We are talking above all here about those who organize attacks under fascist and nationalist slogans and flags, beating and killing people.”3 At the same time, the President sent to the State Duma a tough bill designed to crack down on extremist groups.
Despite the nation-wide state of alert, skinhead violence did take place throughout the country. As this report shows, in contrast to media accounts that portray April 20 as a triumph of law and order over the skinhead menace, the level of racist and antisemitic violence in the days preceding and following the anniversary was significant. On the one hand, large-scale bloodbaths were probably prevented by the tough reactions of police in many provincial cities. Yet when all the small-scale incidents of skinhead violence are tallied, the number of reported beatings and murders was quite high, and significantly, some of it took place in cities not previously known as hotbeds of skinhead activity. This leaves the strong impression that the skinhead movement continues to grow in Russia, both in its numbers, geographical scope, and viciousness, though some of that may be a matter of perception due to better media coverage of skinhead violence. Harder to measure was the hidden cost of the panic fueled by rumors and memories of skinhead violence during past anniversaries. Many ethnic minorities closed their market stalls and kept their children from school on April 20, while dark-skinned foreign students largely stayed in their homes.
Another new development, one which has been building for some time, is that some of the traditional victims of skinhead violence are starting to fight back. While this in itself is not a bad thing, and perfectly understandable given years of police indifference towards racist and antisemitic violence, it may result in dangerous consequences for Russia’s fragile multi-ethnic federal system. In an April 20 statement, Oleg Mironov—Russia’s human rights ombudsman—explicitly compared Russia to Yugoslavia in the 1990s and posed the rhetorical question: “Couldn’t enmity provoked by extremists groups and politicians towards those who belong to different ethnic groups and religious confessions lead to an outbreak of racial, ethnic and religious conflicts [in Russia]?” While Russia is certainly not on the brink of a Yugoslavia-style civil war, when minority groups completely give up on police protection and start forming self-defense groups, as has happened over the past year in Russia, this could be a step towards just such a nightmare scenario. If Russian authorities don’t take immediate, serious, and consistent steps to control the skinhead movement, by next April 20, some of these ethnic minority self-defense groups may become radicalized to such an extent that their own national extremists might take them over. Obviously, the implications of the state’s reaction, or more accurately, lack of reaction, to skinhead violence are profound, and must be closely monitored.
Russian officials are usually extremely reluctant to admit that their country has a serious problem of racist and antisemitic violence, so it was no surprise when, in the run up to April 20, official Russia geared up for the usual denial campaign. A month before the anniversary, as Russian media coverage of skinheads started heating up, the head of the Moscow police—Vladimir Pronin—shocked many observers when he was quoted as saying that there is no organized skinhead movement in Moscow. “I do not know of such a party, nor do I want to recognize it,” he claimed at a press conference (at least the last part of his statement was accurate, and very revealing too).4 A few weeks later, Kremlin PR specialist Gleb Pavlovsky added his own bizarre interpretation of the skinhead problem: “We don’t have neo-Nazis [in Russia], and skinheads are just adolescent pimples from which unrealized energy flows.”5 Nikolai Kulikov—former head of the Moscow police and currently an official in the city government charged with liaising with law enforcement agencies—was quoted in a local paper just two days before the anniversary calling on the public not to be afraid of skinheads: “These sorts of incidents do happen, but they are not as terrible as the media describes them.”6 For the most part, however, as the anniversary approached, these sorts of ridiculous statements were replaced by a sense of official urgency. The day after Mr. Pavlovsky’s statement (April 12), Russian police went on high alert in Moscow, including special riot police units (OMON).7
On the very first day of the month, NTV’s web site reported on the previous night’s “Yet Another Skinhead Attack on an African.” Setelay Shusta [name as transliterated]—a 38 year old man from Madagascar—was hospitalized after a group of skinheads beat him in a courtyard. They also hospitalized a 23 year old Russian named Aleksandr Shivalov, who bravely stood up for Mr. Shusta. Police quickly arrested four skinheads, all between 17-18 years old.8 Around the same time, police arrested a suspect in the murder of a Vietnamese man by skinheads on January 20. The victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time—passing by a dormitory for foreign students where a pitched battle between skinheads and Vietnamese students was taking place. The unfortunate passerby was beaten to death by a group of mostly unidentified young men.10
Also in early April, the wife of US Congressman Bill Young was threatened by skinheads in Moscow after they beat up her two African-American US Marine guards. Ms. Young was reportedly shopping in the middle of the day on Moscow’s popular Arbat Street when a group of skinheads attacked her guards, who were in full uniform. When she tried to stop the assault, the skinheads reportedly threatened her with baseball bats, but did not harm her, concentrating on beating the Marines. In 1999, a skinhead named Sergey Tokmakov gained a great deal of respect and fame in the skinhead movement after he assaulted an African-American Marine in Moscow. He was later amnestied after serving a short jail sentence.
On April 10, skinheads gathered to protest the import of chicken from the US into Russia. Demonstrators yelled out “Down with the kikes!” and “Glory to Russia!”11 The European edition of “Time” magazine reported on the crowd of about 80 young extremists chanting “Kill the U.S.A.!” and raising their arms in the Nazi salute. The magazine’s Moscow correspondent Yuri Zarakhovich interviewed 15-year-old Zakhar, who explained that the rally is “all about exterminating the Jews, Americans, and other scum.”
The columnist noted that while Moscow police had promised to take action to prevent extremist actions:
[O]ne policeman, who impassively observed Zakhar and his friends hoist “Skins against Bush” posters near the McDonald’s in Pushkin Square, didn’t seem too worried. When asked why no “measures” were being taken against this group, he shrugged: “Where do you see any skinheads here? It’s a rally to support domestic chicken producers against American imports.”
Mr. Zarakhovich quoted estimates by journalists and diplomats that since May 2000, skinhead assaults in Moscow have left more than a dozen foreigners dead and one hundred hospitalized:
Dressed in bomber or camouflage jackets and heavy steel-tipped boots, skinheads prowl in packs of three to five “fighters” armed with clubs and steel rods. These groups can merge quickly to form mobs of several hundred for major assaults, which seem too well-organized to be spontaneous.12
On April 11, about a dozen skinheads armed with sticks gathered outside an ethnic Tatar school in Moscow, chanting “Moscow is for Russians!” Police arrived and persuaded the skinheads to leave.13
On April 12, two skinheads robbed an Armenian-owned grocery store armed with pistols and fled with 8,000 rubles. Police arrested two suspects (age 19 and 21) a few days later.14
On April 15, an Afghan interpreter named Abdul Hakim Hakresi was beaten to death by skinheads near the Polyanka metro station, leading the Afghan embassy to accuse the Moscow police of providing no protection from “daily attacks by Nazi-minded youths” against Afghans.15 His widow was terrorized by police a few days later when they came to her door at 3AM demanding to be let in so that she could answer some questions. Her lawyer told reporters that the policemen loudly discussed whether or not they should break down the door, but decided to leave instead. He added that the investigation had made little progress, despite the presence of several witnesses.16
The same day that Mr. Hakresi was killed, the Moscow embassies of eight former Soviet states appealed to the Russian government to protect their citizens from skinheads. Those embassies, along with embassies of the US and Japan, had received an email from a person claiming to be a skinhead leader warning that non-Russians living in Moscow would be killed in honor of Hitler. Abdulfat Quliev—the consul at the embassy of Azerbaijan—went on national television to tell his fellow Azeris: “Do not go out on the street at night.” An Azeri fruit trader was shown in the same broadcast warning that his community was ready to meet violence with violence.17 Gabriel Kotchofa—president of the Association of Foreign Students—told the Moscow Times: “We also recommended that foreign students refrain from going out during the weekend [of the anniversary].”18
Other embassies also issued warnings. According to US Consul General James Warlick, the US embassy warned American citizens living in Moscow: “[E]xtremist groups are becoming more aggressive in April-May, particularly around Hitler’s birthday. We also cautioned US citizens to be more careful and vigilant during this period and to avoid large crowds and districts were skinheads may be.”19 The Japanese embassy cautioned its citizens living in Moscow not to walk around at night, and to avoid stadiums and suspicious groups of young people.20 In far away Colombo, the beatings of two Sri Lankan citizens in Moscow resulted in the Russian ambassador being summoned by Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando, who called upon the Russian government to take tough security measures to ensure the safety of Sri Lankans in Moscow. The Minister noted that the Zimbabwean ambassador and the wife of the South African ambassador have also been attacked by skinheads recently.21 African diplomats have complained for years that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ignored their requests for help in response to numerous attacks on dark-skinned foreign diplomats.
International organizations were not slow to react either. The day before the anniversary, Amnesty International released a statement calling for:
A vigorous response from the Russian authorities to racism… to stem the growing tide of attacks against ethnic minorities… Police and other law enforcement officials routinely subject racial and ethnic minorities to harassment and intimidation and often respond with indifference to racist attacks. Victims of racist attacks frequently complain that law enforcement officials are reluctant to register attacks as racist or fail to understand the serious implications of racially-motivated violence. Police often advise the victims to report the attack as “hooliganism.”
Until the authorities address racist attitudes within law enforcement agencies, they will continue to be part of the problem, rather than the solution.22
The UN High Commission on Refugees issued a statement the same day as Amnesty, noting that:
Falling victim to skinhead attacks are mainly foreigners with darker skin color, including many people in the care of the UN Refugee Office and registered with the Refugee Reception Center… [E]very month, the refugee center receives up to ten complaints from people who are registered with this organization about racist assaults against them [resulting in] some of them being injured and hospitalized.23
On April 17, four more Afghans were beaten by skinheads, this time at the Tsaritsyno market, the site of last October’s murderous skinhead attack. The management of the market responded by ordering all non-Russian traders to close their stalls.24
As the 20th approached, some market places closed25 and several schools freed their non-Russian students from attending classes.26
Mass bloodshed was narrowly averted at the Tushino market on April 21 after traders, mostly from the Caucasus, spotted a group of skinheads lingering nearby, armed themselves with metal bars and went out to confront them, only to be stopped by police at the last second.27 Ten skinheads gathering outside the Cherkizovsky market were detained by police and later released.28
On April 24, the Marina Roshcha synagogue was evacuated after a false bomb threat was called in.29
Police announced the next day that they had detained 393 youths, including skinheads, over the period of April 19-23 in a special operation to contain extremist violence. Criminal investigations were started against two members of extremist organizations, according to the statement.30
On April 27, State Duma deputy Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov—head of the predominantly Muslim Eurasian Party of Russia who has publicly claimed that the September 11 terrorist attacks were committed by “Zionist” secret services—warned skinheads that his party was forming self-defense units to protect Russian Muslims from skinhead violence: “One look at our non-drinking, non-smoking army veterans and all those skinheads will run off,” Mr. Niyazov told enthusiastically applauding members of his party at a meeting in Moscow.
Outside of Moscow
In cities all across the country, from Kursk to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, rumors of impending skinhead violence terrorized minority communities. The severity of incidents ranged widely from city to city—murders and beatings took place in some, while in others, impending skinhead attacks turned out to be nothing more than a scary rumor.
On April 20, four youths stopped a man walking near Mutnoe Lake and asked him if he knew when Hitler’s birthday is. When he couldn’t answer, they beat him with iron chains and stole his cell phone and a gold ring.32
On April 19, the Chelyabinsk Regional Court sentenced two skinheads to 8 ½ and 5 ½ years in prison respectively for killing a homeless man they found sleeping in one of their hideouts—an abandoned bath house near a stadium which they had covered with swastikas, defaced Stars of David and racist slogans. Finding out that the police were looking for them, the two skinheads fled to Moscow, where they joined a neo-Nazi group called “The Front for the National Rebirth of Russia” and met with other local extremists. Their dreams of putting this newly found knowledge into practice by starting up a more sophisticated neo-Nazi organization in their home city was cut short by police, who arrested them shortly after they returned to Chelyabinsk.33
This display of firm justice, however, did not discourage local skinheads from marking the anniversary. On April 21, ten skinheads boarded a trolley bus from both the front and rear doors and immediately surrounded a 30 year old dark-skinned man. “Why did you come to Russia?” they asked, and without waiting for an answer, started beating him. Other passengers intervened, forcing the skinheads to leave the bus before they could complete their attack. A Russian woman sitting next to the skinheads’ target was also hurt during the scuffle.34
Cherepovets (Vologda Oblast)
A large group of skinheads, dressed in black and wearing swastika armbands, attacked a market place on April 19, screaming “Heil Hitler!” Unfortunately for them, the market traders, most of whom are natives of the Caucasus, were waiting for them. Armed with various weapons, they severely beat the outnumbered, overconfident neo-Nazis, sending two to the hospital with head injuries. Several skinheads were arrested by police in that incident; all total 81 were detained over the course of the anniversary weekend. A local FSB official was quoted as saying that he didn’t know how many skinheads there are in the city, but that his agency was closely monitoring them.
Police dispersed what looked like a skinhead gathering near a movie theater on April 20.36
No incidents were reported, despite rumors of large numbers of skinheads coming to the city to wreck havoc. However, in a related story, the city Prosecutor’s Office started a criminal case against two members of the violent neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity for publishing a newspaper (Izhevskaya diviziya) that incites ethnic hatred and distributing it at sport events.37
Shortly before the anniversary, the local media reported that around 300 skinheads were planning to converge on the city from nearby Yaroslavl.
The Jewish community reacted immediately by requesting extra police security for the synagogue on the 20th. Jewish youth volunteered to guard the synagogue, which was almost burned down by still unidentified arsonists last summer and has been repeatedly vandalized in recent months.38 Police assured the community that they would be protected and indeed, both the police and the local FSB closely monitored several points in the city where skinheads were likely to congregate, including the synagogue. All of this extra security paid off when on the night of April 19, police blocked the arrival of a large group of skinheads from Yaroslavl (Kostroma is the only city where rumors of out of town skinheads coming to attack minorities turned out to be true). In addition, as Jews worshiped inside the synagogue on April 20, police prevented three young strangers from entering the building. The youths then walked on for a distance before suddenly turning around and throwing bottles at the synagogue. They were immediately arrested and three metal pipes, a favorite weapon of skinheads, were confiscated.39
On April 16, skinheads beat Armenians in downtown Krasnodar. Local police asserted that the attackers were merely “soccer fans” and that no skinheads exist in Krasnodar.40 That same day, youths who may have been skinheads destroyed several Armenian tombstones in a city cemetery. Six youths were detained by police.41 Radio Liberty’s local correspondent reported in April that there are several hundred skinheads in Krasnodar who often attack foreigners and other non-Russians, even throwing a grenade at some Ingush recently.42
A local Armenian leader told Izvestiya that in a meeting with the regional governor—Aleksandr Tkachyov—he had warned him of the consequences from the side of furious Armenians of not taking the cemetery desecration seriously and of the governor’s anti-migrant rhetoric and policies: “I told him: ‘Do you want blood? Do you want blood? You’ll get it.’”43
Kursk police acted aggressively, rounding up several suspicious youths during the anniversary weekend after skinheads announced that they would mark the anniversary of both Hitler and a medieval Russian battle.44 On April 25, skinheads beat up a woman on a bus who had scolded them for using foul language. The driver turned over to the police a belt-buckle found at the scene with the words “Russia is for Russians” on it. A similar belt-buckle was found at the scene of a beating of a Sri Lankan student on April 14 in Kursk.45
Nizhnevartovsk (Khanty-Mansysk Autonomous Okrug)
Police went on high alert in the city as the anniversary approached and arrested several local youths, some of whom had illegally armed themselves against what they feared would be skinhead violence after hearing terrifying rumors. A local reporter covering the story asserted that: “The saddest things is that some people share the ideas of the skinheads.”46 A reporter working for a different local paper reported that a branch of the international skinhead group “White Power” operates in the city.47 No incidents of skinhead violence were reported.
A newspaper reported in April that in late March 2002, the director of the Nizhny Novgorod newspaper Prospekt—retired police colonel Semyon Borenshtein—was attacked by two skinheads, but managed to fight them off. Returning home from work, Mr. Borenshtein was approached by two skinheads who asked him for cigarettes. Realizing immediately, thanks to his police training, that the young men intended to assault him, Mr. Borenshtein calmly gave them cigarettes while planning his next move. The skinheads at that point asked him if he is a Jew, to which he answered yes. One of the young neo-Nazis then brandished brass knuckles, while the other circled behind their intended victim. Before his attackers could react, Mr. Borenshtein pulled out a steel pipe hidden in his pants and smashed the first skinhead with it. Turning to confront the second attacker, he had the satisfaction of seeing that he had fled, followed shortly afterwards by his injured companion.48
On April 19, a local newspaper reported that two racists had attacked two foreign students. As a result, a 24 year old Palestinian student was taken to the hospital with head injuries.49
In the early evening of April 6, somebody scratched onto the door of a synagogue in Orenburg a Star of David and a swastika. Police refused to record the incident as a crime. A few days later, vandals painted the words “Throw Israel into the sea” on the walls of the local Chesed, along with a swastika and a Star of David. In another part of the city, somebody painted on the walls of an apartment building a man throwing a Star of David into a garbage can, accompanied by the words “Let us cleanse our native city!”50
Police reportedly announced shortly before the anniversary that they would take no special measures to prevent extremist activities during the weekend of the 20th, since they didn’t expect any trouble from local skinheads. On April 20, around 40 skinheads showed how potentially disastrous this decision was by marching down one of the city’s main streets wearing swastika armbands. In a brazen display of impunity, the young neo-Nazis started their march near the building of the regional administration and ended up in a park. They condemned “black-asses” (a pejorative for dark-skinned people from the Caucasus and Central Asia) and screamed “Heil Hitler!” several times before dispersing.51
Several Chinese students studying at a local university decided they will leave Russia at the end of the semester and never come back after suffering numerous attacks by skinheads. Some of them even said they would no longer study the Russian language or Russian history.52 During the anniversary, they were advised by police not to leave their dormitories, and the words “Freaks, go home!” were painted on the building where they study.53
Somebody wrote “Death to the Jews” on the walls of the synagogue on the night of April 22, along with a swastika. A local Jewish leader was quoted in the media saying that a week before, synagogue guards had driven away skinheads who attempted to enter the building.54 The director of the synagogue, Chaim Pinkas, told a Moscow weekly that: “[N]obody will be caught. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and fascist youth always get away.”55 A local media report indicated that Jewish leaders are worried that even if the vandals are caught, the city’s Prosecutor’s Office will only see the act of desecration as petty hooliganism and do nothing more than fine the guilty parties.56
Pyatigorsk (Stavropol Kray)
Up to 250 mostly Armenian men armed with baseball bats took to the streets after hearing rumors of imminent skinhead attacks. Many were looking for revenge after an earlier desecration (reportedly by skinheads) of Armenian graves in nearby Krasnodar Kray. After not finding any skinheads, some of the men took out their frustrations on a passing Russian motorist, overturning his car.57
Rostov on the Don
On April 14, the windows of the synagogue were shattered. The next day, local Jews celebrating Israel’s independence day were confronted with the depressing sight of broken glass in their synagogue. According to a journalist covering the event:
The local law enforcement agencies were alerted about the incident, however, it appears that the local police officers will not take active measures to arrest the vandals, as is often the case in similar incidents. According to some sources, Rostov antisemites are preparing yet another attack on the local synagogue.58
Foreign students were advised not to leave their apartments during the anniversary weekend. In April alone, 55 foreign students, predominantly from India, withdrew early from the local medical school and left the country after a rash of attacks. Since last winter, 26 attacks on foreign students have taken place. According to a reporter covering the attacks:
It could be suggested that the Rostov authorities have decided to pretend that nothing extraordinary is taking place in the city. In other words, as long as nobody has been killed, there is no need to report the number of those stabbed. Not one investigation has been closed and brought to trial.59
Around 100 skinheads were spotted on April 17 on a Ryazan street armed with clubs. They were quickly dispersed by police. On April 20, police disrupted multiple attempts by skinheads to gather in a local park.60
In a frank admission that they could not protect them, local law enforcement officials reportedly gave their tentative assent to the legalization within six months of self-defense groups formed by foreign students in the city. Both Arab and Latin American students have reportedly formed such groups after giving up on police protection from skinheads.61
Police broke up a meeting of the neo-Nazi “Party of Freedom” on April 18, which was attended by dozens of skinheads. Mindlessly aping the racial theories of the Nazis, one party leader called for “enemies of the Russian people” to be sought out through a series of tests to determine the shape of their skulls and ears.62 On the evening of April 20, nine skinheads smashed the windows of an Armenian-owned store, ignoring the owner’s frightened assurances that he has lived in the city for many years. The extremist youths left after screaming “Heil Hitler!” at the distraught merchant. All were arrested soon afterwards and charged with hooliganism. One had a picture of Hitler in his pocket at the moment of his arrest.63 That same night, an Azeri was sent to the hospital after being beaten by a young man. It is not clear if the attacker was a skinhead, or if he was motivated by ethnic hatred, but the fact that it happened on April 20 appears more than coincidental.64 On April 27, over 20 youths, some of whom were skinheads, were arrested after throwing bottles at passersby and breaking windows.65
On April 13, skinheads assembled outside of Samara’s House of Officers to harass local Jews who were celebrating Israel’s independence day inside the building. The extremists held signs reading: “Kikes are shit! Jews are wretches! Israel is filth!”; “No to kike fascism!”; “Russia for Russians—Israel for kikes!” and “Freedom for the people of Palestine!”66 According to a Radio Liberty report:
Only thanks to the intervention of the police were clashes averted between aggressive nationalists and people coming to the House of Officers to celebrate the Jewish holiday. By 6 PM, practically the entire police force of Samara’s Leninsky District was assembled in front of the House of Officers. [The demonstration] pretty much ruined the festive evening of the Jewish Cultural Center…
Shortly afterwards, a press conference was held to discuss skinhead violence in Samara that included representatives from the Jewish, Armenian and Korean communities. An Armenian activist was recounting murders and other attacks by skinheads against his community when he was interrupted by local neo-Nazi leader Viktor Guzhov, who screamed at him: “If Russians are insulting you here, go home!” In a perfect example of the “Red-Brown” alliance that has formed in some parts of post-Soviet Russia, Mr. Guzhov was reportedly supported by Valentin Ivanov—head of the local branch of the Communist Party (KPRF)—who managed to turn the conversation away from Armenians to the favorite scapegoats of the Communists, the Jews and the United States:
They really have robbed our people blind. And look how during these terrible times you organize a “Day of Israel” right in our faces. Tomorrow they will organize a “Day of the United States of America.”67
On April 20, skinheads marched openly on the streets of the city, ending up at a building where many Armenians live (21 Vasenko Street). They managed to scream insults and threats at the building’s residents before being driven off by police.68 Soon afterwards, skinheads tried to break into a Russian Orthodox monastery, screaming that they were “anti-Christs” and Satanists. They broke two windows and terrified the resident monks before leaving. A local police official was quoted as saying that there are around 150 skinheads in Saransk, many of them former members of the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity.69
Disgracefully, local police refused a request by the Jewish community to provide extra protection to the synagogue on the 20th, despite the fact that last year’s anniversary was marked by somebody throwing a Molotov cocktail onto the roof of the synagogue. Private security put out the blaze, and had to protect the synagogue this year too, without any help from local law enforcement, according to an article in Obshchaya gazeta.
The author of the same article added that although a police official in charge of juvenile crime claimed in an interview that “there are no radical gangs or extremist phenomena in the city”, there have been “massive beatings of foreign students” by skinheads recently.
A university official in charge of working with foreign students said of April 20:
I am completely petrified of this day. Last year, skinheads broke the windows of dormitories and terrorized the students with threats. They were caught, their parents were called, and then they were let go. The foreigners are already telling us: “if you can’t protect us, we will leave Saratov.” And they pay good money for their education here.70
A panic stricken resident of Saratov called a local paper on April 19, claiming that skinheads had stabbed a person from the Caucasus and that she had seen the victim moaning in a pool of his own blood. However, police reported that no such incident had taken place.71
Most market stalls owned by people from the Caucasus were empty on the anniversary weekend.72 Many non-Russian students were not in class on the anniversary day itself.73
On April 10, skinheads armed with metal rods beat a 35 year old Tajik to death. Fifteen suspects were detained in connection with the murder. Police were helped enormously by the fact that the not-so-bright perpetrators videotaped the attack, along with scenes from their meetings during which they shouted Nazi slogans. Some of the suspects had records stemming from their murder last year of a homeless man (since they were under-aged, they were soon released in connection with that killing). A local police official charged that the youths were led by a member of the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity.74
Few people were visible on the streets during the anniversary weekend and many schools and market stalls were closed as a precautionary measure. No incidents were reported.75 Police publicly refuted rumors that trainloads of skinheads were coming to the city to attack ethnic minorities.76
The day after the anniversary, skinheads in Tambov distributed to passersby a locally produced antisemitic newspaper called “To Spite Our Enemies” along with video cassettes of the Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.” Most of the newspaper was taken up by a paranoid speech about “Zionist” conspiracies written by the infamous antisemite Nikolai Kondratenko—the former governor of Krasnodar Kray who currently represents that region in the upper house of the Russian parliament. The paper’s editor—Aleksandr Arkhipov—is the head of the neo-fascist Russia Party as well as a former deputy on the Tambov city legislature. It is funded by a local businessman, who uses his stands to distribute the paper.
Unlike in previous years, local skinheads did not mark the anniversary by attacking a market place where mostly Vietnamese traders work, probably because of an extra police presence this year.77
On April 16, skinheads savagely beat an Uzbek fruit trader named Mukhammad Abdurakhmanov, who as a result was hospitalized with head injuries. Witnesses reported that around 20 skinheads screamed “Go home!” as they attacked him. However, the police allegedly tried to play down the racist motivation of the attack by recording the incident as a drunken brawl in which one suspect has been detained.
According to a local Obshchaya gazeta correspondent:
It should be noted that the skinhead movement is met with understanding by a significant number of youths and adults. In the opinion of their sympathizers, skinheads are totally normal guys who do what the authorities either can’t do or don’t want to do—they try to regulate the flow of migrants and normalize their arrival to Russia so that it doesn’t infringe upon Russians.78
While reporting on the attack against Mr. Abdurakhmanov, a local television station criticized the city FSB for denying that skinheads exist in Tomsk.79
A torchlight procession held every year by students of physics at a local university was cancelled out of fear of skinhead attacks, since it fell this year on April 20.80
Most foreign students reportedly spent the anniversary in the countryside out of fear for their safety. One told a reporter: “We don’t trust your police to protect us in case something happens.” Last summer, a student from Cameroon was killed by skinheads in Tula. Five suspects were later arrested.81 On April 10, two Pakistani students were attacked by skinheads. One was knocked unconscious by a large rock thrown at his head and had to be hospitalized.82
A local journalist wrote that: “Not a week passes without the skinheads beating up foreign students or fans of rap music83 … By the most modest count, in Tula today there are several hundred skinheads.” The journalist interviewed a teacher at a local university’s Russian language department for foreign students. Galina Sekisova recounted a terrifying attack on her and some of her students by skinheads, who knocked her down to the sidewalk: “By the way, that very same day skinheads beat two of our Chinese [students] at the central market, the guys ended up in the hospital.” A police official in charge of juvenile crime was quoted in the article calling skinheads “a serious problem” and revealing that police had brought criminal charges against seven skinheads and administrative charges against another 98 in 2001.84
On April 19, skinheads reportedly participated in a riot after a soccer match. Fifteen people were hospitalized and 70 detained by police in the clash.85
Police in Tver were taking no chances during the anniversary, especially since local skinheads have been active in attacking foreign students and other minority groups. A reporter described Tver as a city “in a state of siege” as markets were half-empty and closed early and large-scale police patrols monitored the situation near markets, main streets and dormitories of foreign students. No incidents were reported.86
Police took extra precautions on the anniversary weekend. A riot police (OMON) vehicle was parked outside of the synagogue, which has been attacked numerous times by local skinheads. Local authorities feared a repeat of an incident six months ago, when a group of young people beat a Tajik to death. However, no incidents were reported.87
On the evening of April 17, a Jewish youth leader named Aleksandr Golynsky was savagely beaten near his home and as a result ended up in serious condition in a local hospital with a concussion and several injuries to his torso. Because of his head injuries, the 11th grader was not able to remember many details of the attack.
Three days later, on the anniversary itself, the central office of the Ulyanovsk Jewish community was vandalized. The words “Kikes to Israel” and “The Ministry of Health warns that associating with Israel is bad for your health” were painted onto the fence surrounding the building.88
Rumors circulated that up to 400 skinheads were coming from Moscow to the city. Police went on alert over the anniversary weekend. The only incident reported was the painting of racist graffiti.89
Police were put on alert after false rumors of 900 skinheads coming to the city to mark the anniversary spread around the city. No incidents were reported.90 Police guarded the local Jewish community’s main building.91
A large group of men, closely monitored by police, scoured the streets during the anniversary looking for skinheads to beat up. Local neo-Nazis wisely chose to keep a low profile.92
In late April, the Voronezh FSB announced that it arrested a group of skinheads preparing an explosive device for a possible act of terrorism. The skinhead gang reportedly had practiced making explosives in remote areas on the outskirts of the city, resulting in an accidental explosion that injured one of them.
In addition, the FSB announced the arrest of a skinhead who distributed leaflets during the anniversary weekend with a picture of a Jordanian student who had been beaten to death by skinheads recently. The leaflets contained calls to drive out all Jews, Arabs and Africans living in Voronezh. Charges of inciting ethnic hatred were brought against the detained skinhead under Article 282 of the Criminal Code.93
A local FSB official was quoted as saying that there are around 600 skinheads in the city, double what they were in 1998.94
Markets were largely closed on the anniversary weekend. UCSJ’s local monitor reported that: “Representatives of ethnic minorities and diasporas in Yaroslavl await the coming of April 20 with worry.”95 No incidents were reported.
Police officials assured residents that despite rumors that skinheads were planning to kill Japanese and Koreans, the situation was under control. Korean markets were mostly closed on the anniversary weekend, and many Korean parents accompanied their children to school. The Japanese consulate warned its citizens not to go out at night during the anniversary weekend.96
This shocking wave of violence has had a long buildup. Over the past two years, UCSJ has monitored dozens of skinhead attacks throughout the country, most of which the local police have not responded to adequately. The problem of skinhead violence has clearly been allowed to reach a point where it is almost beyond control.
With a few exceptions, this year police took the threat of skinhead violence seriously, putting their forces on alert, and thereby preventing a lot of racist and antisemitic violence. In cities were both the police and the skinheads mobilized, the police, not surprisingly, won. However, as one reporter covering the anniversary put it: “Probably, the skinheads, taking into account the heightened attention towards them [by the police], simply laid low. In the end, there are 364 other days in the year to ‘fix those non-Russians.’” Indeed, skinhead violence takes place year-round in most Russian cities, and up till now, the typical response of the police has been to either ignore these incidents or play them down as “youthful pranks” or “petty hooliganism.” Years of such indifference has allowed the skinhead movement to grow to such a point that they can now put the entire country into a state of alert every April 20. The Russian government needs to give this problem serious, sustained attention so that April 20 can again become just another ordinary spring day.
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