On April 20, neo-Nazis around the world celebrated the 117th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth. Nowhere was the date marked with more violence than in Russia, a country that, paradoxically, lost tens of millions of its citizens in the struggle against Nazism six decades ago.
When it comes to racist violence, April 2006 will go on record as the bloodiest month in recent Russian history, with at least seven murders and more than a dozen assaults attributed to neo-Nazi groups.
Since the late 1990s, Russia's homegrown fascists have spent the days surrounding April 20 stepping up their year-round campaign of violence against dark-skinned ethnic minorities, foreign students (predominantly from developing countries), and Jews. This disgusting annual spectacle is presumably deeply embarrassing to President Vladimir Putin, who has publicly condemned racism and antisemitism. Yet despite the mobilization of thousands of extra police officers in Moscow and other cities every April, Russian authorities seem helpless to stem the tide of violence.
Throughout April 2006, Russian neo-Nazi web sites brazenly called for more violence against minorities to mark Hitler's birthday and even posted a how-to manual with advice on how to evade arrest afterward. At the same time, neo-Nazis interviewed by foreign correspondents in Krasnoyarsk1 and Moscow2 claimed that elements within law enforcement agencies are working to support, rather than suppress, their activities. This unconfirmed claim bolsters a conspiracy theory circulated by many human rights activists and both liberal and Communist politicians, the gist of which is that the Russian government is secretly backing neo-Nazi groups and xenophobic political parties like Motherland and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR in order to build up a "fascist threat" that can be used at the end of President Putin's term in 2008 to justify emergency measures to continue his rule.
Regardless of whether the government's inability to stem the explosive growth of the neo-Nazi movement since President Putin came to office is more a product generally well-intentioned but dysfunctional government policies, or a dark conspiracy by Kremlin political advisors, it is indisputable that racist violence has become a daily feature of Russian life, not just in big cities in the ethnic Russian heartland, but even in remote towns in Siberia, the far north, and the far east where in the 1990s such groups didn't even exist.
Amidst all of this bad news, it should be noted that there have been some improvements in the way the government deals with hate crimes. Starting in 2002, the number of arrests of skinheads began to increase. While a cynical observer could be pardoned for linking this increase in arrests to the increasing strength of neo-Nazi gangs and their growing willingness to actually kill rather than just beat up their victims, it is also clear that at least some law enforcement officials are beginning to view hate crimes and neo-Nazi groups as a serious threat to public safety. President Putin's numerous statements condemning racism and antisemitism have no doubt contributed to this change of heart. Unfortunately, as this report will detail, many police officers, prosecutors, and judges have not yet gotten the message.
To their credit, police this April prevented similar crimes by quickly rounding up skinheads in Bryansk and Novosibirsk before they could strike. Unfortunately, police chiefs in St. Petersburg and Voronezh—the cities with the worst reputation for racist violence in the country—publicly minimized the extent of the problem by blaming a supposed media conspiracy against local officials. The Voronezh chief of police even went so far as to state that the number of murdered foreigners in his region was "not that many." Finally, the courts continue to demonstrate mixed results when it comes to dealing with hate crimes. In St. Petersburg, the murderers of a nine year old Tajik girl named Khursheda Sultanova were given a slap on the wrist. The fact that this verdict in Russia's most notorious racist murder in recent memory came from a jury demonstrates the extent to which the neo-Nazis' ideology are shared by significant elements of the general population.
With some praiseworthy exceptions, in April 2006 prosecutors continued the long standing practice of classifying what appear to be hate crimes as ordinary assaults, murders or "acts of hooliganism." The latter charge, which can encompass anything from drunk and disorderly behavior to actually sending someone to the emergency room, is particularly open to abuse, due to its broad scope and the fact that hooliganism charges tend to carry light penalties.
The following sections briefly describe one month (April 2006) of attacks on ethnic minorities, incitement of hatred against minorities by prominent political figures, and how the criminal justice system responded to these incidents.
Since most victims of hate crimes in Russia fail to report them to the police, either because they are in the country illegally or out of fear that some policemen are just as racist as the neo-Nazis, this listing of attacks is not intended to be comprehensive. Thanks to a combination of victims' fears and the efforts of some law enforcement officials (including in several of the incidents described below) to "cook the books" by either not reporting hate crimes at all, not making a serious effort to investigate hate crimes, or burying them within statistics on ordinary assaults, murders, and incidents of "hooliganism," there is no comprehensive, reliable way to track hate crimes in Russia. All we can do is to follow the trend lines—the number of reported attacks, the geographic scope of the attacks, and the severity of the attacks—all of which demonstrate that the situation is rapidly deteriorating.
On April 1, around 30 skinheads attacked a Tajik cook inside a Krasnoyarsk restaurant. The man ended up in the emergency room.3
On April 6, a 50 year old Vietnamese man was beaten to death in the town of Ostrogozhsk (Voronezh region).4
On April 7, a Senegalese student was fatally shot in an ambush outside a nightclub in St. Petersburg. Police found a shotgun with a swastika on it near the scene.5 Originally, police arrested a local youth with a violent criminal record whose fingerprints were found on a bottle near the site of the murder. He was later released.
Every registered owner of that model of shotgun living in the vicinity was then interviewed. One gun owner told police that he had lent his weapon to a 21-year old former police officer named Dmitry Borovikov so that he could repair it for him, and that the gun was never returned. Mr. Borovikov happens to be on the wanted list after fleeing hate crimes charges.
He was allegedly a founder of the local neo-Nazi group Schultz-88, six of whose members were recently sentenced to prison in connection with attacks on citizens of China, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. The latter attack was particularly vicious, as the victim was tossed in front of a moving train, which the conductor miraculously halted before it ran him over. As a result, Mr. Borovikov is now the prime suspect in the shotgun murder of the Senegalese student.6
On April 8, a group of teenagers threw rocks at a mosque in the city of Dzerzhinsk (Nizhny Novgorod region). The following day, the mosque was firebombed. Police are investigating the incidents as cases of "hooliganism." Umar-khazrit Idrisov , a local Muslim community leader, was quoted as saying in response that the justice system's tendency to treat hate crimes as hooliganism only inspires more attacks. He added that: "Hooliganism is when lamps are removed from entrance halls or garbage is thrown onto the streets, but not when children are killed because of racial hatred or our temples are desecrated."7
On April 9, in Chita, a dozen youths shouting racist slogans attacked a group of Chinese workers at a construction site. Police took half an hour to respond and arrested six people, who were charged with "minor hooliganism."8
In a possible hate crime, on April 11 media in the internal Russian republic of Tuva reported that the body of a 19-year old Tuvan student had been discovered in Moscow. The victim was not robbed, leading to media speculation that she was murdered by racists. The Tuvan Youth Society in Moscow sent an appeal to ethnic Tuvan students to be especially conscious of safety issues in connection with the murder and the upcoming "celebration" of Adolf Hitler's birthday.9
On April 12, a 22-year-old Malaysian student was hospitalized with concussion after he was attacked by an unknown assailant who hit him on the head and then fled the scene.10
On April 13, a gang of young men armed with iron bars and bats attacked a Romani (Gypsy) camp in Volzhsky (Volgograd region). The mob killed two Roma and seriously injuring an 80-year old woman and a 14-year old girl. Police detained three skinheads, some of whom admitted that their attack was motivated by ethnic hatred.11
Twice during Passover seders (April 13), Jews in Izhevsk, Russia (Republic of Udmurtiya) were menaced by gangs of youths. The first incident took place after the seder—a group of out of town Jewish guests were returning to their hotel when they were shouted at and threatened by a group of youths. The second incident took place the following night—two yeshiva students were followed on the street by around 15 youths who shouted "Sieg Heil!" and other antisemitic slogans at them. The chairman of the Jewish community and a local translator, upon seeing this mob, had to duck into a hotel lobby to avoid them.12
Similarly, visiting yeshiva students were harassed by local youths in Rybinsk (Yaroslavl region) during Passover celebrations. The students were followed by youths who shouted antisemitic insults at them. At one point, a young man got right in the face of a yeshiva student and screamed "Heil Hitler!" Other yeshiva students were confronted outside their hotel by men who asked them if they knew about the Motherland party—a creation of Kremlin political strategists that has several representatives in the national parliament who regularly incite hatred against Jews. Luckily, this harassment did not degenerate into violence.13
Two Mongolian students were attacked on April 15 in St. Petersburg by a group of men dressed like fans of the local Zenit soccer team. The attack took place at the Moskovskie Vorota station inside a Metro train. Police are investigating the incident under the rubric of "hooliganism" charges.14
On the evening of April 16 in Moscow, an anti-fascist activist was murdered by skinheads in what his friends termed a coordinated attack. The victim and his friend left a concert hall where many anti-fascist punk rock fans had gathered for a musical event. Between six and eight skinheads were waiting for them. Armed with knives, they stabbed the anti-fascist to death; his friend was fortunately not seriously injured. One suspect has been detained in connection with the killing.15
On April 19 in St. Petersburg, two skinheads shouting racist slogans stabbed and beat an Indian medical student near his campus. Anjar Kishore-Kumar's life was saved by the expertise of his fellow medical students, who stopped the bleeding while waiting for the ambulance. Police are so far investigating the incident as an ordinary attempted murder.16
On April 20, Russian media reported that a young man wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with the word "skinhead" was killed after he and some comrades attacked a market place in Petrozavodsk (Republic of Karelia). The young men reportedly attacked market traders who were migrants from the Caucasus, perhaps not expecting significant resistance. Police are so far reluctant to categorically state the dead man belonged to an extremist group. There was no indication in media coverage of the attack about the number of injuries or of any arrests made in connection with the incident. 17
Two Syrian students were beaten in Nizhny Novgorod on April 20. One of the students received a concussion as a result of the attack outside a nightclub. Police are investigating the incident.18
On April 20, vandals targeted a synagogue in Orenburg. A 15 year old youth was subsequently arrested in connection with the vandalism, one of a group of youths who smashed the building's windows and screamed antisemitic slogans at around 7PM that evening. No worshippers were present inside at the time and the synagogue has no video security system, but witnesses were able to identify the detained youth from mug shots. Despite clear evidence that the incident was a hate crime, police are so far treating it as an incident of "ordinary hooliganism."19
On April 21 in Kostroma, two college students and one unemployed youth were charged with hate crimes in connection with an attack on four Chinese students. The Chinese students attend Kostroma State University. One of the suspects detained in the attack reportedly took place in an assault against an Azeri school-girl on April 20.20
In a possible hate crime, on April 21, a Zambian student was beaten and robbed in St. Petersburg. The 26 year old student was attacked as he walked alone the previous evening. Police are investigating the incident as a robbery.21
On April 21, a 33 year old citizen of Azerbaijan was murdered by racists in Novy Urengoy (Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District). Shakhin Gasanov worked at an Azeri-owned store in the city. That day, a group of men shouting racist slogans reportedly burst into the store and stabbed him repeatedly. Afterwards, they robbed the store and fled. Police are investigating the incident. Mr. Gasanov's body has been sent home to Baku.22
On April 22, an Armenian teenager standing was stabbed to death while waiting for a metro train on a crowded platform. The killing of Vigen Abramyants was initially reported as a skinhead murder.23 Police later charged an ethnic Russian youth, who they say confessed to killing the teenager in a dispute over a girl, a confession he later retracted. Police released him after 72 hours of detention after he signed a written pledge not to leave the city.
The case remains clouded by suspicion and confusion. Public mistrust of police—who are regularly accused both of torturing suspects into making false confessions and covering up anti-minority violence—is complicating the investigation. In an April 28, 2006 interview with the national daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, the victim's father claimed that 11 witnesses saw his son killed by skinheads, a version of events that investigators have characterized as a red herring designed to distract attention from Dmitry Kulagin, who they believed killed Mr. Abramyants after a quarrel over a girl. Rafael Abramyants alleged that police pressured Mr. Kulagin into confessing, telling him that as a youth, he would get a suspended sentence. Another witness, identified only by her first name Elmira, was quoted in the newspaper report saying that Vigen Abramyants was killed by skinheads; his father then added that a metro security camera was missing four hours of film which should have recorded the murder. Police refuted this charge, asserting that the camera did record the murder, but that the victim was obscured from view by a large group of passengers. A few days later, around 100 Armenians blocked traffic in Moscow to protest what they and many Armenian community leaders continue to assert is a police cover-up of a racist murder.
A group of youths shouting "For Racism!" rampaged aboard a Moscow train on Orthodox Easter Sunday (April 23). Witnesses report that between 30-40 youths entered a train at the 1905 Street Station and proceeded to block the doors. They then shouted "For Racism!" and attacked the passengers, both Russians and non-Russians, men and women. The only victim identified with any specificity was a middle aged man from the Caucasus, who was found unconscious and covered in blood on the station platform after the attack.
Metro police reportedly acted "very passively" and did not detain any of the culprits, and refused to confirm or deny the attack to a reporter covering the incident, who concluded the article by wondering why, on a weekend when thousands of extra police were on patrol to protect against neo-Nazi violence, none of the attackers was detained.
A subsequent media report revealed that three other attacks by groups of youths took place on the Moscow metro that same weekend, but that police have not confirmed them.24
On April 23, the body of a Tajik man who had been stabbed to death was discovered in Moscow. Another Tajik was injured when unidentified men attacked them. The men were found lying on the ground by a passing motorist in eastern Moscow. Police are investigating the attack, the motive of which is as yet unclear.25
On April 23, a prominent Armenian film director was attacked in Moscow. Mikhael Dovlatyan was set upon near the Akademicheskaya Hotel by unidentified attackers who broke a bottle over his head and then fled.26
On April 24, a citizen of Turkey was attacked in St. Petersburg by three young men inside a suburban train. Police later detained three suspects and are considering charges of mugging. The motives for the attack are not entirely clear, since media reports contained no information about whether the victim was robbed.27
On April 27, Russian media reported that two members of the Spartak soccer fan club were detained by Moscow police in connection with the November 27, 2005 murder of a Turkish citizen. To the credit of local prosecutors, the murder of Mekhmet Kelesha is being treated as a hate crime. He was beaten and stabbed to death by a mob of soccer hooligans, some of whom shouted "Beat the Caucasians!" (people from the Caucasus) and "For Spartak!" Both of the suspects are 17 years old.28
On April 28, arsonists tried to burn down an Adventist church in Taganrog (Rostov region), according to a May 6, 2006 report in the local paper. That morning, pastor Mikhail Oliynik came to the church and saw that a window had been broken. Feeling anxious, he decided to enter the building through the basement instead of through the main entrance, a decision that probably saved his life. According to local firefighters, a slow burning blaze that had been set the night before was gradually consuming the building from within; if the pastor had opened the front door, a gust of oxygen would have come in with him, and could have transformed the small fire into a blazing inferno.
Instead, the pastor noticed the fire and left to call for help. Firefighters put the blaze out and termed it an arson. Police confirmed that no valuable items, some of which were in the same room as where the fire was set, were stolen, making it likely that the fire was a hate crime.
Earlier that week, the church's windows were shattered by unidentified rock throwers. Police at the time brushed off the incident as "hooliganism" but the pastor didn't believe them, pointing out that every window in the building was broken "systematically."29
On April 29, eight skinheads attacked two fans of rap music outside a night club in Syktyvkar (Komi Republic). The neo-Nazis were then scared off when people inside the club heard about the attack and started to come outside. No arrests were reported in connection with this incident.30 Russian neo-Nazis sometimes attack ethnic Russian youths who listen to what they view as "racially inferior" music like rap or reggae.
Most official xenophobic rhetoric in Russia comes not from the executive branch, but from the parliament. As a result of rising racist sentiment amongst Russian voters and the Kremlin's political strategies to exploit this, the national parliament (State Duma) has become the main bully pulpit for racists and antisemites to disseminate their hateful views without fear of prosecution (Duma membership confers immunity from criminal prosecution, including for violating Russia's laws on hate speech).
In the run up to the 2003 parliamentary elections, Kremlin political strategists reportedly created the Motherland (Rodina) bloc—a loose alliance of extreme nationalists and more moderate figures. The Motherland project was aimed at sapping nationalist and leftist votes from the Communist party. Government controlled television launched a campaign to promote Motherland and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR—another extremist nationalist party with reputed ties to the Kremlin. As a result, only four parties were elected to the State Duma—the Kremlin's United Russia, the Communists, the LDPR and Motherland (the two liberal parties in the previous State Duma failed to exceed the 5% barrier and were therefore eliminated). All but United Russia are explicitly antisemitic parties, made up of several politicians with long records of antisemitic and racist rhetoric; the three extremist nationalist parties won a combined total of around 1/3 of the party list vote.
The best example of how far some members of the national parliament are willing to go to demonize minorities came in January 2005, when 19 members of the State Duma from Motherland and the Communist party signed an open letter to the Prosecutor General's office demanding that Jewish groups be banned in Russia. The letter referred to Judaism as a "Satanic" religion and made reference to the medieval Blood Libel (the belief that Jews ritually murder Christian children on Passover and use their blood to bake matzo). Russian Jewish groups—who have grown accustomed to more modern-day antisemitic accusations of controlling the media, the financial system, etc.—reacted in horror to this intellectual descent into the barbarism of the Dark Ages. Some of the letter's signatories reacted by refuting the letter, but several Motherland deputies proudly defended their stance.
In April 2006, Motherland State Duma deputies continued their efforts to demonize and harass Jews. On April 7, the Duma approved a motion by Motherland MP Boris Vinogradov to launch an investigation into how one of Russia's competing chief rabbis—Italian born Beryl Lazar—became a Russian citizen.31 In March 2006, Mr. Vinogradov lashed out at Beryl Lazar's umbrella group—the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FEOR)—terming it an organization based on "radical Judaism" and calling for a Duma investigation of FEOR for supposedly harming Russia's international image.32
On April 29, two Motherland MPs made antisemitic speeches at a gathering in St. Petersburg organized by the Union of Russian People. This organization is named for a pre-revolutionary group which participated in mass killings (pogroms) of Jews with the semi-official approval of Tsarist officials.
Speaking to this group, former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov reportedly stated that, "today our country is ruled by a Jewish mafia" and called for a struggle "against this diabolical plot to destroy our country and people." His colleague Oleg Mashchenko added that: "All the legislative activity of the Duma serves the interests of a small clan of rich people, the majority of whom are aliens that are hostile to the Russian people. At the same time, the kike media deliberately misinforms and fools tens of millions of people." Mr. Mashchenko also reportedly complained about Armenians having too much power in Russia, a possible reference to vocal protests by the Armenian community in Moscow following the murder of a young Armenian on the Moscow metro that many attribute to neo-Nazis (see above).33
Xenophobic rhetoric by elected officials also takes place on the provincial level. In late April, the Chamber of Ethnic Minorities of the Krasnoyarsk Civil Assembly issued a statement condemning a member of the regional parliament for making an antisemitic and racist speech. Oleg Pashchenko—who also publishes the local antisemitic newspaper Krasnoyarskaya Gazeta—appeared on local television with a speech that "insulted the Jewish people and migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus," according to the Chamber's statement. He also reportedly yelled out the neo-Nazi slogan "Russia is only for ethnic Russians!"34
An Amnesty International report released in April 2006 noted that: "The response of the Russian authorities to the problem of violent racist attacks has been grossly inadequate… While there might now be a growing awareness among the authorities, including various law enforcement agencies, of the problem of racist attacks against minorities… it is not enough to rein in the violence, which is out of control."35
The responses of police, prosecutors, and the courts throughout April 2006 to racist violence confirm the validity of Amnesty International's concerns.
While some Russian police officials this April reacted by condemning the upsurge in racist violence and warning about the increased danger of extremist groups, others reverted to earlier patterns of denial and obfuscation. Disturbingly, the most disingenuous of these reactions came from the police chiefs of St. Petersburg and Voronezh—two cities that, along with Moscow, are the national epicenters of the neo-Nazi movement.
On April 21, 2006 Mikhail Vanichkin—head of the St. Petersburg GUVD—called recent press criticism of his city as a hot spot of racist violence a "provocation" organized by the media to discredit local authorities. He claimed that as a result, police are feeling pressure to "hush up" crimes committed by foreigners against the local population, rather inappropriately using the term nashie rebyata ("our guys") to describe ethnic Russians victimized by foreigners. "It's insulting that every effort is being made to solve crimes against foreigners, but attacks on our guys are not investigated fully," Mr. Vanichkin was quoted as saying.
The city's chief prosecutor—Sergey Zaytsev—went a step further by claiming that there are only two (!) extremist groups in the city, both of whom (Mad Crowd and Schutlz-88) have members that are conveniently already in prison as a result of earlier investigations. He echoed his colleagues' contention that the media is exaggerating the extent of racist violence in the city.36
Meanwhile, Aleksandr Nevzorov—a United Russia member of parliament from the Leningrad region—took a similar public stance on racist violence in a short interview published in the April 11, 2006 edition of the national daily Argumenty i Fakty. "Foreigners aren't saints," the State Duma deputy was quoted as saying. "They can also get into fights, insult someone or seduce someone's wife. Why should this immediately be viewed as racism? Racism is not typical for Petersburg—everybody knows that."
Commenting on the recent murder of a Senegalese man in Petersburg (see above), Mr. Nevzorov then invented some murder statistics from the US to bolster his argument: "Yes, they killed a man from Senegal. Do you know how many black people are killed in Chicago over the course of one night? Forty people. The fact that black people are attacked on our streets is something positive, though that sounds paradoxical! It means that there are more of them now, they have established themselves in Russia and act more bravely. For example, they go to night clubs." The Senegalese victim Mr. Nevzorov was rather callously referring to was ambushed outside a nightclub.
In Voronezh this April, the head of the region's GUVD—General Lieutenant Aleksandr Dementev—came close to topping his notorious 2003 claim that no skinheads exist in that city, where dozens of neo-Nazi attacks have been recorded since the late 1990s. This time, General Dementev low-balled murder statistics to bolster his claim that the number of foreigners murdered in Voronezh over the past few years were not enough to worry about. According to an April 15, 2006 article in a local newspaper, the general echoed his Petersburg colleagues by playing the media conspiracy card: "Why is Voronezh being called the center of extremism? Because this is the nature of competition today, it's a made to order political move. There have been three murdered foreigners in ten years—is that really a lot?"
The newspaper reporting the general's comment added that it came shortly after the murder of a Vietnamese man in the regional city of Ostrogozhsk (see above)—a killing that the general somehow failed to mention or include in his murder count.37
Earlier in April, a man who entered a synagogue in Rostov and menaced Jews with a broken bottle and several antisemitic threats was ruled incompetent to stand trial. Vadim Domitsky reportedly was inspired by a neo-Nazi attack on a Moscow synagogue in January, during which several worshippers were stabbed. Charges of hooliganism and issuing a death threat were dropped against him after an analysis by the Serbsky Psychiatric Center in Moscow, a facility that became notorious in Soviet times for issuing politically motivated diagnoses of dissidents. A court will next decide on whether or not to involuntarily commit the defendant to a psychiatric facility.38
Acting on a tip, police in Bryansk broke up a planned brawl between skinheads and other local youths. On April 13, police lay in wait inside a local cemetery. At around 8PM, a group of skinheads appeared and police started chasing them, detaining 15, some of whom had sticks and metal pipes in their possession. In a tactic that is increasingly popular in Russian law enforcement circles when it comes to neo-Nazi youth crime, police called the youths' parents to the station and fined them for criminal negligence.39 On April 20, Bryansk police disrupted a neo-Nazi march aimed at commemorating Hitler's birthday. Eight or nine drunken youths holding German flags paraded down Kalinin Street that day before they were spotted by a passing police patrol. Four were detained and charged with public drunkenness and minor hooliganism. Their parents were then called to the station and fined for parental negligence.40
That same day in Novosibirsk, a group of skinheads gathering to commemorate Hitler's birthday by attacking non-Russians on the campus of Novosibirsk State University were rounded up by police thanks to the quick thinking of a campus security guard. Around 20 neo-Nazis gathered on campus on April 20 and started screaming racist slogans. This attracted the attention of the guard, who immediately called the police. Police arrived just as some of the skinheads broke off from the main group to follow a Kazakh student, presumably to harm him. Fifteen skinheads were detained, taken to the police station, fingerprinted, and then let go, since, thanks to the quick action of the security guard, they hadn't committed a crime.41
The most notorious hate crime to have occurred in recent years in Russia was the February 2004 murder of a nine year old Tajik girl named Khursheda Sultanova. Police initially denied that it was a hate crime, and allegedly spread rumors, which surfaced in some media outlets, that the killers targeted Khursheda's father because he was a drug dealer. Eventually, prosecutors charged seven youths.
In April 2006, a jury threw out murder charges against a youth who allegedly was most responsible for the death. Instead, Roman Kazakov was found guilty of "hooliganism" and sentenced to five and a half years in prison. His co-defendant received lesser terms of up to two years, both for the killing and the beating of Khursheda's father.42
The verdict provoked a huge backlash from the Russian human rights community and media. Several commentators argued that the jury's indifference to the non-Russian victims reflected a large segment of public opinion, which silently agrees with neo-Nazi views.
In late April, a court in Nizhny Novgorod sentenced a local youth to 13 years in prison after being found guilty of killing two North Koreans. Aleksandr Vedeneev was walking with some friends when he suddenly attacked the two victims, stabbing them both to death. He was arrested a few days later. The court threw out hate crimes charges against Mr. Vedeneev after finding that he is not a skinhead (as if only neo-Nazis can commit racist murders). No other possible motive for the killing aside from racism was mentioned in media reports about the trial.43
Given the multiethnic nature of the country, xenophobic violence has clear implications for future political and economic stability if it is allowed to spin out of control. A prime example of this seems to have taken place on April 23 in Rostov, when a group of men from the Caucasus may have deliberately targeted a skinhead and other innocent ethnic Russians in a revenge attack.
here are several competing version of what exactly happened. The author of a local newspaper report on the incident interviewed several witnesses and pieced together the following account. The official police version is that there was "some kind of fight between two groups of people" which left three injured from rubber bullets, but "no skinheads were there." One witness, however, told a local reporter that the Caucasians beat and shot his friend after calling him "a damned skinhead" and that the other victim was a random passerby walking his dog. A policeman interviewed off the record claimed that the Caucasians had gathered to "beat up some skinheads" and that they attacked seven people all total, including the shooting victim, who reportedly had a neo-Nazi tattoo.44
The truth will probably never be known, but one thing is clear—the rising number of neo-Nazi attacks against minorities, combined with the frustration many minorities feel at the ineffectiveness of the government's response to racist violence is creating an explosive situation in which vigilante groups may be forming to "take vengeance" against ethnic Russians, including innocent people who have nothing to do with skinheads. If true, these and similar attacks reported in previous years around the time of Hitler's birthday may be the beginnings of a spiral into dangerous inter-ethnic instability. In combination with a greater emphasis on promoting tolerance among the nation's youth, federal and regional authorities must systematically crack down on skinhead gangs. Federal officials need to back their positive rhetoric on racism by rewarding police officials who take proactive measures against neo-Nazi gangs (see the examples from Bryansk and Novosibirsk above). Conversely, law enforcement officials who deny clear evidence that neo-Nazi gangs pose a serious threat to public safety (or even state that such groups don't even exist) should be publicly reprimanded or removed. It would also be extremely helpful if President Putin were to use his immense popularity to not just condemn racism and antisemitism in amorphous, general terms, but instead single out xenophobic politicians and officials by name for criticism. The fact that many of these politicians are members of opposition parties (the Communist party being the best example) would make such an aggressive stance seem more politically palatable, though it's also possible that the president does not want to go too far in alienating the kind of voters who put Motherland, the Communists and the LDPR in the Duma to begin with.
Russian media outlets also need to have regular access to hate crimes trials in order to discourage judges from giving neo-Nazi thugs lighter sentences than ordinary criminals. When it comes to jury trials, which are still a relatively rare occurrence, prosecutors should make an effort to exclude obviously racist jurors in order to avoid disgraceful outcomes like the Khursheda Sultanova murder trial (see above) in the future. The court system should also be willing to offer adequate reassurances of physical security for witnesses in hate crimes trials, many of which have been disrupted by neo-Nazi intimidation.
Most importantly, Kremlin political advisers should never again create and support openly xenophobic parties like Motherland, which was put together before the last parliamentary elections in order to drain votes away from the nationalist opposition. Only then will it be possible to imagine a time when April 20 returns to being just another ordinary spring day in Russia.
1 "From Russia With Hate," Globe and Mail, April 26, 2006. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060426.wxrussia26/BNStory/RussiaShrinks/home
2 "Russia's Nazis Launch Wave of Racist Attacks," Sunday Times of London, May 7, 2006.
3 Regnum News Agency, April 4, 2006.
4 Agence France Presse, April 12, 2006.
5 "African Student Gunned Down," St. Petersburg Times, April 11, 2006.
6 Fontanka.ru, April 23, 2006.
7 RIA Novosti, April 10, 2006.
8 Agence France Presse, April 13, 2006.
9 Tuva-Online, April 11 and April 17.
10 Agence France Presse, April 13, 2006.
11 Agence France Presse, April 14, 2006.
12 Jewish.ru, April 17, 2006.
13 AEN news agency, April 18, 2006.
14 Regnum news agency, April 17, 2006.
15 Prima news agency, April 17, 2006.
16 "Indian Student Latest Street Violence Victim," St. Petersburg Times, April 21, 2006.
17 Gazeta.ru, April 20, 2006.
18 Regnum news agency, April 24, 2006.
19 Jewish.ru, April 26, 2006.
20 Hro.ru, April 22, 2006.
21 NTV.ru, April 22, 2006.
22 Regnum news agency, April 22, 2006.
23 "Armenian Student Killed by Skinheads," Moscow Times, April 24, 2006.
24 Gazeta.ru, April 24, 2006.
25 Novye Izvestiya, April 24, 2006.
26 Sova Information-Analytical Center, April 25, 2006.
27 Regnum news agency, April 24, 2006.
28 Regnum news agency, April 27, 2006.
29 Novaya Taganrogskaya Gazeta, May 6, 2006.
30 Parallel, May 5, 2006.
31 "Russian Jewish Groups Criticize Legislator's Move Against Chief Rabbi," JTA, April 10, 2006.
32 Antisemitizmu.net, March 17, 2006.
33 Sova Information Analytical Center, May 3, 2006.
34 Regnum news agency, April 19, 2006.
35 Amnesty International report "Russian Federation: Violent Racism Out of Control," April 2006. Available at: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engeur460162006.
36 Sova Information-Analytical Center, April 21, 2006.
37 Voronezhsky Kurier, April 15, 2006.
38 Sova Information-Analytical Center, April 11, 2006.
39 Regnum news agency, April 14, 2006.
40 Sova Information-Analytical Center, April 25, 2006.
41 Vecherny Novosibirsk, April 22, 2006.
42 "Youths In Tajik Case Sent to Jail," Associated Press, April 6, 2006.
43 Gazeta, April 27, 2006.
44 Gazeta Dona, May 3, 2006.
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