Bigotry Monitor: Volume 8, Number 47

(December 5, 2008)

Volume 8, Number 47
December 5, 2008


A Weekly Human Rights Newsletter on Antisemitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in the Former Communist World and Western Europe

(News and Editorial Policy within the sole discretion of the editor)

Published by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union

Rising hostility to migrants, crimes by migrants and against them, and far-right xenophobic activism spilling over to antisemitism are the trends pointing to a new, potentially unstable period ahead for Russia.

1. INTERIOR MINISTRY: EXTREMIST CRIMES IN RUSSIA TRIPLED IN FOUR YEARS. Extremist crimes in Russia more than tripled over the past four years, Yuri Kokov, chief of the Interior Ministry department that deals with extremism, told a conference in Moscow, the newspaper “Gazeta” reported on November 28. The declared purpose of the high-level conference was to discuss the role of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Service of Migration in protecting the rights of ethnic minorities. But the emphasis seemed to be crimes committed by migrants rather than hate crimes targeting them.

On one hand, Deputy Interior Minister Yevgeny Shtokolov said that with the country’s population now down to 142 million—with a net loss of 116,000 between January and September--Russia needs foreign workers if its development is to go forward. On the other hand, Interior Ministry experts claimed that a 1% rise in unemployment among immigrants leads to a 5% increase in the crime rate. According to “Gazeta,” during the current economic crisis, immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus “may complicate the situation in Russia and stir violence” among the indigenous population. “In fact, something like this is already happening,” the newspaper wrote, possibly quoting speakers at the conference. “Twelve youth gangs were neutralized in Moscow, Moscow Region, and St. Petersburg this year,” the article went on to say. “Law enforcement agencies suspect them of 46 crimes fuelled by ethnic hatred” including 34 murders and two attempted murders.

The discussion revealed that more than 800,000 foreigners were registered in the Moscow Region this year but only 250,000 of them had work permits.

2. RACIST VIOLENCE CLAIMED 18 VICTIMS IN NOVEMBER. A different summary of extremist violence was presented by a nongovernmental organization that tracks hate crimes in Russia. The Sova Center for Information and Analysis reported on December 1 that in the month of November, up to 18 people became victims of racist and neo-Nazi violence, including three fatalities. Besides Moscow, the crimes were reported in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Penza, and Kaliningrad.

3. ANTI-MIGRANT MARCH TURNS ANTISEMITIC. On November 30, an anti-immigrant march in the town of Perm in central Russia turned antisemitic, with the demonstrators shouting "Glory to the Holocaust!" and "Beat the Jews! Save Russia!" according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency citing “Komsomolskaya Pravda.” At first the protesters directed their anger at immigrants, and their leaders stressed the problems immigrants cause to ethnic Russians. According to the popular daily, among the marchers were supporters of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), the Union for People's Sobriety, and the trade union Solidarity.

Local authorities denied witness accounts that antisemitic or extremist slogans were shouted. The local leader of the far-right DPNI, Yevdokim Knyazev, said that the march was not intended to target Jews. "I did not hear these slogans," he told the newspaper. "The march went off perfectly."

Police detained several of the 70 protesters as they marched through the streets of Perm.

4. PUTIN: GLOBAL CRISIS AFFECTS RUSSIAN ECONOMY MINIMALLY. Brimming with self-confidence and optimism, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin predicted that Russia would weather the global economic crisis with only "minimal losses" and he promised to maintain increases in social spending and avoid a ruble devaluation, Reuters reported on December 4. Parrying questions on inflation, housing problems, and unemployment in his annual live question-and-answer session with people across the country, Putin blamed the United States for "infecting" the global economy. But he also expressed confidence that relations with Washington will improve once the new administration takes over.

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NEO-NAZIS ATTACK MINORITY STUDENTS, THEN POLICE BEAT THE STUDENTS. Neo-Nazis and police reportedly attacked minority students in Penza, Russia, one of a series of recent violent incidents of racism in that city, according to the Sova Center for Information and Analysis. Citing the independent web site—itself a target of official repression because of its hard-hitting coverage of the unrest in Ingushetia--Sova reported on December 1 that on September 6, a group of neo-Nazis attacked medical students from the Russian republics of the Caucasus on their campus.

Police responding to news of the violence allegedly started beating the students while cursing them and insulting their ethnic origin. The violence continued inside the police station before the students were released; one Ingush student has been hospitalized in serious condition, reportedly as a result of a beating by police.

On November 18, neo-Nazis again attacked minority students, though this time unsuccessfully. A student leader reportedly announced that the minority students would kill anyone who attacks them. However, attacks on individuals and threats against female students from the Caucasus continue in Penza. The local authorities allegedly warned the students not to report the attacks to their parents, on pain of expulsion.

THREE NEO-NAZIS ATTACK JEWISH MUSICIAN. Three neo-Nazis attacked a Jewish man on the Moscow metro, according to the national daily "Novye Izvestiya" dated November 27. On November 22, three skinheads approached Mikhail Altshuler, a well-known musician, and beat him while screaming nationalistic slogans. Police detained two under-aged suspects, one of whom has a criminal record. It is unclear if the suspects will be charged under hate crimes statutes.

AZERI REFUGEE BEATEN IN MOSCOW. An Azeri refugee was assaulted in Moscow by three masked men, according to a December 3 report by the Sova Center for Information and Analysis. Atakhan Abilov is one of a relatively small number of de facto refugees who has received such a status from the Russian government. In addition, the UN refugee organization granted him status that allows him to leave Russia for a third country. But he stayed in Moscow, waiting for his family to get out of Azerbaijan. The attack took place on November 30; Abilov was subsequently hospitalized with a concussion and a broken nose.

NEO-NAZIS STAB AZERI IN NIZHNY NOVGOROD. Two neo-Nazi youths stabbed an Azeri man in Nizhny Novgorod, according to a November 25 report on the web site The victim was stabbed in the stomach and shoulder. The report said that the attack was motivated by racism and that police are investigating.

ANTI-FASCIST STABBED IN IZHEVSK. An anti-fascist activist was hospitalized with stab wounds after a brawl with neo-Nazis in an Izhevsk, Russia (Republic of Udmurtiya) concert hall, according to a December 3 report by the news web site. The 20-year-old victim, identified only as Dmitry S., was stabbed on November 29, spent two days in the emergency room, and is now in stable condition. Security guards detained several neo-Nazis and turned them over to police who are currently deciding how to charge the suspects.

MOSCOW COURT FINDS 7 SKINHEADS GUILTY OF 20 KILLINGS. A jury at the Moscow City Court found seven members of a skinhead gang guilty of 20 killings and 12 attempted killings between August 2006 and October 2007, Interfax reported on December 2. All the defendants were indicted for killing two or more people, driven by ethnic and racial hatred. Several of them were also charged with robberies. Their leaders were Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, both 17.

The same court recently convicted members of another youth group of 13, all but one minors, to three to ten years in prison for murder and fuelling ethnic hatred.

"Both groups followed a common pattern in committing the crimes," the prosecution said. "Influenced by ideas on exclusivity of people of Russian ethnicity and inferiority of non-Slavic individuals circulated by illegal youth organizations, the defendants formed organized groups to kill people coming from former Soviet republics located in the Asian and Caucasus regions."

EXTREMIST WEEKLY TO SHUT DOWN. A judge in Moscow ordered the shutdown of “Duel,” an extremist weekly with an antisemitic past, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on December 2. According to the court's web site, the court revoked the paper’s license and ruled that an article it published on July 4, 2006 was “extremist.” The article, which included antisemitic slurs, declared "Death to Russia," describing the country as a state ruled by "kikes" bent on domination.

“Duel” presented itself as engaged in the "battle of social ideas." Its editors received a written warning in April 2007 from the government agency monitoring mass media. The judge relied upon that warning as justification for the shutdown order. The ruling overturns a Moscow City Court decision in February that let the paper continue publishing.

STONES THROWN AT UKRAINIAN SYNAGOGUE’S WINDOWS. Several windows were shattered in a stone-throwing attack on a synagogue in Rovno, Ukraine, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on December 2. No one was hurt, and the attackers fled before police arrived. Law enforcement agencies are investigating. Gennady Fraerman, leader of the city’s Jewish community, told JTA that he believes it was an act of hooliganism since several windows were shattered on two nearby buildings as well.

TURKMEN POLICE THREATEN INCARCERATION AND RAPE. Bilbil Kulyyeva, a Turkmen citizen, was threatened with incarceration in a psychiatric hospital if she did not stop complaining about punishments imposed on her for following her faith as a Jehovah's Witness, Forum 18 News Service learned on November 25. Officials threatened to put her two underage children in a children's home and to deport the other two. Back in June, police threatened another female Jehovah's Witness with rape. She was held overnight and freed the following day but only after she was forced to clean the police station and water plants outside it.

KAZAKHSTAN: RESTRICTIVE LAW ON RELIGION GOES TO PRESIDENT. On November 26, Kazakhstan's parliament passed a law seriously restricting freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Immediate deep concern about the law, which changes the current law, was expressed by Kazakh human rights defenders, as well as Lutheran, Hare Krishna, Baptist, and Ahmadi Muslim representatives. "We expect persecution in the future because of this very harsh Law," Baptist Pastor Yaroslav Senyushkevich told Forum 18, "not just on us but on others too. It will be like under Stalin." More measured is Archbishop Tomasz Peta, who leads the Catholic diocese in Astana. "We hope that the President--who will have the last word on this--won't allow Kazakhstan after 17 years to return to the path of restrictions on religious freedom," he told Forum 18. Ambassador Janez Lenarcic of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) expressed disappointment at the "hasty" adoption of the law. He expressed hopes that President Nursultan Nazarbaev "will use his constitutional power to allow for a more transparent and inclusive law-making process that would lead to the adoption of legislation fully reflecting OSCE commitments and other international standards."

* * * QUOTE OF THE WEEK, MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE COLD WAR * * * In “The Economist” dated November 28-December 3, Yegor Gaidar, a former Russian prime minister, argued that offering NATO membership to Ukraine or Georgia would be a gift to Russian nationalists. “This is not a return to the Cold War. It is much more dangerous. With the Soviet Union everything was more or less clear and predictable. Both sides got used to each other and found a way of talking to each other. Both sides won in the Second World War and were confident and not hysterical. Now we are dealing with a country that has suffered a collapse of empire. And a significant part of the Russian elite feels the time has come to fight back.”

The Putin Line: the Less We Know the Better We Will Live

Reporting for “The New York Times” from the Siberian city of Tomsk, Clifford J. Levy discovered a Russian historian, Boris P. Trenin, 62, who is trying to research a mass grave in an area known as Kashtak, 1,900 miles east of Moscow, where members of his family were killed during the Stalin era. A large ravine in the middle of an empty land was recently filled in by the city of Tomsk. Rumors persisted about Kashtak’s gulag past. In 1989, before the Soviet Union’s collapse, Trenin and a colleague, Vasily A. Khanevich, carried out a modest, unauthorized dig and found two skulls with bullet holes.

In a 2,300-word article published on November 27, reporter Levy exposed two mindsets: one that victimized millions of innocent people in the middle of the past century and another--the present--that is determined to make people forget it.

Trenin has repeatedly approached local officials to examine the archives, stored on the fourth floor of a building in Tomsk, to confirm the existence of a mass grave that had been giving up clues such as “a scrap of clothing, a fragment of bone, a skull with a bullet hole.” He appealed for help to “tell the story of the thousands of innocent people who were said to have been carted from a prison to a ravine, shot in the head, and tossed over.”

The officials’ answer was an unequivocal “no,” which many of Trenin’s colleagues understood only too well: the boxes stamped “KGB of the USSR” will remain sealed. Trenin told the reporter: “In seeking to restore Russia’s standing, Mr. [Vladimir] Putin and other officials have stoked a nationalism that glorifies Soviet triumphs while playing down or even whitewashing the system’s horrors.”

As a result, wrote the reporter, throughout Russia “many archives detailing killings, persecution, and other such acts committed by the Soviet authorities have become increasingly off limits. The role of the security services seems especially delicate, perhaps because Mr. Putin is a former KGB officer who ran the agency’s successor, the FSB, in the late 1990s.”

But to historians like Trenin, the sealing of the archives “reflects a larger truth.” He quoted their consensus: “Russia has never fully grappled with and exposed the sins of Communism.”

Trenin is a credible witness who has listened to many officials who toed the Putin line: “They say Russia has gotten up off its knees, and this is why we should be proud of our past. The theme of Stalin’s repressions is harsh and gloomy and far from heroic. So they say that this is why it should be gradually pushed aside. They say the less we know about it, the better we will live.”

The reporter also interviewed Aleksandr A. Melnikov, a deputy mayor of Tomsk who, it so happens, is a former KGB official. Melnikov acknowledged that Kashtak represented an enormous calamity but that “it had been studied in depth.”

Melnikov said he was surprised to hear of Trenin’s difficulties in getting to study the archival documents. (Those of us who have been similarly treated find that Russian officials past and present lie with a straight face and some of them even seem to enjoy the exercise.) “Today, there is no problem obtaining access to the archives of that period, absolutely not,” Melnikov told “The Times.” “If they encounter a problem, they can appeal to me. I will provide every assistance to them to get the material that they are interested in.”

Told of Melnikov’s comments, Trenin sighed. “That’s absurd,” he said.

The reporter interviewed a prominent historian, Sergei A. Krasilnikov of Novosibirsk State University in Siberia, who said that officials routinely cite personal privacy to block access. But it is a ruse, he said. “The order has been given to rehabilitate Russian and Soviet statehood in all epochs and in all times--for all the czars and general secretaries,” he said. “This is why we have all these restrictions on access to the archives, because the archives allow us to show more profoundly the mechanisms of power, the mechanisms of decision-making, the consequences of these decisions, which were very often tragic for society.”

The reporter learned that throughout the 1990s, when ground was broken on construction projects in Kashtak, workers came across human remains and gardeners dug up human bones. By the decade’s end, Trenin told the reporter, even some retired KGB officers acknowledged that during the purges of the late 1930s, prisoners were executed and thrown into the ravine twice a week.

But by the time Putin became president, the FSB would not allow access to the records, and at meetings in 2002 and 2003, city officials, who had close connections to the security services, would not help Trenin who recalled meeting one city official, a former KGB man. “He had an absolute absence of interest. There was this sense of, it happened, it was there, no need to look any further.”

“The Times” quoted the director of the FSB archives in Moscow, Vasily Khristoforov, as saying that all records related to “ways and methods of operational investigative activity” will never be declassified.

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The next Bigotry Monitor will be published on December 19. The editor is on vacation.

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Copyright 2007 by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.