Bigotry Monitor: Volume 8, Number 48

(December 19, 2008)

Volume 8, Number 48
December 19, 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

At least 85 people are known to have been killed and 367 injured in hate crimes so far this year in Russia, according to the Sova Center for Information and Analysis, a respected nongovernmental organization (NGO) that tracks racist violence in the country. It seems that racists seem determined to end the year with a bang.

1. TAJIK BEHEADED IN MOSCOW; E-MAIL ALSO THREATENS RUSSIAN OFFICIALS. On December 8, a street cleaner found a man’s head wrapped in a plastic bag outside a government building in the Russian capital, news agencies reported. An investigation determined that the head belonged to Salahetdin Azizov, 20, a Tajik migrant employed at a fruit-and-vegetable warehouse, whose decapitated body had been discovered earlier in a wooded area in south Moscow.

Even though hate crimes including murders have become frequent in Russia, newspapers splashed the decapitation story across their front pages, and “The Washington Post” featured it in a 786-word article on page 31 in the Sunday edition. Reporters pointed out that for the first time, the grisly crime was accompanied by a programmatic e-mail sent to two human rights organizations and by a photograph of the severed head on a chopping block. The e-mail carried the signature of a group calling itself the Militant Organization of Russian Nationalists. Neither the police nor human rights groups had ever heard of it.

"This surprise was prepared for Moscow officials by concerned Russian people who can no longer tolerate the invasion of foreigners in their native city," the e-mail declared, accusing migrant workers from the Caucasus and Central Asia of "an unprecedented wave of criminality that has swamped our capital.” The threats that followed targeted Russian officials: “If officials continue to populate Russia with foreigners, we will have to start annihilating officials! Because there is no worse enemy than a traitor with the authorities who has betrayed his Russian origin…. Officials, if you do not start evicting the blacks, we will begin taking revenge on you for their crimes! And it will be your turn to pay with your heads."

According to the police, Azizov and another Tajik worker were walking home after work when about ten men attacked them with knives. The co-worker who escaped was hospitalized. On December 13 he was reported in critical condition.

“The Post” noted that Azizov's head was found in Mozhaisky District, a neighborhood that has been a focus of nationalist rage since the October 1 rape and strangulation of a 15-year-old Russian girl there, allegedly by an Uzbek worker employed by the city. On November 4, during the People's Unity Day holiday, a man from Turkmenistan was stabbed to death in the district, and many of its resident migrants fearful of retaliation have quit their jobs and moved elsewhere.

According to the press, police have questioned leaders of nationalist groups about the decapitation, but they denied involvement. One of them, Alexander Belov of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, told the Interfax news agency that he had never heard of the organization that declared its responsibility. He also warned that government efforts to suppress groups such as his are causing "an increase in radical tendencies."

A police spokesman said detectives are examining "various theories" of the murder but had "no proof of the suggestion that skinheads might have been involved."

2. KAZAKH STUDENT STABBED TO DEATH IN MOSCOW. On December 16, a Kazakh student was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Moscow in what authorities say may have been a hate crime, “The Moscow Times” reported. Yerlan Aitymov, 18, was stabbed in the stomach by an unidentified assailant near the Kaluzhskaya metro station, authorities said. Aitymov, a first-year student at the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas, lived in a dormitory near the university, the police Investigative Committee disclosed. He died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

Investigators are not ruling out the possibility that Aitymov's murder was racially motivated, according to a RIA-Novosti source. "Detectives have no direct evidence that skinheads are responsible for the murder," the source told the news agency. "At the same time, police officers note that southwestern and southern Moscow see the most attacks on natives of the Caucasus and Central Asia."

The Kazakh government has demanded "maximum cooperation" from Russia’s Foreign Ministry to solve the crime, Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashikbayev told reporters on December 15.

* *

POLICE DETAIN TWO NEO-NAZIS FOR STABBING U.S. CITIZEN. Police in Nizhny Novgorod detained two suspected neo-Nazis in connection with an attack on an African-American youth, the web site of the national daily "Komsomolskaya Pravda" reported on December 16. According to the article, Stanley Robinson, who studies Russian and takes boxing lessons at a Nizhny Novgorod high school, was returning home two weeks ago when two 17-year-old youths attacked him. When Robinson fought back, several other youths joined in the beating, and one of them stabbed him. He was able to break free and get to a bus stop, where he yelled for help, scaring off his assailants.

Police identified two suspects thanks to a Russian girl who used to be a member of the same neo-Nazi gang as the alleged attackers. She heard them talking about the incident and informed the police. The suspects now face charges of aggravated assault. The article does not mention if any hate crimes or extremism charges are being brought at this juncture.

‘MAXIMUM’ SENTENCES FOR 19 HATE KILLINGS? On December 15, a Moscow court sentenced seven men to prison for their involvement in the murder of 19 non-Slavic migrants in what prosecutors called a series of brutal hate crimes, the Associated Press (AP) reported. “The group's sentencing comes as fears about racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazi groups explode [in] Russia,” the AP noted.

Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova contended that the court sentenced the group's leaders, Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, to 10 years--the maximum possible term as they were minors at the time they committed the crimes. Another man was sentenced to 20 years, and four others to six to 12 years.

Prosecutors charged that the group of young men picked out Central Asians, Caucasians, and other non-Slavs having dark skin or Asian features, attacking them with hammers and other weapons on the streets and in pedestrian tunnels. The group videotaped many of its attacks and posted the clips online. Most of the defendants stood handcuffed in a glass courtroom cage and showed little emotion when the sentences were read; one smiled and another made an obscene gesture to TV cameras.

Defense lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky said the killings reflect the state of ethnic relations in Russian society. "I hope that people will draw the right conclusions from this verdict: that punitive measures should be combined with educational measures," Agranovsky commented.

LIGHT SENTENCES FOR MURDERING UZBEK IN ST. PETERSBURG. The city court of St. Petersburg sentenced four neo-Nazis to prison for murdering a 26-year-old Uzbek citizen, according to a December 9 report by the web site The defendants, whose ages range from 17 to 20, stabbed their victim to death at a suburban train station in November 2007. The court found one of the defendants guilty of murder motivated by ethnic hatred. Police established that the defendants belonged to a neo-Nazi group after finding extremist literature in their apartments and discovering that two of the youngest among them had neo-Nazi tattoos. The court was lenient in its sentencing, handing down one suspended sentence, one four and a half year sentence (but apparently only because the defendant had a criminal record), as well as a five year and two and a half year sentence to the two defendants who are underaged.

MOSCOW COURT ACQUITS FAR-RIGHT LEADER. A court in Moscow acquitted the head of Russia's leading far-right group linked to racist violence, according to a December 11 report by the web site. The Kuntsevo District Court found Aleksandr Belov, director of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), innocent of organizing an unsanctioned meeting. Although a court-appointed expert found that Belov’s speech at the rally "called for hostile action" against Jews and people from Central Asia and the Caucasus, he did not face hate speech charges.

According to another item posted on the same day, DPNI members held an anti-migrant rally in Nizhny Novgorod and called for mass deportations.

OPPOSITION RALLY DISRUPTED--BUT NEO-NAZIS PERMITTED TO MARCH. Moscow police detained up to 100 members of the non-violent political opposition movement “Other Russia,” according to a December 14 report by the "New York Times." The group, led by former chess champion Gary Kasparov, had been granted permission to march in an isolated part of the city and angered the police by attempting to march in the downtown area during celebrations of Constitution Day. However, this time there was no mass police violence against the marchers, unlike on previous occasions in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod.

At the same time, Moscow city officials gave permission to the neo-Nazi Slavic Union (abbreviated "SS" in Russian) and the far-right Movement Against Illegal Migration to march in the center of town, despite the laws against extremism and public incitement of ethnic hatred. According to a December 12 report by the Sova Center for Information and Analysis, up to 400 people participated in that rally and some of them extended their arms in Nazi salutes. Others screamed far-right slogans such as "Glory to Russia!" and "Russians forward!" Except for checking the documents of a few of the marchers, the police stood by while the law was brazenly flouted.

United Russia's youth movement, the Young Guards, was also granted permission to march. That organization has recently begun holding anti-migrant demonstrations in what observers have interpreted as part of a Kremlin strategy to exploit nationalist sentiment in order to deflect growing public discontent in the wake of the global financial crisis.

KREMLIN ATTEMPT TO DEFINE TREASON RAISES HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS. Human rights activists in Russia are expressing concern over proposed amendments to the Criminal Code defining "espionage" and "state treason," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on December 16. The amendments were proposed for discussion in the State Duma on December 12 but Duma deputies have refused to comment on the amendments.

Moscow Helsinki Group chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva told RFE/RL on December 15 that the amendments would create an all-encompassing definition that could put in jail as a traitor anyone who visits a foreign country or speaks to a foreigner. Moscow-based lawyer Yury Shmidt warned that the proposed amendments would lead to the abuse human rights and freedoms.

FSB OFFICIAL DETAINS ACTIVIST, CALLS ‘MEMORIAL’ A JEWISH ORGANIZATION. Security officials in Moscow interrogated an activist working for “Memorial,” a leading Russian human rights organization, which one interrogator characterized erroneously and pejoratively as a "Jewish organization," according to a report by “Memorial.” According to the report, on December 12, Bakhrom Khamroev, an ethnic Uzbek who works for “Memorial” in Moscow, was detained. Perhaps only coincidentally, Khamroev had just given an interview to a Dutch reporter about the persecution of Muslims in Russia. Two security officers, at least one of them from the FSB (an heir to the KGB), took him and a Dagestani acquaintance to a police station. There another FSB officer in plain clothes interrogated Khamroev, called "Memorial" a "Jewish organization," and threatened him that if he reported his detention, "no Jews will be able to help you" and that security officials will stuff him in the trunk of a car and take him off somewhere, presumably to be killed. The FSB officer also defamed Tajiks and Uzbeks, accusing them of committing 90% of the crimes in Moscow and opining that there were too many "guys with beards" (a reference to devout Muslims) in Russia. These Muslims, the officer reportedly said, look loyal on the outside but can set a terrorist bomb at any time. A few hours later, Khamroev and his acquaintance were released.

UCSJ EXPRESSES SOLIDARITY WITH MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP. On December 9, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union sent an open letter to Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group's (MHG) and UCSJ's long-time partner in the struggle for democracy and human rights. The letter was motivated by MHG's refusal to participate in the third Eastern European Regional Congress of NGOs that took place in Penza, Russia, on December 5-7. The Congress was run under the aegis of the Council of Europe, together with the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament) and was characterized by non-transparent procedures that appeared designed to block the participation of many independent NGOs. Incredibly, the organizers of the Congress refused to include several local NGOS in Penza. Instead, government-controlled NGOs (also known as GONGOs) dominated the proceedings.

"Regretfully, the Department of NGOs of the Council of Europe submitted to new rules that were proposed to them by Russian officials and the GONGOs they control, rather than insisting on running the Congress under initially approved procedures that were drawn up with the input of independent Russian NGOs," said Leonid Stonov, UCSJ's international director of human rights bureaus. "We are indignant at the Council of Europe's capitulation to the government's demands, which were unprecedented and turned what could have been a useful forum for discussing crucially important human rights issues into yet another ersatz event so characteristic of the era of 'sovereign democracy.'" UCSJ also expressed support for the MHG and other independent NGOs in Russia that are currently facing a vicious media slander campaign.

RABBIS JOIN IN MOURNING ORTHODOX PATRIARCH. A prominent American rabbi joined Russian Jewish leaders in paying respects to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on December 11. At the request of Russian church officials, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the head of New York's Park East Synagogue and a religious freedom NGO, attended Patriarch Alexy II's funeral on December 9. President Dmitry Medvedev had declared a national day of mourning.

In 1991, the JTA noted, “Schneier invited Alexy II to New York to speak to a group of rabbis, where he reached out and called them brothers while promising to fight antisemitism in Russia. The speech was highly controversial among church leaders and followers at the time.” The JTA item quoted a statement by Schneier to the effect that Alexy II "served as the ethical pulse of the religious community in the former Soviet Union under a regime that neither welcomed nor tolerated people of faith and the leaders of organized religion.”

Russia's two chief rabbis also sent condolences. State television carried images of a prayer by Russia's head Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar. Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, the head Orthodox rabbi in Russia, said that Alexy’s death had "touched the hearts of all citizens of Russian, no matter their faith or nationality."

COUNTERING KRISTALLNACHT. In 2008, the “Kristallnacht—Never Again” awareness week focused on the choice each person can make to combat xenophobia, neo-Nazism, and antisemitism, according to the report by the organizers of the annual event: the Youth Network Against Racism and Intolerance, the International Youth Human Rights Movement, the Young Europe International Network, and the International Coalition Against Hate. Participants went beyond discussing Nazi crimes and the youth resistance movements of the 1930s and 1940s. The topic debated during film festivals, round-table discussions, memorial meetings, and inter-cultural dialogues in the Russian-language space of Eastern Europe and Central Asia focused on the individual’s responsibility to counter the rising wave of hate crimes and other manifestations of neo-Nazism. This year more than 40 initiative groups participated in 17 Russian, 8 Ukrainian, and 3 Belarusian regions, as well as in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Poland—more than on the previous four Kristallnacht awareness weeks.

* * * QUOTE OF THE WEEK, HATE’S DEEP ROOTS * * * “From my school years I have hated people from the Caucasus who come to Moscow, form ties, and start to oppress Russians,” Artur Ryno was quoted as telling the court that convicted him for leading a group that murdered 19 non-Slavic migrants.

Two Surprising Answers

1. ITALIAN ‘POST-FASCIST’ LEADER CONDEMNS ANTISEMITIC LAW OF 1938. On December 16, the speaker of Italy’s parliament, Gianfranco Fini, sharply criticized the Catholic Church and Italians in general for their silence when Fascist Italy adopted antisemitic race laws in 1938, the local news agency ANSA reported. Fini, who began his political career in the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), told a conference marking the 70th anniversary of the laws: “Fascist ideology alone is not enough to explain these infamous racial laws and one must ask oneself why Italian society as a whole did not stand up against the anti-Jewish legislation. And the same goes--and it pains me to say this--for the Catholic Church.” Fini characterized the race laws as representing “one of this country’s darkest moments.” ANSA pointed out that the 1938 “laws for the protection of the Italian race” were drawn up along the lines of the antisemitic laws passed earlier in Nazi Germany and were in part responsible for more than 7,000 Italian Jews being killed in Nazi death camps.

Although there has been no official Church reaction to Fini`s statement, Father Giovanni Sale from the Jesuit magazine “Civilta` Cattolica” told ANSA that Fini’s observations were “disconcerting.” Fini, Sale added acerbically, “does not know a page of this nation’s history which saw [Benito] Mussolini and Pope Pius XI on opposing sides... Or perhaps he is seeking to divert responsibilities which have something to do with his own past, even if not a recent one.”

Amos Luzzatto, former president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, warmly welcomed Fini`s statement: “This was important not only because it came from the third-highest official of the state, but because it also recalled how at the time the Church took no official position against the Shoah.”

ANSA noted that “after rising to the top of the MSI, Fini, 56, was responsible for cutting the party`s Fascist roots and moving it into the conservative political mainstream as the National Alliance, which he first defined as a ‘post-Fascist’ party and later as a right-wing, pro-democracy party. Fini`s condemnation of Fascism`s antisemitic policies were among the reasons which led hard-right elements to break away from the party.”

Fini, who once claimed that dictator Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the 20th century, also told the conference that every effort should be made to ensure that Italy “unanimously condemns these obscene and tragic pages of our past.”

2. RUSSIAN PENTECOSTAL CHURCH ATTACKED TWICE; NO PROSECUTION. A strange case of two attacks on a church followed by no trial was reported by Forum 18 News Service on December 9.

Several of the young men who attacked the Living Word Pentecostal Church in Kuznetsk (some 370 miles southeast of Moscow, in the Penza Region) twice in April 2008--the same month a church elsewhere in the region received death threats--have been identified and have admitted their guilt. During the attacks, slogans such as "Sectarians are everywhere!" and "You must be destroyed!" were shouted, parishioners were threatened with a pistol, the pastor was beaten up, threats were made to murder him, and a threat of an arson attack on the church was articulated. The attackers also attempted to intimidate the congregation not to contact the police.

Noting that the attack bore the hallmarks of extremism during the course of three hearings at a Kuznetsk administrative court in May, initially the judge ordered the opening of a criminal case, Pastor Dmitry Shugurov told Forum 18. But after the attackers’ leader Oleg Sumarukov made a public apology and paid 40,000 rubles (about $1,400) in moral damages and court fees, Living Word Church decided to forgive him and withdraw its complaint, the pastor added. The church agreed with the advice of its lawyer, Anatoli Pchelintsev of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, not to "create a fuss," the pastor explained. "As we have to live here, it's best to have good relations with the local authorities."

The criminal case was closed. There have been no attacks on the church since, and local police "even visit from time to time to check we're OK," a Pentecostal told Forum 18.

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Copyright (c) 2008. UCSJ. All rights reserved.

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