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Monday, April 07, 2008

A Ticking Time Bomb: The Horror of Russian Racism Unbound

Paul Goble reports:

Russian skinheads are attacking non-Russians in ever increasing numbers both to intimidate the latter and to recruit additional people to their movement, thus extending “a mass fascist terror” throughout the country, according to the chief editor of Moscow’s Novaya gazeta. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on Wednesday, Dmitry Muratov pointed out that over the last three months “fascists [in the Russian Federation] have killed 38 people and wounded 113 more,” and they have advertised what they have done in order to scare some and “recruit” others. Indeed, he warned, what is taking place in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian Federation must be described as “a recruitment campaign for a fascist army.”

But as disturbing as that development is, Muratov said, even more worrisome is the failure of the Russian government and especially the FSB to combat it. “Where is the FSB?” the editor asked rhetorically. Can anyone really believe that its officials “do not know about the massive actions” of the last month? Others, including the SOVA Analytic Center whose documentation of these attacks Novaya gazeta has published, have issued similar warnings. But Muratov’s comment is particularly important because he describes the way the “fascists” are now seeking to frighten off journalists who try to cover this wave of violence. After his paper carried an article at the end of last month on skinhead attacks , its author, journalist Valery Shiryayev, received a series of threats. Listen, he was told, “you are a puppet,” working for other unspecified forces. “You do not deserve to live,” the hate messages continued. “Death to the kikes, glory to Russia. Russia for the Russians. Success to all who struggle. Zieg Heil!” Muratov said that his newspaper had reported all this to the authorities, including the FSB, which has primary responsibility for responding to such attacks.

Unfortunately, he said, that agency has done little or nothing to stop what is going on, raising questions as to whether the FSB is doing its job, penetrating such fascist groups or whether at least some of its officers view these groups as “socially close” to the intelligence service, its virtual allies.

Given both the attacks on minorities and the threats journalists who cover them have received, Muratov was asked by his host whether he had ever considered seeking political asylum abroad, much as Elena Tregubova, the author of an insider’s account on the Kremlin, received this week in Great Britain. The Novaya gazeta editor responded that he had never considered this possibility for himself. “That would be “impossible. We will continue to work here.” But he did make several comments about the Tregubova case that highlight just how bad things now are in Russia and how implicated the Russian elite is in this deterioration. Muratov said that some “among the so-called Russian elite” will be pleased, not only because Tregubova won’t be around to describe them any more but also because her arrival in London will send property prices there down since it has become “dangerous” for Russians to live next to someone with “principled views who does not conceal them.” While Tregubova’s desire for asylum is completely understandable given the nature of the Putin regime, Muratov’s continuing effort to combat this rising tide of fascism in the Russian Federation is not only noble but calls out for the kind of support from the West that he and others like him often do not get. And that is all the more so because his comments about the threats his journalist has received show that he understands, as Pastor Niemuller did in Nazi Germany, that attacks on “people from the Caucasus” can lead to attacks against Jews and against Russians who are prepared to speak out against such viciousness.

It's a powder keg waiting to explode. He continues:

One in every four Moscow residents now is an illegal immigrant, according to the chairman of the city’s legislative assembly, although Vladimir Platonov acknowledges that neither he nor anyone else knows the exact figure which various experts say is between one and three million people. During a program on Ekho Moskvy on Tuesday, Platonov said both the number of illegal immigrants in his city and the lack of reliable statistics about them were unacceptable, and he called for new laws to deal with the situation in order to protect the rights of those living in the capital legally. His remarks came as the time limit for one of measures the city has tried to deal with the situation ran out. At the end of February, Moscow officials had announced that illegal migrants had a month to come “out of the shadow” by paying 2,000 rubles (80 U.S. dollars) for registration.

For three reasons, only a few hundred took advantage of this special offer. First, many do not want to pay the taxes that they would face if they were legal. Second, their employers are happy to keep them in an illegal status so they can pay them less. And third, many of them know that only one-third of Moscow’s legal immigrants have jobs. In addition to this program, the city government has taken several other steps. It has succeeded in having its quota for new immigrants cut from 500,000 last year to only 250,000 in 2008, a dramatic reduction that may give the authorities a chance to get a handle on illegal immigrants. Moreover, the city has developed special plastic cards for legal immigrants and required that employers make sure that they hire only those who can show these or other evidence of legal residence. And the authorities have increased the number of militia roundups of illegals.

But despite those efforts and Platonov’s call for even more draconian legislation, many Russian commentators and groups argue that the city is not doing enough to cope with an influx that they view not only as unacceptable but as a direct threat to their way of life. Aleksandr Belov, the coordinator of the openly racist Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), said that Platonov’s efforts would do little or nothing to solve the problems he said illegal immigrants pose. His solution? A crackdown on officials who take bribes in order to “close their eyes” to the presence of illegal immigrants. Belov has a point: Ever since Mayor Yuri Luzhkov issued his infamous directive in October 1993 to expel from the city of Moscow “persons of Caucasus nationality,” many militiamen in the Russian capital have routinely supplemented their income by extorting money from non-Russian groups. Other commentators, like Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, argue that there is no single magic bullet that will end the problem. Instead, they say, the city and the federal government must combine a variety of strategies if they are to rein in what even Platonov sees as a program now out of control.

It is not clear that officials at any level are ready to do that, and consequently, the problems related to illegal immigration, including increasingly frequent and violent clashes between them and Russian skinheads, seem certain to continue and possibly even grow worse.
And one reason for such a conclusion is that Moscow is no longer the only magnet for such illegal immigrants. In St. Petersburg, according to a recent report, 40 percent of the guest workers are illegal, a figure that may be even higher than their share in the Russian capital.


Anonymous said...

Why do you think that Russian (and even non-Russian) in Russia do not suffer from non-Russian intolerance and criminality?

Concerned Citizen said...

Where did she (or anyone else) say that?