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Russia Profile
April 24, 2008
Monitoring Racism
The Fastest Growing Number of Racial Intolerance Victims Are From Central Asian States

By Dmitry Babich

The Moscow Bureau of Human Rights (MBHR), a Russian NGO monitoring and combating racist activity in the country recently published disturbing statistics of racist attacks that took place in the first four months of 2008. The group registered “no less” than 93 racially motivated assaults, which led to the deaths of “no less” than 54 people. “No less” than 113 people were injured. The organization uses the term “no less” since the police, from whom the data is collected, tends to deny the existence of racial motives behind attacks, ascribing them to “banal” hooliganism or “trivial” street violence. Thus many cases reported by the police need to be double-checked by anti-racist groups.

Alexander Brod, the head of MBHR, noted that in recent months, the natives of Central Asia became the “main target” of racist violence, because migrant workers from Central Asian countries come to Russian cities in ever increasing numbers, making up the backbone of a badly needed workforce in the least prestigious spheres of the cities’ economies - street cleaning, loading, and construction. It is sadly ironic that migrants from Kyrgyzstan, the most "pro-Russian" of post-Soviet states where Russian language has an official status, made up the biggest group of victims of racial violence in 2008.

"The Kyrgyz hold the sad leadership among targeted groups, with nine people killed between January and April 2008," Brod said. "They are followed by Uzbeks (nine dead), Tajiks (six dead), Azeris (six dead) and Russians (five dead)."

MBHR ascribes the growing level of violence to rampant extremist activity on the Internet and in some print media, the plummeting standards of education among some of Russia's youth, and the absence of governmental action aimed at combating racial attacks and rhetoric. The dearth of government-funded race education programs is an especially lamentable phenomenon. In 2005, the “Tolerantsnost” school program, aimed at fostering tolerance for other ethnic groups and different lifestyles among Russian high school students, was curtailed due to the lack of funds. Sadly, many Russian liberals even supported cutting back the program, saying that it was a "waste of tax payers' money." Brod explains this attitude by Russian liberal intelligentsia’s inherent mistrust of any government activity. In his and his colleagues’ opinion, cooperation with the government is necessary, since it is the only way to curb racial violence by legal means.

Brod welcomed the recent creation of a special task force on racism, which includes officials from the police, the prosecutor's office, several other governmental bodies and human rights groups. "We hope that this task force will be a meeting place for all people willing to fight racism," Brod said.

"I would not say that the government consists of xenophobes who support racist violence in order to solve their political problems, as you often read in the liberal Russian media," said Viktor Dashevsky, deputy head of the Moscow Anti-Fascist Center, a small NGO specializing in recording public racist statements and attempting to bring their authors to justice. "The government just tends to underestimate the scope of the problem, thinking that it involves only marginal groups of the country's population. So, the government does not make fighting racism a priority, it does not see racists as a real threat."

This policy is seen as myopic by many experts, who point out that racists already feel strong enough to challenge the government.

Lots of pseudo-Orthodox Christian Internet sites and publications write about [the new President Dmitry] Medvedev's supposedly Jewish origin," said Yuri Tabak, an author of two books on racist mass media in Russia. "The leader of the so called ‘skinhead movement’ and the editor in chief of the Ya Russkyi (I Am Russian) newspaper [Vladimir] Ivanov-Sukharevsky openly called Putin's government ‘pederastic’ at a meeting in the center of Moscow, and vowed to remove it from power. But the authorities seem to be largely unperturbed by these actions."

Sergei Ryakhovsky, the leader of Russia's Pentacostal Christian community and a member of the state-supported Public Chamber, said that not only the pseudo-Orthodox, but also some quite official Orthodox communities often use xenophobic and especially anti-Semitic rhetoric.

"I know that the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is very sad about it. Very often the patriarchate issues statements denouncing the sale of anti-Semitic literature at churches, stressing that these books were not approved for sale by the local bishops," Ryakhovsky said. "But this is not enough. Sooner or later, a special order of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church denouncing racism and intolerance of other beliefs will need to be adopted."