Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Moscow Times
November 13, 2001
Fighting Against Far Right
By Boris Kagarlitsky

The recent pogrom organized by neo-fascists in Tsaritsyno had at least one positive consequence: Politicians and the media started to discuss the far-right threat. The Russian establishment has talked about Russian fascism quite frequently in the past but has always reduced the problem to anti-Semitism.

In particular, media interest was roused by the anti-Semitic inclinations of the Communist Party leadership. As a result, a lot has been said and written about fascism, but all in a rather superficial manner.

In fact, the extreme right in Russia today is first and foremost anti-Caucasian rather than anti-Semitic. This is not to say that one should deduce that those running rascist organizations have suddenly been overcome with sympathy for Jewish people. They have simply changed their priorities.

Muslims, or so-called chyorny, are enemy No. 1. And to give them their due, Russian skinheads are perfectly in step with their Western counterparts: In Germany, the pogroms of recent years have also been targeted against Muslims rather than Jews.

In Western publications, information appeared that Moscow skinheads had originally planned to head for Tverskaya Ulitsa and beat up the anti-globalists, but when it turned out that there were no anti-globalists to beat up they changed their plans and headed for Tsaritsyno. This version, however, does not seem entirely convincing, as the pogrom in Tsaritsyno was well organized and must have been planned well in advance.

There is a certain symbolism in what happened. The police were out in force on Tverskaya to protect expensive shopwindows from leftwing radicals, who did not exist in reality. At the same time on the other side of the city, rightwing extremists were smashing people up unimpeded.

Both city and federal authorities had to vindicate themselves. It was not simply a matter of the powerlessness of the law enforcement agencies but also that the authorities' own propaganda had prepared the ground for the pogroms. The police for some years now have been doing all they can to terrorize "persons of Caucasian nationality" on the streets -- blatantly trying to demonstrate to us all that they are second-class people and undesirable elements in Moscow.

The image of the Muslim terrorist and the Caucasian bandit has been systematically cultivated and fostered by the mass media. We may remember that the president himself made an appeal not to stand upon ceremony with his very public promise to "wipe them out in the outhouse." Where is the presumption of innocence? Where are the equal rights for all citizens?

After the Tsaritsyno pogrom, the authorities became somewhat more guarded in expressing themselves. Also, the public was deluged by statements about how racism and nationalism represent a threat for Russia, facilitating the country's disintegration. This is, of course, true. However, the question that enters my mind is: If they were not threats to state unity, would it then be all right to be a racist or anti-Semite?

Fascism has not only ideological but also social roots. Those involved in the pogroms were mainly from poor suburbs. They are young people from low-income families with dismal prospects. These are people whom the widely publicized economic growth of the past couple of years has passed by.

These people are embittered and acutely feel their low social position, but unlike trade-union activists or leftwing organizations, they do not feel any strong group affiliation and have a very unclear understanding of their own interests.

While the better educated leftwing radicals channel their anger against the system as a whole, these youths need a specific and visible embodiment of evil. Traders of foreign extraction turn out to be the ideal target.

The next stage is that far right groups start to carry out specific orders, attacking leftwing organizations, trade union activists, liberal journalists etc. Rightwing nationalists are essentially conservative. The status quo suits them down to the ground. Discontent is mainly caused by hair color, nose-shape etc. of one's neighbor.

If the battle against right-wing extremism is to be undertaken seriously, then strengthening the police force is not the answer. Resolving social problems is.

There are only two tried and tested means of battling extremism: good employment opportunities and good-quality education accessible to all.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.

Back to the Top    Next Issue