Nationalism threatens Russia

05/ 04/ 2006

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yury Filippov.) 

Two ethnic hate crimes have caused uproar in Moscow in the last few days.
Chanting nationalist slogans, a group of youngsters assaulted Minister of
Culture of the North Caucasian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria and People's
Artist of Russia Zaur Tutov, and NTV journalist Elkhan Mirzoyev was beaten
up in the Moscow Metro. A teenager with closely cropped hair was overheard
saying why a man born in the Caucasus should not live in Moscow while a gang
attacked him. 

In Russia, 44 people were killed in ethnic hate crimes in 2004. Central
Moscow bookstores sell publications by nationalistic authors. Experts from
the Public Opinion Fund assert that 12% of those polled sympathize with
fascism. 

The recently established Public Chamber's commission on tolerance and
freedom found that 53% of the population in multi-ethnic and multi-religious
areas support the Russia-for-Russians slogan. Chechens, Gypsies and Azeris
are the "most intolerable" of all. 

There are about 3 million migrant workers from former Soviet republics,
including no less than 1 million Azeris, in the Moscow Region. 

Of course, not all of them are angels. Some migrants are inveterate
criminals, drug traffickers, murderers and thieves. But extreme
nationalists, who are becoming more active in Russia, put all migrants,
including those from the North Caucasus, into one category. 

An organization called the Party of Freedom collects its own data on ethnic
crimes, which it refers to as "exploits." Typical headings on their neo-Nazi
Web site are: "Kill one more!" and "Let's Finish Them off!" 

Chairperson of the Council of Federation Committee on Information Policy
Lyudmila Narusova said it is necessary "to sound the alarm, to create an
atmosphere of intolerance to any manifestations of xenophobia in society."
Not long ago, representatives of a number of Russian parties signed the
Anti-Fascist Act on the initiative of the pro-President Putin and centrist
party, United Russia. 

But Narusova warned that this is not enough. She is one of the initiators of
the Association of Civic Resistance to Fascism, which was recently founded
and has no newsletter or Web site. 

When Russia was in a deep political crisis several years ago, Russian
political scientist Emil Pain warned that nationalism would be growing with
the improvement of the economic situation and living standards. Today he
says even "members of government with non-Russian last names" are becoming a
target of xenophobes. 

Globalization, open borders, mass labor migration, economic requirements and
domestic democratization are making inevitable the co-existence of cultures,
ethnic groups and religions on the vast Eurasian space. On a daily basis,
they meet in the markets and on the Metro. The liberal values of the Russian
authorities are creating an open society in Russia. But the Russian liberals
have so far been unable to explain to people of different nationalities how
to live peacefully in the same place. This weakness of modern Russian
liberalism is one of the main reasons behind the explosion of nationalistic
attitudes in the country. 

Is it possible to overcome this situation soon? As it recently transpired,
even a jury - made up of common citizens - does not want or cannot protect
society from xenophobia. After a lengthy trial of the defendants involved in
the murder of nine-year old Tajik girl Khursheda Sultonova in St.
Petersburg, the jury acquitted the main culprit, having decided that the
evidence submitted by investigators did not suffice. The man who was charged
with murder got five years in prison but the Prosecutor General's Office
intends to appeal against this exceedingly mild verdict. 

In the meantime, Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov maintains that
it is not enough to toughen punishment for ethnic hate crimes in order to
reduce their number. The problem is rooted in society. "What can we do if we
are still unable to even introduce the teaching of the ABCs of religion at
school?" he said.