|SEPTEMBER – NEW OUTBREAK OF
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) –
The murder of the imam of a mosque in Kislovodsk, the slaying of an Indian
student, the robbery of a Sudanese citizen in St. Petersburg, attacks on
mosques and synagogues in a number of Russian cities on the eve of the
main Jewish and Muslim holidays… Are we witnessing another outbreak of
xenophobia in Russia, or are these actions deliberate provocations?
Let’s make one thing clear from the start – the Prosecutor’s Office
has instituted criminal proceedings in all these cases under different
sections of the penal code. In the case of the imam’s murder, legal
action is being taken under three items of the criminal code of the
Russian Federation – manslaughter, illegal bearing and storage of arms,
and resistance to the police. The main version of the story holds that the
imam was murdered for personal reasons. The investigation has just
started, and it is too early to make any statements. Nevertheless, the
Council of Muftis of Russia has qualified this tragedy as a provocation
“What happened in Kislovodsk in the late hours of September 25 – the
cruel murder of the imam at the threshold of his own house – is a link
in a chain of recent tragedies: attempts on the life and murder of Muslim
clerics in Dagestan and Chechnya, attacks on mosques and clerics in
Sergiyev Posad, Yakhroma, and Yaroslavl,” reads the statement of the
Council of Muftis.
Xenophobia concerns not only Moslems, but members of other religions, as
well as people of different races and nationalities.
Thus, human rights activists are unequivocally describing the attacks on
citizens of India and Sudan in St. Petersburg as motivated by ethnic
hatred. Deputy Director of the Sova analytical center, Galina Kozhevnikova,
links the recent murders to the stepped-up activities of radical and
nationalist groups. “This is no surprise – starting from late
September we always witness a burst of ethnic hatred,” she said. But
this is scant consolation.
The authorities have qualified the events in St. Petersburg as
“hooligan-motivated manslaughter” and “robbery”. The attack on a
mosque in Yaroslavl was attributed to hooligan motives as well. Human
rights activists believe that such a qualification of these crimes makes
offenders feel they can get away with them and misleads society, which may
decide that the problem of xenophobia is not so serious in Russia as it
This is true, but there are other trends as well. It is no longer easy to
deceive the public, and many people are associating these crimes with
xenophobia. The problem is not being hushed up. To the contrary, the media
are discussing it at length; many political and public figures consider it
their duty to express their opinion on this score; and different programs
have been suggested to eradicate ethnic hatred. The question is whether
all these measures are achieving the desired effect.
The situation is far more complicated than it seems at first sight.
Xenophobia conceals many other trends. We have to agree with
law-enforcement bodies that an attack on a man of a different skin color
does not unequivocally point to racial hatred. It may mean many other
things. The victims of assaults are not always innocent, either. Human
rights organizations closely follow all such crimes and try not to list
criminal shootouts in their ethnic hatred statistics. However, any
incidents linked to ethnic motives, directly or otherwise, do not improve
the social atmosphere, and quite often it does not matter who is right and
who is not.
“Attacks on and murders of foreign students are damaging Russia’s
international reputation and its national traditions,” said Vladimir
Slutsker, deputy chairman of the United Commission on Nationalities Policy
and Relations between the State and Religious Associations of the Russian
Russian society is infected with xenophobia, and to resolve this problem,
a whole package of measures will have to be adopted – from educational
programs to improvement of migration laws. The authorities will also have
to reduce crime and deal with many other social headaches.
For the time being, only law-enforcement and other officials are trying to
do something about the problem.
Commenting on the murder of the Indian student, officials from the
Prosecutor’s Office in St. Petersburg said that so far the motives
behind this crime are not clear, and all explanations are being
considered. It is possible that when the motives have been established,
the charge will be revised.
There is every reason to believe that this is true. In the middle of
September, a precedent was set – a new verdict was passed on Alexander
Koptsev, who was convicted of carrying out an attack in the Moscow
Synagogue in January 2006.
Last March he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. “The court believes
that Koptsev committed the crime because of ethnic and religious motives,
but he did not try to fan up hatred,” the Moscow City Court ruled. The
verdict also said that national enmity does not exist in Russian society.
The lawyers for the victim’s party did not agree with the verdict and
appealed it to the Supreme Court. The verdict was overruled, and on
September 15 the Moscow City Court found Koptsev guilty of encouraging
ethnic strife and attempted murder.
“We wanted the verdict in this case to prevent other crimes based on
ethnic and religious hatred,” commented Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berl
Lazar on the new verdict. Hopefully, this precedent will help toughen
Russian legislation on xenophobia.
Indicatively, almost simultaneously with the attacks on synagogues in
Astrakhan and Khabarovsk, Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika announced
the formation in his office of a special department to monitor ethnic
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) did not fail to
notice the attempts by the authorities to improve the situation in the
country. “The decision to establish a special department to counter
xenophobia shows that the Russian authorities are aware of possible
developments, and attach much importance to the preservation of ethnic
peace in Russia. The FJCR hopes that the investigators will focus their
attention not only on the doings of hit men but also on the activities of
those who inspire them by stirring up hatred towards people of other
religions or skin colors,” said the statement by the FJCR’s press
Hopefully, these initiatives from above will help achieve the desired
effect at the grassroots level of Russian society. Paradoxically, neither
the authorities nor the majority of Russians condone ethnic hate crimes,
but they are still being committed with surprising frequency. Religious
and ethnic communities should play a big role here – they should not
give in to provocations and should instead let the authorities do their