Neo-Nazi Skinhead Attacks Surge in Russia

Andrew Osborn, Wall Street Journal Europe, April 7, 2008

A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE in anti-immigrant attacks by neo-Nazi skinheads in Russia has led to a rare police crackdown in Moscow and a warning of vigilante justice by diaspora organizations.

Ultranationalist skinheads killed 41 people in the first three months of this year, a more than 400% increase against the same period last year, according to the Moscow-based Sova center, which monitors such attacks. The victims were nonwhite Russians, dark-skinned immigrants from former Soviet republics, and people from Asia and Africa.

Sova says the number of such racist attacks is increasing, as is the severity—evolving from simple stabbings to torture and disfigurement.

The Kremlin hasn’t been able to control the problem, and some critics say nationalist rhetoric from the government is feeding the problem, even though ultranationalist politicians have been marginalized or operate only under strict Kremlin control.

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Racism experts and officials are divided on why skinheads have cranked up the violence. One theory is that they are reacting to tougher policing; another that it is the work of infamy-hungry copycats.

Killing migrants with a knife has become a skinhead pastime, says Semyon Charny, an expert at the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights.

The attackers sometimes record their crimes on videos as proof of work done for shadowy neo-Nazi groups police believe commission the killings.

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In the past year, police have made a string of arrests, breaking up at least four gangs. In Moscow, where most of Russia’s race-related murders occur, police have begun stopping and fingerprinting skinheads in the subway. The crackdown hasn’t stopped the killing, though.

Diaspora groups have said immigrants will take the law into their own hands if the police don’t control the problem.

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The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and Sova estimate Russia is home to about 70,000 skinheads—including neo-Nazis, antifascists, and those who merely dress the part wearing heavy laceup boots, black bomber jackets and buzzcuts.

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Vladimir Pronin, Moscow’s police chief, did little to reassure diaspora groups when they met him in February to complain about the violence. In comments shown on state television, he told them to ensure migrants committed fewer crimes.

In an interview with a Russian paper the same month, Mr. Pronin blamed skinhead violence on a lack of a positive belief system and poor educational opportunities. “Teenagers have nothing to do,” he said. “They need an outlet for their aggression.”

Ultranationalists complain that Kremlin dominance of the media and politics has left their supporters with little outlet for their frustration. “Legal forums for expressing feelings have become fewer and fewer,” says Alexander Belov, head of the ultra-right Movement Against Illegal Immigration, an activist group.

He says recent parliamentary and presidential elections—where pro-Kremlin parties squeezed out most of their opponents—left many feeling disenfranchised. “Some youths feel like they have no other way of expressing their feelings.”

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Sojun Sadykov, head of Azerbaijani diaspora group Azeross, says many migrants are straining for revenge. “If it continues like this for another two or three months, there will be civil war,” he says.

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