The Caucasus Boomerang

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part B (Russia)
October 14, 2004, Thursday


SOURCE: Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Dipkurier, No. 12 (75), October 2004, pp.
1, 11

Anatoly Gordienko, Roman Ukolov

It’s a trend: waves of retaliatory violence sweep Russia in the
wake of every major terrorist act. There is another trend as well:
this anger is usually directed against people from the Caucasus. The
atrocity in St. Petersburg, where skinheads murdered a Tajik girl, is
probably the only exception. Usually, however, it is people from the
Caucasus who become the target. In the wake of the February bombing
in the Moscow metro, skinheads smashed up several stores belonging
to people from the Caucasus and battered a dozen newcomers. There
were many more attacks like that after the Rizhskaya explosion and
the tragedy in Beslan. Just about everyone – Armenians, Azerbaijanis,
Georgians – were attacked. Dzhamshid Amirov of Azerbaijan, a lawyer
with Mosyurtsentr, was murdered in Moscow. Forensic experts say
that Amirov was repeatedly stabbed. Moreover, Russian provinces are
following in the wake of Moscow skinheads and bigots. Several cafes
owned by Armenians and Azerbaijanis were smashed up in Yekaterinburg.
One was killed, two hospitalized. A teenage gang assaulted and
battered an Azerbaijan in Surgut on September 23. Shortly before
that, local skinheads attacked six people from the Caucasus. Three
died in the fight, and three were injured. Blood is usually shed
in such incidents, but not necessarily. Three summer cafes burned
down at Ostankino Park in Moscow not long ago. Specialists say it
was arson. The owners of the cafes, who are from Azerbaijan, deny
that the underworld was involved. Witnesses saw groups of aggressive
youths in the vicinity shortly before the incident.

Similar incidents took place in Uglich, Krasnoarmeisk, and some other
Russian cities and towns where existence of skinheads had never
even been suspected. The incident in Moscow metro in September is
particularly revealing. Youths aged 16 to 20 entered a train carriage
and assaulted a Tajik, an Azerbaijan, and an Armenian – screaming
“This is for the terrorist attacks!” Some of the assailants were
detained, criminal charges were laid. How many similar incidents have
never made it to public awareness is anyone’s guess.

According to official data, crime police divisions of the Interior
Ministry throughout Russia have recorded 398 extremist groups,
totalling about 19,500 members. One hundred and nineteen of them
call themselves skinheads. Ethnic-related crimes are something law
enforcement agencies prefer to avoid. In fact, even the existence of
skinhead gangs was denied until recently. Off the record, however,
police admit the gravity of the problem.

An officer of the criminal police division of the Moscow Municipal
Directorate of Internal Affairs said, “An extremist or any other
organization exists when it has the boss, structure, charter, tasks,
and objectives. An organization like that may be outlawed, and its
leaders may find themselves facing charges. Otherwise, an organization
like that is referred to as “men from District 3” and looking for
leaders and ideologists there is a waste of time – there are only
implementators. Whenever there is no organization, there are but
“individuals” who express their protest against something in so ugly
a manner. Why they choose this particular form of protest is not a
question to us. The Criminal Code doesn’t say a word about shaven
heads. We cannot jail a person for shaving his head, can we?”

Invocation of Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement of
ethnic hatred) is another problem. More often than not skinheads or
whatever they call themselves are tried under articles pertaining
to hooliganism.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama Information and
Surveys Center, says that ethnic groups as such do not fight one
another – only extremist gangs do. “Unfortunately, these gangs are
growing. According to various estimates, 40-50% of Russian citizens
are affected by xenophobia to some degree,” Pribylovsky said. Its
forms also vary. For example, the children of Moscow-based Chechens
graduate from universities and colleges but cannot find employment.
Some companies and organizations even request candidates to indicate
their ethnic origin in their job applications.

An opinion poll conducted in 128 Russian cities and towns, even before
the Rizhskaya bombing, shows that 46% of respondents support the idea
of tough restrictions on people from the Caucasus. In the wake of the
tragedy in Beslan, Yuri Popov, a member of the Moscow legislature,
proposed closing the city to people from “certain regions.” In fact,
statistics show that only 51% of crimes in Moscow are committed by
native Muscovites.

Raids against “foreigners” (particularly people from the Caucasus)
have become commonplace, something expected after every event related
– even remotely – to the Caucasus. Unfortunately, this intolerance
may backfire and generate aggression against the Russians in the
Caucasus. Raids under the slogan “Russia for Russians” breed extremism
in national republics and sovereign countries.

Eldar Kuliyev, adviser to the president of the Congress of Russian
Azerbaijanis, says there are about 200,000 ethnic Russians living
in Azerbaijan. “They are not bothered,” Kuliyev said. “Azerbaijan
cherishes the Russian language. Not a single Russian school was
closed there when Azerbaijan became a sovereign state. What is
happening here, in Russia, is unfortunately a sword that cuts two
ways. In every country there are people who don’t care about who
is truly to blame – people who act emotionally, on the spur of the
moment. Appropriate responses cannot be ruled out, particularly if
these processes continue in Russia gaining in scale.”

Translated by A. Ignatkin