Racism in Russia (I)

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From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 23:20:47 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Racism in Russia (I)

From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>

Original sender: Alexander Ossipov <aossipov@glasnet.ru>

Racism in Russia (I)

(From the moderator: the following essay is lengthy but very
essential. I chose to divide it and send in several pieces - sorry,
Alexander... The next part will be posted tomorrow. 

Racism in Russia: a few comments.
Alexander Ossipov
The Memorial Human Rights Centre,
programme officer
Maly Karetny per. 12, Moscow, 103051, Russia
tel 7 095 282 08 16
fax 7 095 209 57 79
e-mail: <aossipov@glasnet.ru>

I must support Eldar Zeynalov's concern about  Azeris as well as the
other dark-skin people of non-Slavic origin in Russia, who are
suffering from racism of various forms (MINELRES message of 9 May). 
Discrimination on ethnic or racial ground, racially motivated
violence, racial harassment have become every-day and nation-wide
painful problems. It seems to me, that racist violence is much more
rude, severe and widespread in Russia than in any other country of
East-Central Europe or of the former Soviet Union. I guess I should 
add some comments to Eldar's message, because the problem as it is in
Russia differs to a certain degree from a similar one in the other
post-communist countries save Western Europe and North America.
1. What is the key problem?
The problem in general is creating by the state a system of
institutions and practices, that provokes and encourages racially
motivated violence and harassment. It is usually perceived as
persecutions of 'Caucasians', people who originate from the Caucasus
and who differ by their physical type from the Russian (Slavic)
majority.  'Caucasians' significantly outnumber another groups which
also belong to 'visible minorities' (persons of Central Asian origin,
Gypsies etc.), hence 'Caucasians' in general suffering from harassment
and violence more often. Foreign nationals become victims of violence
as well as the citizens of Russia.

The problem has three basic mutually interdependent forms: a) racially
motivated violence by the police ('militsiya'): arbitrary checks of
the 'passport regime', searches of private flats, detains, extortion
of money, beatings, abuses; b) refuse of the police to protect equally
persons of different ethnic (racial) background  from criminal
offences; c) activities of extremist groups and official connivance
towards them.

The problem is actual for almost all of the regions of the country
(except for the republics of the North Caucasus), it looks the mostly
sharp in the large cities, especially in Moscow, in Moscow province,
in the Russian South (Krasnodar and Stavropol krais, Rostov oblast),
the Siberia (Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk).
2. What happened in Luzhniki on 7 May?
Though the Moscow incident of 7 May is outstanding (i.e. there have
never been any disorders on ethnic ground), it is not a clear
illustration of the problem.  The staff of the 'Memorial' Human Rights
Centre interviewed some witnesses of the events.

One important detail: the Azeris in Luzhniki as well as the other
persons of 'visible minorities' who whenever else become victims of
violence, are frightened very much and avoid giving any information to
journalists or human right activists, because they expect being
persecuted for that. Only a few persons agree to give anonymous

Luzhniki, where the incident took place is called 'a sport complex',
it is a place where several stadiums, training halls, swimming pools,
depots etc. are situated. In the early 90s Luzhniki like many other
places became a market for a small-scale wholesale trade.  The 'sport
complex' has become a joint-stock company AO 'Luzhniki' controlled by
the government of the city of Moscow. AO 'Luzhniki' lends empty space,
pavilions ('containers'), storehouses and parkings to the wholesalers
who sell small parties of cheap commodities (mostly textile and
clothes) imported from Turkey, China or Egypt to retailers, mostly
from the other regions. Market trade in Moscow provides employment for
many people not only from Russia, but Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan,
Tadjikistan as well. Azeris are a significant, but not the largest
group of the Luzhniki merchants. AO 'Luzhniki' has a  contract with a
security firm 'Garant' which provides public order within the complex.
Besides, the territory is patrolled by the staff of the police station

The merchants buy licenses for trade and pay between 1.500 and 2.300
USD in a month for a place (a 'container').  They also have to pay to
the local racketeer group. Neither 'Garant' nor police protect the
people from racket. Moreover, policemen as usual also extort small
amounts of money (a standard tariff is 50 rubles, around 8 USD per
person), the mostly popular pretext is either a disorder in
'registration of temporary sojourn' or a threat  of annulling a
registration certificate.
In April a new, still unidentified paramilitary-type group appeared in
Luzhniki. Its members, well-organised, usually dressed in black,
several times openly at a daytime severely beat 'Caucasians' -
Georgians and Azeris. The representatives of Azerbaijanian embassy
later called them 'black shirts' ('chernorubashchniki'). They did not
demand or extorted any money. The policemen always kept neutrality,
though they usually witnessed the beatings. Our vis-a-vis suggested
that the group used some premises nearby, probably they used some
sport hall as a training  base, and beating 'Caucasians' was also a
kind of 'training' for them.

On the first days of May the atmosphere in Luzhniki was strained,
because of these offences and since the administration took the money
from merchants but delayed the issue of licenses. On 7 May between 10
and 11 a.m. 5 persons belonging to that unidentified group started to
beat a young Azeri. The incident occurred near 'containers' Nos.43-45.
The attack was repulsed by the Azeris. The fight was witnessed by a
police detachment, but the policemen did not interfere. One person
from the assaulting group approached the policemen, asked for the
walkie-talkie, took it and called for support. Shortly, within 5 or 10
minutes a group of males with castets, knives and sticks came and
started to beat Azeris. At that time 25-years old Asaf Nagiyev from
Gandja was killed by a knife, some Azeris were wounded, one of them
was hospitalised, but then escaped from hospital, the other refused
from hospitalisation.  The Azeris gathered for a spontaneous meeting
and then conducted a religious ritual. Indignation of the Azeris was
so strong that later, at 3 p.m. the crowd carrying the corpse went to
Komsomolski avenue (which near Luzhniki). According to various
estimates, from 1.500 to 2.000 Azeri merchants took part in the march.
Shortly the crowd was stopped by the special police detachment (OMON)
and forcibly dispersed, many people were severely beaten, a few of
them detained but shortly released.  The authorities immediately laid
two actions on the facts of 'hooliganism' and 'organisation of mass
disorder' (Segodnya, 8.05.1998).
The following official comments of the Moscow Major Yuri Luzhkov, the
government of Moscow city and of the Moscow Head Directorate of
Internal Affairs look interesting. All the officials condemned an
'unsanctioned demonstration', promised to punish its organisers and to
prevent the similar events whenever they occur (Segodnya, 8.05.1998).
Luzkov acknowledged, that he personally had ordered to disperse Azeris
by force (ORT TV channel, 8.05.1998, 6.00. p.m.). Formally, according
to the legislation, the authorities have a right to dismiss, even
forcibly, any meeting, picket or demonstration, which is not
officially permitted.
Meanwhile, no one of the top officials said a word about the causes of
the incident, no one condemned violence or expressed regret and
condolence. On 9 of May the Moscow Head Directorate of Internal
Affairs informed, that 5 persons belonging to a criminal group from
Lipetsk, suspected of Asaf Nagiyev's murder, had been detained.

(To be continued)

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