Racism in Russia (III)

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Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 08:31:45 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Racism in Russia (III)

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

Racism in Russia (III)

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>


5. The federalism
Eldar Zeynalov is completely right when he notes regional politics as
a factor that strengthen racism in the country. First, authorities of
many regions consider their domains as 'states within a state',
second, regionalist rhetoric, the goals of 'regional interests' which
are above the law, usually bear a significant xenophobic element. The
clearest examples are the city of Moscow and Krasnodar territory. The
Russian case is a good illustration that federalism is a deadlock,
that it is at least incompatible with the rule of law. It is not more
than a way for regional bosses to ignore the federal legislation when
the central government has no instruments of enforcement except for

6. Is it a deliberate racist politics conducted by the state?
A proportion between spontaneous and organised processes in this area
is a special and very complicated issue. Of course, we do not have any
documentary evidence of a intentional discriminatory strategy, adopted
and implemented by the federal authorities and by the government of
Moscow. Meanwhile, there are a number of indirect proofs, that enable
us to talk about such kind of policies guided from the administrative

First, an obvious nation-wide practice of racially-biased arbitrary
police checks and stops could not exist without a silent approve from
above. It is likely, that officials of higher ranks receive a share of
illegal income of bribes and confiscated valuables. Anyway, officials
from the Ministry of the Interior, staff of the Prosecutor-General
regional administrations never the admit existence of the problem
itself.  No one of them tried to do anything to alter the existing
Second, special campaigns for 'check of passport regime' in Moscow 
are being conducted from time to time in addition to the every-day
random detains. Usually they are well-organised and aimed at a certain
ethnic group. The problem as it is described was not very important in
Moscow until 1993. In February 1993 there was a first raid against
Chechens, who stayed at the hotels and private flats. In October 1993
during martial law around 9.000 persons, mostly 'Caucasians', were
deported from Moscow.

February 1996 - a raid against Dagestanians. July-August 1996 - a
series of raids against Azeris conducted by the special police
detachment (OMON) and local Directorates for Combat against Organised
Crime (UOP) at 4 markets, more than 150 men were severe beaten and
detained, some of them had their wares arbitrary confiscated.  June
1997 - a total hunt against Georgian refugees. November-December 1997
- mass 'checks', detains and beatings of the Chechen and Ingush
students in several hostels of Moscow, conducted by OMON and UOP. 
According to our estimates, deliberate initiative of this type comes
from the government of Moscow city and the Moscow Directorate of
Internal Affairs.

Third,  the federal officials many times demonstrated more than
tolerant attitude towards overt discriminatory practices, another
human rights violations and hate speech by authorities of the certain
regions. Relations between the Russian government and the
administration of Krasnodar territory is the mostly clear example.  It
is no doubts that at least the Ministry of Internal Affairs and
Ministry of Regional and Nationalities Policies are significantly
infected with racism.
7. Public opinion and mass-media.
Public opinion polls demonstrate, that the level of xenophobia and
intolerance in Russia has stabilised, but it is much higher than in
the early 90s.  According to the data of the All-Russian Centre for
Public Opinion (VTsIOM),  in 1997 35% of the population expressed
negative attitude towards Azeris, 50% - Chechens, 44%  - Roma
(nation-wide sample of 2.400 respondents of the age older than 16; the
source: Itogi, 12.05.1998, p.68).

The issues of racial discrimination and racist violence are rarely
discussed in the mass-media.  Papers and TV as well as the official
comments, from my point of view, contribute much to the growth of
intolerance and indirectly encourage violence.  A standard approach is
a 'objective' view like follows: on the one hand, violence is not
good, on the other, it is spontaneous, objective and inevitable
'ethnic conflict', and 'Caucasians' should blame themselves to a
certain degree.

For example, 'Moskovski Komsomolets', one of the mostly popular papers
in Russia, put forward and defended the version, that the Luzhniki
incident was a usual conflict between Azeri and Russian retailers (MK,
8.05.1998). On 7 May at 22.00. p.m. the NTV newsprogramme gave an
information about the Luzhniki events and then as a comment
statistical data on the number of crimes committed by Azeris in Moscow
within a certain period. 'Komsomolskaya Pravda', one of the mostly
influential nation-wide newspapers, devoted 1/2 of a page in the issue
of 12 May to the Luzhniki events. Only 1/3 of this material was
related to the incident itself, the rest were speculations about the
Azeri diaspora in Russia, its economic weight and the respective
threats to Russians.

Mass media and officials construct the images of consolidated
corporate or mafia-type 'ethnic communities' or 'diasporas', which
include and support criminal groups as their integral part. Russia is
a good illustration, that any public debates based on an 'organist'
approach towards ethnic groups and on the notion of group rights is a
very fertile soil for racism: collective responsibility is a reverse
side of the collective rights.

The problems of xenophobia, police violence, right-wing extremism
exist in many countries. They are unlikely to be easily resolved. The
situation in Russia differs to a certain degree from that in the
western European countries, first, by its scale and acuteness, second,
by the fact, that there is some ground for political solutions.
Theoretically, we can fight for the institution of 'registration by
the place of sojourn', the basic provocative factor for police
violence and corruption, to be abandoned, though, alterations in the
respective federal law is close to impossible.

Theoretically, according to the Constitution the Presidency and the
federal government can make the federal bodies in the regions (police,
migration services) acknowledge and implement only federal legislation
and not regional regulations in case of collision between them. At
least, if the government wants to demonstrate its willingness to fight
against nationalist extremism, it could dismiss or change the status
of the so called Cossack organisations which are actually in a
semi-official position and which are in charge of many violent crimes
against minorities in the southern regions of the country.
In this respect any pressure from abroad made by diplomats or NGOs
would be very useful. Reaction of the foreign embassies in Moscow to
the recent racist attacks was a very important factor which caused
official reaction and attracted public opinion to the problem.

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