On Sunday some 600 people took to the streets of St Petersburg to demonstrate against racism in Russia. Staged for the fifth consecutive year, the “March Against Hatred” was held partly to honour the memory of Nikolai Girenko.
Girenko was one of Russia’s leading experts on ethnology and a committed anti-racist. He often testified as an expert witness on racism and discrimination in trials concerning racially motivated attacks. Four years ago he was murdered. On 19 June 2004 he went to answer the door at his home and was killed by shots fired through his front door as he approached. Before his murder neo-Nazi groups had passed a “death sentence” on him and posted it on the internet.
Girenko is only one of many people in Russia killed by members of racist groups in Russia in recent years. According to the Russian non-governmental organisation SOVA, which monitors xenophobia and racism in the country, 68 people died and 262 were injured in racially motivated attacks in Russia in the first eight months of this year alone.
These groups are now extremely active. In August last year, for example, a video, which showed the beheading of a man from Tajikistan and the shooting of a man from the Caucasus republic of Dagestan, was posted on several extremists’ websites. Analysts, who had previously seen many hoax videos of supposed murders of foreigners by right-wing extremists, believed that this particularly gruesome video was genuine.
Right-wing extremists are also exploiting the current economic downturn and rising unemployment in Russia. In a classic neo-fascist move, “immigrants” are increasingly being blamed for these socio-economic ills. One of the March Against Hatred’s organisers Alexander Vinnikov has warned that “Pro-Kremlin youth organisations like “Nashi” and the Movement Against Illegal Migration have demanded the deportation of all foreign workers.”
Militarism and nationalism are also part of the mix. According to Irina Aksenova, from the Youth Human Rights Movement, a human rights organisation from the western Russian city of Voronezh, “Every-day xenophobia” is, she says, already “high” in Russia but the recent conflict with Georgia only intensified the mood. “It’s given right-wing groups the opportunity to present their extremist views as mainstream opinion.”
Racism, xenophobia and discrimination are present in virtually every country in the world, but Russia is now suffering an epidemic of racially motivated attacks, including murders. Foreigners who don’t “look European”, Russian citizens who don’t seem typically “Russian” (including Chechens), and young Russians who dress unconventionally are at serious risk of assault on Russian streets. Yet there have been only a very small number of prosecutions that have included racial hatred or enmity as a motivating factor.
As with Girenko, anti-racism campaigners in Russia have in some cases themselves being subjected to terrifying intimidation. Three months ago there was an attempt to burn down the family home of human rights activist Dmitrii Krauikhin. His 86-year-old mother, daughter and six-year-old granddaughter were trapped inside the flat but were fortunately able to raise the alarm in time and escape with their lives. The arson attack had followed a series of other incidents clearly intended to stop Krauikhin from doing his anti-racism work in Russia.
Meanwhile, photographs and home addresses of Russian human rights activists are regularly being published on right-wing websites. In cases like Nikolai Girenko’s, this seemed to lead directly to his murder.
Alexander Vinnikov believes that the “March Against Hatred” may help to halt this tide of attacks. Moreover, he hopes that the trial against a group of right-wing extremists, accused of a string of murders (including Girenko’s) will finally get underway before the end of this year. “It probably will be a long and difficult court case”, he says. “The fascists always have very good lawyers. But this time the victims have a very good one too.”
Meanwhile even four years after his murder right-wing extremists continue to attack Girenko in their blogs. Vinnikov and his colleagues want the “March Against Hatred” to become an annual tradition in St Petersburg to keep the memory of Girenko and other victims of Russian fascism alive.
To take part in Amnesty’s letter writing campaign on racism in Russia please contact:
Photo courtesy of Vladimir Mekler.
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Sara Hall