[Marxism] Russian racism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jul 8 09:14:49 MDT 2006

Boston Globe Correspondent  |  July 8, 2006
Racism haunts Russia ahead of G-8 talks
St. Petersburg killings a focus of concern

By Tom Parfitt,

ST. PETERSBURG -- With its golden spires and stuccoed palaces stretching 
languorously along winding canals, this former imperial capital is a beacon 
of Russian sophistication envisioned by Czar Peter I as a ``Window on the 

But even as St. Petersburg displays a touch of panache that evades Moscow 
and other big cities, it is also an incubator for one of Russia's most 
pressing crises: violent racism.

President Vladimir Putin will welcome the leaders of the Group of Eight 
industrial nations to the Konstantinovsky Palace on the shores of the Gulf 
of Finland, as Russia hosts its first G-8 summit July 15 to 17. Putin hopes 
the summit will allow Russia to display its most elegant, modern face.

Yet while Putin will be proud to show off his hometown, there is a darker 
side to Russia here -- a problem compounded by government missteps and 
inaction -- that is hard to hide.

Local authorities claimed a victory in May when police arrested eight young 
men who allegedly carried out a string of racist killings and beatings over 
the last three years. They were captured after armed officers followed up 
on a tip from the city's Agency for Journalistic Investigations , which 
owns several private media outlets.

Using such monikers as Fighter and Apostle, the alleged gang members had 
kept a low profile and did not name their group, calling it only a 
``terrorist attack organization." Police said their heroes were a mix of 
mythic Slavs, Nazis, and such individuals as Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma 
City bomber. Police believe the gang was a splinter formation of the city's 
notorious ultranationalist gang, Mad Crowd.

As news of the arrests spread, media loyal to the local government were 
quick to say that the city's slew of racially motivated killings had been 

According to human rights monitors, six people were slain in the city 
between September and April, either because of the color of their skin or 
because they campaigned against extremists. Those cases are part of a wave 
of racist beatings and slayings sweeping across Russia, mostly attributed 
to gangs of skinheads.

Police suspect, based on interrogations and the discovery of explosives, 
that besides xenophobic attacks, the ``terrorist attack organization" -- 
which blamed the federal government for allowing dark-skinned immigrants 
into the country -- planned to launch suicide bombings during the G-8 
summit using belts of explosives like those employed by Chechen militants.

The group's alleged leader, Dmitry Borovikov, was shot dead during his 
arrest when he lunged at police with a knife, but seven other accused gang 
members are in custody and charges are soon expected.

The arrests were a coup for the veteran, well-connected reporters at the 
Agency for Journalistic Investigations , who had groomed an informer among 
the young suspects. ``There was the option to publish first, but we 
realized this was such serious stuff we had to take it straight to the law 
enforcement agencies," said director Andrei Konstantinov, a chain-smoking 
veteran reporter who keeps a World War I heavy machine gun next to his desk.

Statements by the alleged gang members appear to connect the group to 
several high-profile killings, including the 2004 knifing death of 
Khursheda Sultonova, a 9 -year-old Tajik girl, and the April slaying of 
Lamzar Samba, 28, a Senegalese student who was shot by a gunman using a 
rifle emblazoned with a swastika.

The journalists' agency -- said to be close to police and the St. 
Petersburg city authorities -- supported the government's stance , boasting 
in its magazine that ``exactly [the gang's] arrest shows there is no mass 
racist movement in out city."

Yet assertions by the agency and others that racism has been extinguished 
with the arrests are viewed by some as premature.

``No doubt there are some real villains among them, but finding this gang 
was responsible for every racist crime of the last few years is remarkably 
convenient just before the G-8 summit," said Nikolai Donskov, head of the 
St. Petersburg office of Novaya Gazeta, a liberal weekly.

Ali Nassor, a native of Tanzania and a cofounder of the St. Petersburg 
advocacy group African Union, agreed.

``It's just too much of a happy ending," he said. ``When you look at the 
kind of stuff that gets printed here every day, at the kind of extremists 
whom the law never touches, then you realize what a fantasy it is that 
racism is solved in this city."

This year, Amnesty International accused Russian police of consistently 
downplaying hate crimes throughout the country by classifying them as 

Several racist groups continue to operate with impunity in St. Petersburg, 
the group says. The city has a branch of the ultraright Slavyansky Soyuz 
organization, which promotes Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf on its website. 
Another group is the Party of Freedom, run by former police officer Yuri 

``The first thing these immigrants ought to think when they are leaving 
home in the morning is: Will I die today or not?" Belyaev said. ``They 
should move around like scared animals -- creeping along besides the walls."

Asked whether he was a racist, Belyaev said: ``Yes. This is a question of 
taste. Some people don't like apples. I don't like Negroes. They are 
biological parasites."

Nassor says that such bigotry proves that racism has not been defeated. 
``What I'd like to see is some real leadership from President Putin," he 
said. ``Right now, it's too easy to conclude that he's keeping quiet for 
political gain. He knows there's a big nationalist contingent that votes 
for him."

Western countries are pushing to include Russia's alleged backsliding on 
democracy and meddling in the former republics of the Soviet Union on the 
summit agenda, but Putin's aides have succeeded in keeping those topics off 
the agenda.

While human rights activists hope that other G-8 countries will use the 
summit to pressure Moscow to tackle the country's social ills, some people 
here say that they are proud Putin pushes back at his foreign critics.

``What I like about Putin as a leader is his attitude toward the West," 
says Valentina Morozova, 56, an accountant in St. Petersburg. ``They're 
always complaining and lording it over us, but he tells them where to get off."

Donskov, the newspaper editor, thinks the United States and Western Europe 
will have little leverage with Putin when it comes to addressing Russia's 
social ills. ``With all its oil and gas, Russia knows it can dictate terms 
these days. It's going to do just as it wants, regardless of the critics." 

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