Racism in Russia: a few comments.

                                                                                   Alexander Ossipov
                                                                       The Memorial Human Rights Centre,
                                                                                 program manager

      (a paper distributed via MINELRES (Minority Electronic Resources) international discussion group on May 18-20 1998)

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 (message of 8 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 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.

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 'visual 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 May 7, 1998?

Though the Moscow incident  of May 7 is outstanding (i.e. there have never been any  disorders on ethnic basis),  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 'visual minorities' who whenever else become victims of violence,
are very frightened and avoid giving any information to journalists or human right activists, because they are afraid of being persecuted for
that. Only a few persons agree to give anonymous interviews.

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 No.135.

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. 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 1500 to 2000 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 'organization 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 organizers 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.

3.  'Registration by a place of sojourn'

The Luzhniki incident reflects the two main facets of the problem: police reluctance to protect people irrespective of their ethnic origin from
criminals and official connivance towards extremist racist groups and their actions.  The mostly painful issue, racist violence and racial
harassment by the police itself, was not raised anyhow by this case. This practice is provoked by the institution of 'registration by the place
of sojourn', which was noted in the Statute on the Passport System in the USSR of 1974, was confirmed by the 1993 federal Law on the Right of
the Citizen to Freedom of Movement and Choice of Residence. Any citizen of RF as well as a citizen of a CIS country when traveling within
Russia must register his/her temporary stay in the police. According to the federal regulations, a person coming to a place where he/she does
not permanently reside for a term exceeding 10 days much be registered by police within 3 days and receive a certificate of registration. Formally
official permit for registration is not envisaged, registration must be made automatically, but the regional authorities establish their own rules of
registration which usually give grounds for refusal in registration. Anyway, for many people the seeking registration is an inconvenient and
tiresome procedure, in many cases it technically cannot be finished within 1 day, envisaged by the local regulations, in some regions it is also
rather expensive because specific local taxes are imposed  on the travelers.  Anyway, a person staying somewhere without registration is
subjected to penalties.

As a result,  any person who does not violate any official regulation walking in a street without his/her internal passport or staying  somewhere
within a term less than 10 days without getting registration certificate becomes a potential suspect of a administrative offence and a subject for
police check. How he/she can prove to a police that he/she lives in the some town or has come to a certain place for less than 10 days, or come
less than 3 days ago?  A policeman has a lot of pretexts for detention. Moreover, many people for various reasons do not get a temporary
registration: some do not know the local regulations, some do not want to pay money for the procedure or to waste time.

Penalties imposed for 'violation of passport regime' usually go to the special regional funds, which sponsor the police, thus policemen have a
legal stimulus for checks. The illegal stimulus " extortion of money " is much stronger, since the both sides usually try to settle the situation
'informally'. The Moscow papers published some figures, which demonstrate a scale of the problem. According to the data provided by Within
the first  5 months of 1997  around 1,5 million people were checked in Moscow, half of them turned our to be 'violators of the passport regime'.
The total number of persons checked in Moscow in 1996 is estimated  as 4,5 -5 millions. I quote the data based on official records, anyway the
actual number of persons stopped and checked by the police must be much more significant.

It is obvious, that an individual of a physical type differing from a majority is more likely than anybody else to be a  traveler, consequently, a
person who is subjected to registration and, probably, who violates the rules. Hence, dark skin people become the first target for stopping,
checks and detains. Most of those stopped and checked  belong to 'visual minorities', a 'Caucasian' cannot move within Moscow without
being checked several times a day.  It looks like a total hunt  for 'Caucasians', most of the persons taken to the police stations belong to a
certain ethic type and  are detained for lack of documents or 'temporary registration'. Lack of 'temporary registration is not the only reason for
detain, sometimes policemen tear to pieces the certificates, or confiscate them as 'not authentic', or find another pretext. Meanwhile, the federal
law envisages that a person can be detained only when he/she violates public order or is suspected of committing a crime. Police not only stops
the people on the streets, but also check hotels, offices, cars, private flats, where 'Caucasians' live. One of the last  absurd inventions: checks
of registration certificates in airports, in departure zones. In this case a doubtful  priority belongs to  Samara province. Extortion of  a bribe is not
the only trouble for a detainee: he/she can be kept in a cell for many hours, can be beaten, tortured, humiliated, his/her money can be
confiscated. There have been several cases of murders at the police stations.

For example, Mavzud Aliyev, a Tadjik, born 1967, was detained on 6 January 1998 and brought to the police station No. 60 in Moscow by an
inspector I.V.Vasilenko. On 9 January was accused of forging his certificate of an asylum-seeker  and passed to the jail No.2. On 17 January
Aliyev's parents in Tadjikistan were officially offered to take the corpse of their son. The official version of the police was a suicide.

In general, it is a part of a broader problem: behavior of police. The people of Russia know quite well, that the police is much more dangerous for
an ordinary person, than  criminals.

It is obvious, that the system of 'registration by a place of sojourn' is the basic provocative factor of a racially-oriented police violence.  The
registration itself is usually justified and rationalized in a following way: it enables the authorities to trace anyhow the move of population, in
particular, newcomers from the CIS countries and helps to find criminals. The arguments seem doubtful: the information got by the officials
responsible for the registration actually can hardly be used in a centralized mood. Virtually the system has become a direct opposite of the
initial idea, since it produces and encourages corruption. As far as I know, within the CIS countries, save Russia, a similar system is used only
in some regions of Ukraine.

4. Violent crimes, committed by the extremist groups

It is a very specific subject, and I should comment it only in a brief way. Dozens of extremist nationalist organizations exist in Russia. Violent
crimes aimed at  persons belonging to 'visual minorities',  gradually become more and more often, many of them are committed by organized
groups.  The victims of such crimes are usually students from the countries of Asia and Africa, refugees, retailers from the CIS countries etc.
According to the Russian Association of Foreign Students, in Winter 10-15 persons complain to the Association of being beaten by extremists,
in Summer their number increase 2-3 times (Itogi, 12.05.1998). Since June 1997 there have been several, at least 4 murders ascribed to the
extremist groups. Since 1997 there were a number of cruel and well-organized  assaults against non-Slavs in Moscow and some other cities by
some new gangs, which avoid publicity. Some newspapers called them 'skinheads'.

Actually there are dozens of 'skinhead groups' with a few thousand members in Moscow, Yaroslavl, Vladivostok, Petersburg and other cities.
Their ideology is a vague  and eclectic mixture of extreme rightist and racist views imported from the West. Meanwhile, the majority of the
Russian ▒skinheads▓ keep aside from politics. Several groups cooperate with extreme rightist Russian nationalist parties, first of all with Russian
National Union of Konstantin Kasimovski, also with Nationalist-Bolshevik Party of Eduard Limonov, National Republican Party of Russia of
Yuri Belyaev. Moscow has two large groups of skinheads: 'The Moscow Skinlegion' (lead by Guskov) and 'The Russain Branch of the
International Union "Blood and Honor". The first one has stable ties with extreme nationalist parties, Guskov regularly takes part in their
meetings (V.Likhachev, V,Pribylovski, Racist terror on the Moscow streets.// 'Russkaya Mysl', 14-20.05.1998)

On 20 April there were anonymous calls to several editorial offices in Moscow,  and somebody on behalf of 'skinheads' promised to kill every
day  'one Black'.  Really, every day until 7 May groups of young men dressed in black assaulted  persons of African and Asian origin. During
almost all of these incidents the police kept neutrality and did not interfere. The police officials of Moscow do not acknowledge any tie between
organized racism and the latest violent actions. Anyway, we do not have any evidence that the 'traditional' and well-known skinhead groups
are involved in these incidents. In the 20s of April a corpse of a Black  man was found near Danilovski market. On 2 May a US Embassy security
officer of Afro-American origin was heavily beaten in the midday in Fili, near the center of the city and hospitalized. The US Embassy officially
warned the US citizens residing in Moscow of a risk of racist assaults against person of African or Asian origin. It was the second warning of
this kind within this year, the first one was issued on 22 April. Embassies of South Africa, Benin and Sudan sent official protests to the Russian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The last crime ascribed to nationalist extremist is the explosion of the synagogue in Maryina Rosha (Moscow) on 13 May, around 11 p.m. The
building was  damaged, fortunately, though the explosion was powerful and the synagogue was full with people, only two persons were lightly
wounded. Nobody  admitted responsibility for the explosion.

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 persuasion.

6. Is it a deliberate racist politics conducted by the state?

A proportion between spontaneous and organized 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 practices.

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-organized 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 - series of raids against Azeris conducted by the special police detachment (OMON) and local Directorates for Combat
against Organized 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 stabilized, 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,

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 new sprogramme 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 diasporas 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 organizations 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.
Note: this article was taken from the web site of the "Memorial" Civil Rights Foundation. Also available at http://www.memo.ru


Copyright 2002 [Anton G.]. All rights reserved. Все права защищены.

Сайт создан в системе uCoz