My whole idea is that if vicious people are

united and constitute a power, then honest

folk must do the same. Now that's simple enough.

 

Leo Tolstoy.

“War and Peace”.

   

Racism in Russia: a myth or a real threat to the society?

 

It is very strange and frightening to see swastikas drawn on the walls of the houses in the country that suffered from Nazi Germany more than anyone else. It is strange and frightening to hear Russian teenagers scream “Heil Hitler!” because their own grandfathers were ready to die for their country in the fight against Hitler’s troops. It is strange, but it’s real. Racism in Russia is something more than just a “myth, created by press”, like many Russian officials like to say. And the worst thing that is related to it is that people either do not know or do not care about this problem. The “I’m not black, so I don’t care” attitude is what makes racism a real threat to the stability of the new Russian society.

 

The main purpose of this site is to educate English-speaking people about racism in Russia. As far as I know, there are no resources on the Internet that have enough information on this topic. In my opinion, this is the topic that should not and must not be ignored. Why? I will write about this later. Also, I want to find out what people that don’t live in Russia think about this problem.

 

…

 

As I already said, it is very strange to see racism grow in Russia, the society that had been taught interracial and international tolerance for over 70 years. One of the main things and also one of the few good things about the Soviet regime was the propaganda of “brotherhood of all nations”. Early Bolsheviks criticized pogroms of the late 1800s – early 1900s that were supported by Czar Government. The ideology of Communism and Socialism itself completely abolishes any kind of racial discrimination (one of the great writers of our time said that “Communism is the most democratic government system that is, unfortunately, is not more than utopia. Every attempt to build a communistic society ends with blood and totalitarianism”). Soviet Union consisted of 16 republics, almost each one of them representing a different nation or a racial group. Even in “Greater Russia” itself there were (and still are) more than 30 inner ethnic republics and districts. One of the “main phrases” of the program of the Communist Party was “Friendship of Nations and Nationalities”. One of the most famous Moscow Universities was called “University of Peoples Friendship”. It was established specially for International Exchange students, mostly from Africa. The word “racism” was mostly used in newspaper articles that criticized America. One of Soviet official said in late 40s to his foreign colleague, “There is no ‘Jewish Problem’ in USSR anymore because all Soviet people now understand that all races and nationalities are equal”.

 

Of course, that was just the “outer side” of the Soviet policy. And there was the inner side too. In 1943 and 1944, during the Second World War, Joseph Stalin, one of the most bloodthirsty politicians of all times, ordered to depart 500-600 hundred thousand people of Chechen, Ingush, Osetian and other origins to Siberia from Northern Caucasus. That is one of the parts of the Russian history that almost no one likes to talk about. More than half a million civilians were thrown into train cars that were previously used for carrying cattle and driven from the sunny mountains of Caucasus to the snowy plains of Middle Siberia. There was not enough room in the cars for all the people, so all the ones who were not able to make it to the train were shot and buried in “collective tombs”. There is no statistics on how many innocent lives were lost during this “special operation”. The estimations vary from twenty to two hundred thousand people.

Actually, the reason for the genocide of “Caucasian” nations (i.e. ethnic groups from Caucasus) had nothing to do with racism (but the consequences will have a lot of things to do with it half a century later). Stalin himself was a Georgian, and Georgia is a part of Caucasus too. In 1942 and 1943 Hitler understood that he could not win the war with Russia on his own, so he started to look for potential allies “within” the enemy territory. He knew that many nations completely lost their independence after the Soviet Union was formed, and also many nations hated the Soviet regime. So he started a propaganda campaign among the people of Caucasus and Crimea, trying to convince them to join his troops and fight against Stalin. In return, he promised them freedom. Actually, many people of those nations agreed to help Hitler. Stalin saw this potential inner threat to his regime, so he decided to get rid of the problem itself, to get rid of Northern Caucasus ethnic groups. And he had enough power to do it.

Since then, February 23 is celebrated not only as army day, but also as the day of remembrance of the victims of the genocide of Caucasian nations.

 

But that was not the only example of Soviet “Friendship Among Nations and Races” policy. In late 40s and early 50s Stalin started creating a plan that would have allowed him to start the third world war and eventually accomplish the old dream of “Worldwide Revolution”. The key point of this plan was the nation that Stalin hated probably as much as Hitler did, although he never expressed this hatred; the Jews. Just like in 1937 (the year when almost 4 million people, that were a potential threat to the regime, were arrested and sent to concentration cams, leaving others in permanent fear), Stalin started a series of political trials, accusing people that did not fit his regime, mostly of Jewish origin, of planning the assassination of him and other Soviet Officials. In many of those trials an imaginary Zionist organization named “Joint” was mentioned. The anti-Jewish propaganda campaign started in all Soviet periodicals. Almost all famous Russian Jews were arrested and sent to Gulag concentration camps (unlike Germany, Russia did not have “separate” concentration camps for Jews. That is one of the reasons why the issue of genocide of the Jews in Russia is not as well known as the Holocaust).

Fortunately, Stalin died before he was able to fulfill his plans. Otherwise, we would probably have been living in a different world right now. Or not living at all. But the consequences of his actions remained even after Khruschev started “liberalizing” the country. There were no people of Jewish origin in the “upper part” of the Communist Party. And the most important thing is that the attitude of Russian people towards Jews that started to change to positive during 1920s, 1930s and 1940s changed back to “negatively neutral”, like it was before. And it remains the same even now. Also, Russians started to blame most of their problems on Jews, just like Stalin did (he accused “Zionist Conspirators” of starting government terror of the late 30s, although he was the only man behind it).

 

Eventually, racial prejudice became a normal thing for the Russian society. It was never “expressed” in a violent form up until nowadays, but people did tend to treat different nations “differently”. Russians always used to joke about the slowness of the people from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, about “nervousness” of the people from Caucasus, about cunning of Jews and illiteracy of the ethnic groups of the North-Eastern Russia. In Russian there is an offensive (or semi-offensive) word for, probably, every nationality of the former Soviet Union. Estonians and Lithuanians are “chukhonzy”; Ukrainians are “hohly”; Georgians, Armenians and people of other nationalities of Caucasus origin are “Hachi” or “Churki”; Jews are “Zhidy” (actually, the word “Zhidy” has the same origin as the word “Jew”, but now it bears an offensive sense, so the “official” word is “yevrei” or Hebrew). No wonder that the new generation not only did accept the “concerns” and “believes” of their parents about different nations, but also started over-exaggerating them.

 

In the late years of the Soviet Union the nationalistic and “hyper-patriotic” ideas were really supported by the people that soon will gain power in the country. Nationalism really helped to break up the USSR, because the “friendship of the nations” still remained the main slogan of the Soviet government, and people started to get sick of it. But after the Union was dissolved, the nationalistic organizations not only did not stop existing, but also started proposing new, more radical ideas.

 

Also, in early 1990 several conflicts started in Northern Caucasus. In 1991 a war between Armenia and Azeibarjan over the disputed territory of Nagorniy Karabakh broke out. In 1992 two conflicts started, one between Abkhazia, a large part of Georgia, and the Georgia itself, and the other one between two republics that are parts of Russian Federation, Osetia and Ingushetia. And, finally, in the end of 1994 the Chechen war broke out. All these regional wars made people from the Caucasus move north, to major Russian cities.

 

The Russian majority did not like all this migration. Russian people started complaining about the “blacks (in Russia this word is used mostly for the people of the Caucasus origin) in the markets”, “Chechen (Georgian, Armenian, etc.) Mafia”. But still, people of the elder generation did not really do anything themselves, they were just “thought racists”. Unlike the new generation.

 

“Generation Next”: the hope of Russia or the first “nail in the coffin”?

 

As it was already mentioned, the new generation took the habit to blame everything on the people of different ethnic or racial origin from their own parents. But, like in many other cases where “youth of the nation” was involved, the racial prejudices took a more violent form than just complaining. The skinheads became on of the biggest “youth” problems in Russia. Officials say that right now at least 10,000 people, aged from 13 to 20, participate in “extremist racist movements” (i.e. the skinheads movement). Just like in any other case with the “official statistics”, this number should be multiplied by 4 or 5. So, right now there are about 50,000 skinheads in Russia. This is one of the greatest numbers in the whole world. In any other country this number is less.

 

First Russian skinheads started appearing in the beginning of the 90s. They actually had nothing to do with real racism, they adopted the nazi-skinhead culture only because it was strictly anti-Soviet (Nazism was one of the major things that was attacked by Soviet propaganda; “Hitler” is a curse word for many Russians). They just wanted some controversy. There were only 20-30 skinheads in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But after the political crisis of 1993 this number started increasing rapidly. It had a lot to do with the activity of the nationalistic movement that was popular that time (actually, it was also supported by Yeltsin that time, because there was a possibility of restoring the Soviet regime in Russia, and every anti-Communist movement received support from the government that time), Russian National Unity or RNU. In the very beginning, the leaders of this movement talked of themselves as the new “Black Hundred” (Union of Archangel Mikhail). The “Black Hundred” was a Russian nationalistic  organization that initiated the pogroms in the beginning if the twentieth century. But the RNU was not as radical as the Black Hundred used to be. All they wanted is to “lower the number of Jews in the government and raise the patriotism of the citizens”. But after Yeltsin accused RNU of racism propaganda (the “Communist threat” was gone and he did not need them any more), the Union started to add some more extremism into the party activity. The new slogans of the party said “Beat the Jews, save Russia!”, “Get the Georgians out of our markets!”, etc. The party also started creating the “amateur army” (just like Nazis did in 20s) and encouraging the youth to “join the informal radical movement called skinheads”. Although formally RNU and skinheads were not connected, without RNU there probably would be no or very few skinheads in our country. Kolovrat, a swastika-like ancient Russian symbol, was chosen a new logo of the party. Instead of shaking hands, the members of the party threw their hands in the air, just like Hitler did…

 

Fortunately, RNU, that had at least 10,000 members by the end of 1996, started to lose its popularity, and by the end of year 2000 it collapsed. But the “informal youth movement” remained, and the number of young people that shave their heads and put on black bomber coats increases with every year. As it was already mentioned, it is related to the migration of people from the “unstable” South to the “rich” North. Hatred towards the Chechens, Georgians, etc. (the skinheads don’t see the difference) increases with every terrorist act that the Chechen rebels make (Holding hostages in Russian hospitals in Budyonovsk and Kizlyar in 1995 and 1996, bombings of 1999, etc.). Some officials say that fights between the “extremist youths” and people of Caucasus origin happen every day now. The fatalities are quite usual too, and usually the “Caucasians” are the ones who get to die.

 

Just a little bit of statistics:

-         March 17, 2001. Citizen of Iran was attacked by skinheads on the “Akademicheskaya” metro station in Moscow.

-         March 24, 2001. Two skinheads attacked Nepal citizen on the “Kiyevskaya” metro station. The victim was hospitalized.

-         April 21, 2001. Pogrom on the Yasenevo market. Many people were hospitalized, many of the market facilities were damaged. Five skinheads were arrested after the pogrom, they are still in jail.

-         April 22, 2001. A young Chechen man was killed in a fight with skinheads in very center of Moscow.

-         May 15, 2001. Three skinheads attacked and injured Zimbabwe citizen, a Moscow State University student.

-         June 11, 2001. Three skinheads beat up a citizen of Senegal in metro train.

-         June 15, 2001. Chinese citizen was seriously injured in a fight with skinheads in metro.

-         June 22, 2001. A 38-year-old Dagestanian was seriously injured in Zelenograd, Moscow suburb.

-         August 23, 2001. A refugee from Angola was beaten up by skinheads not far away from the UN Refugee Help center. In two weeks the victim died without regaining consciousness.

-         September 24, 2001. Skinheads set the building of Moscow Choral Synagogue on fire. Fortunately, the firemen were able to stop the fire before it destroyed the building.

-         October 30, 2001. Probably the worst racist crime committed in Russia so far. About 300 skinheads attacked Tsaritsino food market. Three people (a Russian Armenian, Indian citizen and Afghani refugee), were killed during the pogrom. The “possible” organizers were arrested. (There is an article about this pogrom on the web site).

 

This is the official statistics. To get the “real” number of racist-cased crimes committed in Moscow alone, we should multiply the number of the crimes above by four, as I already said. As well as the number of victims. There is also no statistics available on the racist crimes in the whole Russia itself. If the situation is as bad as it is in Moscow or my hometown (a relatively small city of about 300,000. About 100 skinheads used to gather every evening not far away from my house and go to the railroad station to look for Chechens, Gypsies, etc. As far as I know, they always found them), than racism really became a threat to the society.

 

What about government?

 

Probably the worst thing about the “Russian racism” is that the officials do very little to keep the extremist movements under control. More than that, government has done many things that actually supported the racist actions of the young people. After the Chechen war broke out, Russian police started just taking the people of “Caucasus Nationality” to the police stations for no good reason, just because they saw “a potential threat” in them. And, actually, parliament passed a bill that officially allowed them to do it. The governor of the Krasnodar region in Southern Russia gained his position because of his anti-“Caucasian” and anti-Semitic agenda (“We will look at everything, at the last name, at the face, etc. and we will check all them blacks out. And we will kick them back to their countries”). Actually, it was not just the PR. Now his policy towards the Meskhetians (Muslim Georgians) cannot be called other than genocide (they are not allowed to register marriage, etc.). And Moscow pretends that it does not see it.

One of the most respectable Russian newspapers, Moskovskiy Komsomolets, recently published an article that stated that the skinheads from the National Peoples Party (one of the skinhead organizations) are being trained on the base of the Special Police Detachment. At first that article seemed a little bit too “yellow” to many people, but after the chief of Moscow police said that skinheads are “a myth, created by the newspapers”, it sounded quite believable. You can find the English translation of this article, as well as the articles about almost all the issues that were mentioned above, on my web site.

 

As you can see, racism is a very big issue in nowadays Russia. And this is the issue that cannot and must not be avoided. That is why I decided to tell the English-speaking world about it. The racism did not end with the fall of Nazis in Germany and with the Civil Rights Movement. It still exists, even in countries that are a little bit more stable than Russia (Le Pen, French Nationalist, who got into the second tour of the President elections, is one more example of it). And keep in mind that

 

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in Mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

 

(John Donne)

 

Anton G.

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


 
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