Hate crimes: big issue for pre-election Russia

A report conducted by one of Russia's leading human rights centres SOVA indicates that hate crimes are on the rise in Russia. So far this year, there have been more than 350 racially motivated attacks, resulting in 38 deaths. That is almost a quarter more

Galina Kozhevnikova from SOVA centre says they were expecting the resent growth of xenophobia in Russia: “Unfortunately we were not surprised, 20-25% growth of hate crimes is stable, but this year we see a new trend of other minorities targeted, like homosexuals and members of subcultures,” she says.
 
Crimes against immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus peaked in 2004. Government’s migration policy resulted in tens of thousands of people across Russia joining anti-immigrant groups. Now the slogan “Russia for Russians” is widely used to justify violence.

Why are they all coming here? They have nothing to eat wherever they come from so here they are living at our cost and if our government doesn’t do enough to stop them, we will.

Vladimir, Anti-immigrant group activist

At the same time a number of youth anti-extremist anti-fascist groups appeared in recent years to counteract the radicals.
 
Russian courts have also toughened their stand on the crimes as well. For years hate crimes were treated as mere hooliganism. Now the prosecutors are more aggressive to demand the proper punishment for crimes with a racial motive. In 2003 only four verdicts in court have had racial motives considered. Last year, the number was 33.
 
However intolerance runs deep in the society, say SOVA experts. Even some politicians are endorsing a radical nationalist agenda out in the open.
 
2007 is an election year in Russia. Xenophobia has been promoted before in election campaigns. For example a party was banned from the elections to Moscow’s city Duma in November 2005 for using a xenophobic ad in its campaign. President Putin has promised to fight extremism in government but SOVA says politicians won’t hesitate to use nationalist ideas to gain popularity.
 
“Practically all political parties taking part in the December Duma election, with a few exceptions, are using ultra-nationalist slogans. A good example is the so-called Russian project by United Russia party – we are no longer dealing with a social phenomenon but with a state-level xenophobia,” says SOVA’s Ms Kozhevnikova.
 
Russia has always been a multicultural society but in its recent history has been plagued by xenophobic tendencies on many levels. According to SOVA, more than half of the Russian population support the “Russia for Russians” slogan. And if the deputies are guided only by what’s popular in the run up for the elections, activists fear, attitudes may never change.