Interview with Vladimir Novitsky

Vladimir Novitsky, legal director at the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, commented to Russia Today on the problem of xenophobia in Russia and worldwide.

Russia Today: Why do you think that xenophobia has become such an acute problem here in Russia among young people?

Vladimir Novitsky: I must say that the problem of xenophobia is not so specifically Russian. Unfortunately, this problem threatens actually the whole civilized world. We can see ethnically motivated clashes not only in the Russian regions, as it was in the town of Kondopoga (in Karelia, near the border with Finland), but such conflicts also take place in more prosperous countries, like the recent events in France. But we are going to talk about Russia. Why it happens in Russia? In  my opinion one of the reasons is the lack of an educational system that would help to prevent manifestations of xenophobia, racial and ethnical intolerance at an age when the person is just being brought up, meaning both pre-school and school years. There was such a program in the Soviet Union but actually from the late 1970s it was forgotten. The problem also remained unattended through the 1990s. So naturally, at the time of such enormous migrations within Russia, when large numbers of people  from the southern regions migrated to the north of Russia, when the flow of newcomers from the Asian and African countries has considerably increased, these inter-ethnical relations, which are a problem everywhere, if you do nothing about these relations, have become a real problem which ends up with the acts of violence, street fighting and demonstrations organized by nationalist radical forces in Russia. As for considering Russia as one of the most xenophobic countries, I would rather say that in many ways this is an obvious exaggeration. With all the problems that do exist in Russia, so far the portion of ethnically motivated violence is less than one thousandth of the total crimes. If we consider grave crimes it is also an insignificant part.

RT: That might be the case, but there is still a definite problem with xenophobia in Russia. You have talked of the breakdown of the education system, but what else could be done to help combat the problem in Russia at the moment?

V.N: Of course the problem still exists and I am in no way saying that today Russia is the country of ethnical peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, it is not that way. A xenophobic attitude is not necessarily expressed through acts of violence. It is a state of mind, an attitude towards people with different language or colour of the skin, of different origin, and here the manifestations of the xenophobia rate are absolutely different. Over 50% of the Russian population, including minority nations, does have a sort of xenophobic attitude towards other ethnical groups. What could be done about all this? As I have already mentioned, xenophobia cannot be overcome by penal measures only. As a matter of fact, the toughening of penalties makes sense only as a preventive measure against manifestations of xenophobia. The xenophobia itself could be defeated by special educational programmes which would direct people, including the adult population, towards the possibility of mutual understanding and co-operation between people of different ethnical groups. It also includes the creation of special education centers for newcomers, who for some reason are being called gastarbeiters according to German tradition, to help them more effectively adapt to life in Russia, to learn more about the customs and traditions of Russians, and improve their Russian language in order to improve their communication skills and prevent possible conflicts of cultural origin. Moreover, it is very important to avoid using xenophobia in political struggles and discussions as an instrument to hit at political opponents or competitors, on the one hand, groundlessly accusing opponents of being fascists and xenophobic extremists, and on the other hand, to ascribe supernatural powers to destabilize the situation in Russia to some sort of mythical opponents.

RT: You have already mentioned the riots that recently took place in France. On a kind of world scale