Hate Speech Could Get Louder in Russia This Year As Election Nears

Russian analysts and human rights activists warn of a possible rise in hate speech and extremist movements ahead of parliamentary elections next December.

“Xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racist movements will become more active as the election draws near,” Alexander Tarasov, a leading expert on political radicalism, told a recent conference in Moscow.

With few exceptions, extreme nationalists that employ anti-Semitism and xenophobia have not garnered enough support to run in Russian elections. When they did, the groups usually performed poorly.

Even some more established parties might find themselves left out of the 450-seat State Duma, parliament’s lower house, after a recent amendment to Russia’s election laws raised the threshold for political parties from 5 percent to 7 percent of the vote.

“Those who play heavily on ultra-nationalist propaganda can hardly get the required 7 percent,” said Tarasov, an analyst at the Moscow-based Phoenix Center for New Sociology and the Study of Political Practice.

But analysts warn that Russia’s far-right parties prefer to focus on building their strength for the long term.

“None of the far-right parties can have serious hopes for coming to power any time soon,” Tarasov said. “What they think of instead is to use the upcoming race as a venue to express their ideas and to win some additional support for the future.”

Another expert predicted that the most prominent parties to play on anti-Semitic and xenophobic sentiment would be the Communists, and the Liberal Democrats of outspoken nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Both parties are represented in the current Duma. The Communists are still believed to have the most popular support after the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party, whose popularity is largely based on President Vladimir Putin’s high public ratings.

Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, which is affiliated with the U.S.-based Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, said that recent local elections showed that the Communists and the members of Zhirinovsky’s party most often use anti-Semitic themes in their election propaganda.

Some parties are expected to advocate curbs on non-Slavic immigration to Russia, Tarasov said.

“The anti-immigration slogans have already proven to be successful in campaigns in Austria, Denmark, Holland, even in Australia, and there is an indication it will be actively used by the extreme movements here,” Tarasov said.

Whether this will translate into an increased number of anti-Semitic incidents is unknown. Anti-Semitic and racially motivated violence has become more common in Russia in the last few years, though it remains relatively rare.

Despite somewhat tougher police action against extremists, experts do not expect to see a major change in the number of incidents in the foreseeable future.

Viktor Shnirelman, an expert with the Russian Academy of Science, says racist ideas and violence are spreading not only because of a lack of political will. The Russian public — including some of the most educated Russians — remains largely insensitive to the issue of xenophobia, he said.

“A certain part of Russia’s academic intelligentsia agrees with many of the racist theories,” Shnirelman said. “A lot of effort should be put into educating people.”

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