MOSCOW, April 30 (JTA) Neo-Nazi youth groups in Russia are becoming more organized, according to Jewish officials and human rights activists.
Teen-age street gangs that throughout the past decade were known for their use of Nazi symbols, anti-Jewish slogans and assaults on African students are turning into tightly knit and well-armed criminal groups with Nazi ideology.
“These youth clubs are prospering, especially in the provinces, because in provincial cities they are not repudiated. On the contrary, the authorities in many places support them,” said Alla Gerber, a Moscow Jewish leader.
Russian police and security agents recently arrested 13 people after they found neo-Nazi materials during a crackdown on a group specializing in illegal trade in arms and explosives.
The search was part of an anti-corruption crackdown tied to local elections, according to Yakov Zukerman, a Jewish activist in St. Petersburg who studies the phenomenon.
The group in St. Petersburg, led by neo-Nazis, operated under the cover of one of the city’s youth scouting clubs.
Participation in black marketeering is accompanying and perhaps contributing to these groups’ prosperity, particularly in St. Petersburg, the hotbed of the Nazi revival.
These clubs are officially permitted to search for the remains of World War II soldiers in order to bury them. According to unofficial reports, roughly 1,000 diggers are searching in the St. Petersburg metropolitan area, which contains many weapons and relics from the war.
“It has become a developed business here. Lots of young people are digging out and selling German and Soviet arms, decorations and World War II medals on the black market. Some of the guys make good money. Most of them are united in gangs and it is quite dangerous to get in their way,” said Vladimir Briskman, a university student in St. Petersburg.
It makes sense that the youth groups have served as a breeding ground for neo-Nazism, Zukerman said.
Neo-Nazis are ready consumers of the newly found Nazi relics and sometimes of weapons, Zukerman said. They then use their contacts to infiltrate the clubs, turning a phenomenon that the KGB tried to infuse with Soviet patriotism into a font of racism and anti-Semitism.
During the recent searches in St. Petersburg, police discovered both old and new weapons, which the “scouts” were apparently planning to sell.
The going rate for an old German submachine gun is $200, whereas a new Kalashnikov assault rifle goes for $500. Some well-preserved tanks were also found.
Meanwhile, neo-Nazi activity linked to organized crime and covered up by corrupt police is occurring throughout Russia.
“Many of the members of the organizations are former policemen,” said Antoine Arakelyan, a human rights campaigner in St. Petersburg.
Neo-Nazi activity has apparently reached higher branches of Russian society as well.
The Federal Security Bureau, the successor to the KGB, recently arrested 12 members of the Omsk branch of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity group. One of those arrested had a document showing him to be an aide to a member of Parliament.