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Tolerance Worse, Monitoring Better, Say New Reports on Hate in Russia

October 22, 2002
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There’s less tolerance of minorities in Russian society and better monitoring of hate crimes, according to two recently released reports.

Hate crimes increased significantly in most Russian regions in 2001, a report by a Jewish watchdog group says. The 250-page report, Antisemitism, Xenophobia and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions in 2001, also states that the country’s criminal justice system is unable to respond effectively.

The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union prepared the report, released last week in Washington. The Russian version will be released in Moscow next month.

The annual report documented hundreds of hate crimes, incidents of illegal hate speech, acts of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and religious persecution in the majority of Russia’s 89 regions.

The report is “twice as big as our previous one, which doesn’t only reflect a rise in xenophobia and anti-Semitism but a better monitoring network,” said Micah Naftalin, UCSJ’s national director.

In the last two years, the UCSJ has built an extensive monitoring ring in Russia’s major regions providing regular updates on anti-Semitic manifestations in provinces often overlooked by other groups.

Another new report on Russian anti-Semitism, released recently by the Anti-Defamation League, also reported a rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

According to the ADL’s semiannual report on Russia, the first eight months of 2002 saw a slight increase in the number of incidents over the same period in 2001.

In contrast to previous years, ADL said, this year’s anti-Semitism in Russia was more violent, in some cases mimicking the methods used by terrorist organizations.

Last summer, a spate of booby-trapped anti-Semitic signs throughout Russia injured at least three people.

Recent opinion polls show that over the last several years Russian society generally has become less tolerant of ethnic minorities. The primary targets of hate and violence are dark-skinned people from the Caucasus, a fact attributable to their visible presence in Russian cities and Moscow’s ongoing war in Chechnya.

Jews and foreign students from developing countries constitute other “risk groups.”

“Our greatest concern, however, is not so much the growing number of violent neo-Nazis but the continuing indifference of many municipal police forces to attacks on ethnic and religious minority groups, including Jews,” Nickolai Butkevich, editor of the UCSJ report, told JTA.

Because many incidents go unreported or are classified as “hooliganism” in an effort by local authorities to downplay hate crimes, Jewish organizations are reluctant to publish the tally of anti-Semitic manifestations in Russia.

“The end result is that the statistics are artificially lowered and look small compared to hate crimes statistics in the U.S. or Europe, where the authorities are much more honest about these problems, giving the impression that the situation in Russia is much better than it actually is,” Butkevich said.

The UCSJ generally takes a more militant stance on the issue of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia. Some of the most important trends highlighted in this report are:

The most problematic regions are the southern parts of Russia such as Krasnodar, Stavropol, Rostov and Volgograd. Resentment in these areas against recent newcomers from the Caucasus and Central Asia leads to significantly higher support for paramilitary and neo-Nazi groups, who sometimes redirect their hatred away from Muslim immigrants toward Jews and other minorities.

Islamic fundamentalism has engulfed much of Chechnya and the neighboring republic of Dagestan, and there is a danger that it will spread to other traditionally Muslim regions, putting their Jewish populations in danger. The attempted bombing of the Nalchik synagogue in August is the most recent example of the trend.

Regional authorities are registering ultranationalist groups, putting into serious question the attitude of local authorities toward Jews and other minorities.

The report documented multiple cases of police indifference toward skinhead attacks against dark-skinned foreign students in some cities, but said police in Moscow and some other cities in central Russia have started to arrest skinheads and put them on trial.

Jewish leaders in Russia all agree that state-sponsored anti-Semitism now belongs to the past. Russian President Vladimir Putin has earned praise from the Jewish community for his repeated statements against xenophobia and nationalist violence.

But UCSJ and some other human rights groups in Russia criticize the government for paying lip service to the struggle against racism in order to deflect Western criticism, without having any intention of backing up words with action.

Two major umbrella organizations of Russian Jews, the Federation of Jewish Communities and the Russian Jewish Congress, issued statements on anti-Semitism earlier this week.

Both groups gave credit to Putin for speaking out on issues of xenophobia, but demanded that the government do more against anti-Semitism.

Borukh Gorin, a spokesman for the federation, said his group is now appealing more often to the authorities on issues of anti-Semitism.

“We are doing this not because there is more anti-Semitism but because we see the authorities have begun to fight it,” he said.

“After every major anti-Semitic act there is some follow-up from the authorities,” Gorin said. “That’s something that never happened during” the rule of former President Boris Yeltsin, “when all our appeals went unanswered.”

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