Racism has been a historical issue in Russia. Stalin murdered near as many Jews as Hitler, and even before the Communists took control, anti-minority sentiment caused any number of pogroms. Even under communism, it was extremely rare to see a USSR athlete in the Olympics or International competitions who wasn’t white, despite the fact that the USSR was a very diverse nation.
Racism in Russia took a decidedly neo-Nazi slant before the fall of communism when Russian special forces troops, every bit as proud and patriotic as their American counterparts, first were bogged down in Angola, and later in Afghanistan getting their heads handed to them by the locals. After the fall of communism, these groups began to form para-military uber-nationalist organizations on the lines of the Hitler era SS and Skinheads. These gangs have wreaked violence all over the country – typically attacking Asian and other minority students and people in and around the major cities. Some of these groups – are now apparently attacking the government…
Moscow City Judge Eduard Chuvashov, famous for presiding over a series of high-profile murder cases blamed on skinhead groups, was shot dead in his apartment building earlier this week. His death is only the latest in a wave of ultranationalist and neo-Nazi violence that has been steadily growing in Russia over the past decade. The hate crime watchdog Sova estimates that 71 people were murdered and more than 300 were wounded in such crimes in Russia last year alone.
The surge in Russian nationalism has been endorsed in no small part by a variety of government representatives. At the same time, Russian rights activists and oppositionists have been repeatedly targeted by ultranationalist groups, and accuse the government for turning a blind eye. The editorial team at Gazeta.ru points out that with Chuvashov’s murder, they’re going to have to either start make some changes or start watching their backs.
Attempts by the Russian authorities to use nationalist organizations to further their own goals, in particular the battle against the democratic opposition that exists outside of the political system, are dangerous to the authorities themselves.
Investigators immediately linked the shooting of Moscow City Court Judge Eduard Chuvashov with his professional activities, naming revenge by nationalists as one possible motive.
Chuvashov presided over the scandalous cases of Artur Ryno’s and the White Wolves nationalist group’s skinhead bands, whose followers had repeatedly and publicly – on the internet – threatened him with physical violence.
One very telling commentary on the murder was given by Dmitri Demushkin, leader of the Slavic Union nationalist organization (By the way, Union members participated in the “Youth Against Terror” rally organized by the pro-Kremlin organizations Young Russia and Young Guard on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square on March 31). Demushkin said that “A new generation is coming to replace the large organizations of nationalists, a generation of disparate groups of autonomous youths, aimed at committing grave and very serious crimes.” Lamenting the government’s ban of the Slavic Union, he pointed out a direct threat to the government: now, “the wave of attacks from illegal nationalist groups will intensify… Many young people who don’t see any alternatives will start taking more aggressive action.”
For a long time, the Russian government has not seen nationalists as a threat to itself or to order in the country. Crimes against migrants from Asian or African countries are almost always treated by the courts as common hooliganism, not as a manifestation of interracial strife.
There are still a significant number of people in the Russian political elite and law enforcement agencies today who sympathize with Russian nationalists, and some of the slogans of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration were completely in tune with various bureaucrats’ proclamations.
Moreover, soon after the colored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, the authorities even allowed the nationalists to hold a “Russian March” in Moscow on November 4 – National Unity Day.
In the past few years, the government has finally begun to gradually understand the danger that nationalist organizations pose. At the very least, the Russian Marches have invariably been banned over the past few years [although not in 2009 – Ed.]; judges began more commonly punishing skinheads for crimes committed on a nationalistic basis, without hiding behind the formulation of “common hooliganism.” And the cases for Ryno and Skachevsky’s band (Judge Chuvashov announced the sentence on the second case against this group on April 8, 2010) and the White Wolves had become the biggest antinationalistic judicial cases in the country’s modern history.
Nationalists in Russia have also previously been charged with murdering their opponents from among the “native” (in their assessment) population. In particular, Petersburg skinheads are accused of murdering the famous Petersburg ethnographer and human rights advocate Nikolai Girenko on June 19, 2004, in a trial that has already been going on for more than a year. Nationalists are charged with the 2009 murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov. Judge Eduard Chuvashov, who was physically threatened numerous times by the White Wolves, was clearly their enemy as well. But unlike Girenko and Markelov, Chuvashov is a representative of the state.
Ultranationalists have always and everywhere been a subversive force that is prepared to commit crime – including against government representatives, even if the government has tried to play along with them…