Staunton, January 22 – Neo-Nazi violence in Russia, after declining between 2009 and 2012, is again on the rise with an increasing share of it now directed against immigrants from Central Asia rather than “persons of Caucasus nationality” because those involved in such attacks feel they are less likely to be punished if they do, according to the SOVA Center.
Part of this shift undoubtedly reflects the fact that there are now far more immigrants from Central Asia in Russian cities than there are migrant workers from the North Caucasus, but part of it also reflects, SOVA experts indicated that the neo-Nazis are convinced that the Russian authorities are more willing to allow the former to be attacked.
And that in turn, although this is not something the SOVA experts said, raises a truly disturbing possibility: Because for most Russians distinguishing between Central Asians and North Caucasians is not easy, the Russian authorities themselves may very well be involved at some level in directing such attacks.
Last week, human rights experts met in Moscow to discuss “Neo-Nazi Force in Contemporary Russia. Where are We Heading?” Some of the news they had was good; other aspects of it are extremely troubling and point to new dangers ahead (rusplt.ru/society/eksperty-o-nacistah-7413.html).
Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA Information-Analytic Center, noted that the number of neo-Nazi attacks had risen continuously from 2004 to 2008, then fallen slightly through 2012 but last year, although data are incomplete, appear to have increased slightly once again.
He suggested that this trend reflects the actions of police officials. When there are few mass protests, the police tend to focus on violent attacks, but when the number of protests increase, the police focus on them because “such crimes are easier to investigate,” even if many would say they were not crimes at all. Changing that patter will be “complicated.”
According to Verkhovsky, “if earlier the Nazis mainly attacked people from the Caucasus, now they choose people from Central Asia because [such a choice] seems to them more secure.”
This shift reflects both a change in the self-definition of the neo-Nazis who increasingly see themselves as “an opposition and even revolutionary” movement and in their preferred method of action, raids or purges on particular locations which allows them “almost legally to use moderate force.”
According to Verkhovsky, such “new type of neo-Nazi activity will not be put down by the powers that be because it is completely congruent with the current rhetoric of the latter.” Instead, at least some in the police will view the Nazis as “socially near elements” or even allies in the fight with groups the police and the powers don’t like.
Another participant in the presentation, Svetlana Gannushkina, president of the Civic Support Committee, said that there were no migrants in the Russian Federation at the present time who had not been subject to one or another form of persecution. “We have not an epidemic but a pandemic of xenophobia,” adding that the situation is “explosive.”
The activist added that the fears many Russians have about immigrants are “irrational.” Residents are far more likely to be threatened by “aggressive nationalists” who often use violence than by gastarbeiters who only want to earn money and send it back to their families at home.
She said that she was concerned not only by the recent passage of increasingly repressive legislation in Moscow but by the fact that Russian officials are enforcing laws very differently in different parts of the country. Those who feel they can get away with it are going far beyond the letter of the law and making the situation even worse.
Aleksey Sakhnin, a Left Front activist who has requested political asylum in Sweden, took part in the conference via Skype. He said that it was his view that “the [Russian] government was specifically creating panic in society” in order to make people “more inclined to approve the use of force by the police.”
This approach has the effect of legitimating nationalist extremism, he said.
Verkhovsky for his part said that one of the saddest aspects of the current situation is that many opposition figures now “share the same prejudices that the authorities do: they think that once xenophobia has spread through society, they need to use it.” Some of them think that if they do “millions of xenophobes” will follow them. But they won’t, he said.
Gannushkina summed up the feelings of her colleagues: any “tolerance for intolerance will lead to fascism,” she said, and consequently, those who care about human rights have to fight it wherever it appears.