Monday, January 6, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Twenty Killed in Xenophobic Attacks in Russia in 2013, SOVA Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 6 – On the basis of still-incomplete data, analysts at the SOVA human rights center said today that xenophobic attacks killed 20 and wounded 173 in the Russian Federation during 2013, with Central Asians being the most frequent victims and Moscow and St. Petersburg having the largest number of incidents.

            SOVA center analysts presented their findings on the basis of materials from 32 of the country’s 83 federal subjects, so the total numbers of killed and wounded are likely to be higher. They noted that Moscow had the most killed and wounded (eight and 53) with St. Petersburg in second place (three and 32) (

                Those from Central Asia suffered the most from such attacks (13 killed and 39 wounded) with those from the Caucasus suffering slightly fewer casualties (three killed and 26 wounded), but SOVA noted that “in comparison with previous years, the number of those suffering among religious groups and the LGBT community had substantially increased.” 

            In October, the European Commission said that Moscow was not doing enough to combat racism and intolerance (, and a month ago, Konstantin Romodanovsky, the head of the Federal Migration Service, acknowledged that xenophobia and national intolerance were on the rise.

            Since that time, there has been a flood of articles discussing the roots of this problem and the prospects that the Russian authorities will be able to reverse this disturbing trend.  Among the most interesting are comments by Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, and an Academy of Sciences study that concluded Russians are the most aggressive people in Europe.

            In an interview with “Psychologies,” Gudkov said that nationalist attitudes arose in the mid-1990s in response to the dislocations associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It was primarily “defensive and compensatory” and coected “with the loss of Soviet identity and the growing sense of national incompleteness” (

            That kind of nationalism, Gudkov continues, “peaked in 2003-2005” and then began to recede. “But after the crisis of 2008-2009, a new wave of nationalism was observed, but it was already of a somewhat diferent character and was connected with a decline in trust in the authorities.”

            Among Russians, there arose a sense that the authorities did not know what to do or could not respond to their concerns about immigrants and other problems, Gudkov says. That led to pogroms first in the Manezh Square and then elsewhere. But “xenophobia now is a mixture of aggression and a transference” of the problems of ethnic Russians onto others.

            Feelings of dependence and a lack of satisfaction of their own needs have led many of them “to hope for the restoration of an ethnic hierarchy” throughout society, Gudkov suggests, a hierarchy in which they would be at the top and other groups would be beneath them and would recognize that status.

            But that is not possible nor is it possible for the country to do without immigration. Indeed, if it tried to do so, Gudkov argues, everyone would see his or her standard of living decline.  But that does not mean that people are not frustrated, “and in this sense, Russia today is experiencing everything through which all developed countries have passed.”

            The problem has been intensified in Russia, he continues, because the authorities and especially politicians running for office have played up ethnic tensions and thus simultaneously legitimated such prejudices and exacerbated them, even though the country’s leadership has no intention of reducing its reliance on immigrant labor.

            According to Gudkov, this kind of nationalism is “a symptom o the lack of development and stagnation” in Russia. “That is,” he says, “society is becoming ever more primitive and unstructured.”  Aggressioni toward outgroups “speaks about the intolerance of society as a whole and inevitably leads to marginalization,” the use of force and “the disorganization of society.”

            Unfortunately, the Levada Center researcher says, in Russia “nationalism will only intensify” because “there is no space for proposing different positions or for the discussion of a possible resolution of social problems.”  As a result, people will become angrier and they will manifest their anger in nationalism and xenophobia.

                A study released by the Russian Academy of Sciences reaches a similar if even more sweeping conclusion. It finds that “comparative studies show that from the point of view of aggression, crudeness and hatred to their environment, Russians occupy first place at least in Europe” (, a translation of,134735,15193965,Agresja_rosnie.html).

            Moreover, the Moscow Institute of Psychology concluded, “aggression is growing in all spheres, from relations between married couples which hire killers for the resolution of family problems to the means of committing suicide.  Approximately half of [Russians] say that they regularly use uncensored language ... and consider such behavior completely normal.”

            But statistics show that the situation has far more serious consequences than that: There are now ten times as many murders in Russia per 100,000 people as there are in Poland and four times as many by the same measure as there are in the United States.  And the number of highway deaths, which the psychologists link to anger and aggression, is far higher as well.

            According to one of the Academy of Sciences experts, “everything that surrounds Russians is promoting the growth of aggression in society.  You turn on the television and there are only enemies at our borders. The president before the elections cites Lermontov’s call to ‘die before Moscow as our brothers died,’ as if thepeople were going to fight and not to vote.”

            “The typical hero of [Russian] film is someone who has achieved his good or bad goals with the help of deception, his first or a gun,” the psychologist said. “People push others about in the metro and shout down those who are weaker, not seeing anything bad in this. On the other hand, if someone smiles at them, they see this as something strange and suspicious.”

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