Muslims from the Caucasus, not Jews, are the chief targets of race-based hate crimes in Russia, according to a researcher who studies right-wing extremist and vigilante groups in the Russian Federation.
From the czarist era to the last gasp of communism, xenophobic Russians tended to turn their racial animus on Jews. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian racists have directed their rage against Muslims from the Caucasus region, says Richard Arnold, an associate professor of political science at Muskingum University in Ohio.
Speaking at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies on October 21, Arnold said that violent racist crimes have reached worrisome levels in contemporary Russia.
Disclosing that Russia was home to half of the world’s skinheads as of nine years ago, Arnold — the author of a forthcoming book on neo-Nazi and Cossack ethnic violence — said the Russian Federation now has the dubious distinction of leading the world in the incidence of reported racist hate crimes.
In 2006, 66 people were the victims of such crimes. Since then, the numbers have been climbing steadily — 85 in 2007, 97 in 2008 and 202 in 2012.
Many more such crimes simply go unreported, noted Arnold.
Muslims have borne the brunt of these violent attacks, followed by Roma and Africans.
In general, he added, neo-Nazis defame Jews by means of graffiti. A few years ago, however, a thug named Alexander Koptsev stabbed eight Jews in a Moscow synagogue.
During the 1980s, Pamyat — a neo-fascist organization — singled out Jews for defamation. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Black Hundreds murdered Jews in nation-wide pogroms.
Racist violence has flared due to increased immigration from the Caucasus to the center of the country, the economic downturn in the 1990s, the notion that racism is an alternative to communism and fears by nationalists of an ethnic Russian demographic decline.
Various reasons account for the proliferation of skinheads in Russia — the Muslim insurgency in the northern Caucasus and the Chechen terrorist campaign. The problem, he observed, has been exacerbated by returning Russian soldiers from two wars in Chechnya.
In the estimation of experts, there are more than 200 skinhead groups in Russia.
Western neo-Nazis have tried to gain a foothold in the former Soviet Union. David Duke, a former Klansman from Louisiana, lives in Ukraine. The Stormfront, an American racist group, has a branch in Russia.
William Pierce, an American racist who wrote The Turner Diaries, a novel about an imagined race war in the United States, is admired by Russian racists.
In the West, hate crimes are universally rejected by states because they run counter to the concept of equality for all citizens. Russia regards hate crimes in a far different light, regarding them as a challenge to state authority. Russian perpetrators of hate crimes are seen as hooligans and charged with disturbing public order.
The Russian government has been clamping down on hate crimes for the past six years, said Arnold. But some officials in charge of enforcing the law under the 1993 criminal code have been negligent to the point of complicity. And in the center of Moscow, brazenly racist signs are not an uncommon sight, he noted.