Minorities Under Attack The Germ of Hate Spreads in Russia

The terror attack on Moscow's main airport last week has fuelled the flames of xenophobia in Russia. The Kremlin isn't intervening to halt the trend that could cause deep rifts in the country's multiethnic society.
Foto: Sergei Chirikov/ picture alliance / dpa

The wreckage at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport had hardly been removed before a young man in St. Petersburg had incorporated the attack into his election campaign.

Andrey Kuznetsov, a computer engineer with neatly parted brown hair, is campaigning for a seat in the regional parliament as a representative of the extreme right-wing party Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). Kuznetsov wants to see guest workers that have come to St. Petersburg from Central Asia and the Caucasus expelled or at least required "to live in certain neighborhoods, so that they can be monitored more easily."

On Tuesday, the day after the suicide bombing at Domodedovo Airport , which has been traced to groups in the Caucasus, DPNI supporters protested in St. Petersburg's Kupchino neighborhood. One of the party's activists had been stabbed and wounded by an Azerbaijani.

"The war in the Caucasus has arrived in our cities," says Kuznetsov. "We send them money, and they send us terrorists." President Dmitry Medvedev's strategy of trying to pacify the region with billions in investment is a "bad joke," says Kuznetsov. "The experiences in Germany and France show that Muslims do not assimilate. We have to keep them out."

On the Brink of Disintegration?

The right-wing extremists' demands are also meeting with approval among ordinary citizens. A radical form of Islam is gaining the upper hand in the Caucasus . More than 40 percent of Russians favor the secession of the region. The number of attacks there has doubled within a year, and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians have fled to Russia. The wars the Kremlin waged in Chechnya and Georgia were in vain, and today the majority of Russians no longer want Chechens, Dagestanis , Ingush and Balkars as fellow citizens.

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, terrorism is challenging not only Moscow's control of the Caucasus but also Russia's future as a multiethnic society. The country is home to more than 100 nationalities. Muslims make up 20 million of a population of 141 million, and seven million guest workers contribute to prosperity in Russia. In surveys, however, 36 percent of Moscow residents say that they feel "hatred" toward Chechens.

The writer Victor Erofeyev believes that "extreme nationalism is the germ that could lead to the country's disintegration." The nationalist-communist weekly newspaper Zavtra even sees a civil war on the horizon.

Last year, 37 people were reportedly killed in racist acts of violence against non-Russians. In October, the mayor of the town of Khotkovo near Moscow announced a "self-cleansing" campaign. Ironically, it was on the Day of National Unity that right-wing extremists set fire to a dormitory for foreigners and businesses fired all non-Slavic employees. In December, a radical mob staged a protest in front of the Kremlin, complete with Hitler salutes, and hunted down Muscovites with southern features -- all because a Russian football fan had been stabbed by people from the Caucasus. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the grave of the victim and threatened to tighten immigration rules.

Playing with Xenophobia

A few days after Putin's appearance, the Moscow police chief announced that he intended "to examine whether liberal and democratic principles are truly compatible with the interests of the public." He wants to reintroduce the strict Soviet-era registration system, which significantly limited unrestricted movement around the country.

However, betting on the chauvinistic feelings of a deeply insecure nation has always been risky. In 2003, the Kremlin launched the nationalist Rodina (Motherland) Party, headed by the charismatic politician Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's current ambassador to NATO in Brussels. When Rodina promptly captured 9.2 percent of the vote, Kremlin planners dropped their support for the party because of its "xenophobia."

At the end of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin and the intelligence service created the LPDR, the party of nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, to lure away voters from the communists. Zhirinovsky has since become the vice-chairman of the Russian parliament. Four days before the airport bombing, Zhirinovsky was given several minutes of airtime on state-owned television to agitate against people from the Caucasus, calling them "those thieves and speculators who neither work nor learn anything." The ultranationalist his face beet-red, shouted into the microphone: "We shit on the Caucasus. We've been fed up with it for a long time."

Neither Medvedev nor Putin called Zhirinovsky to order.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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