ADDRESS TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION V.V.PUTIN, REGARDING THE MURDER OF SCHOLAR AND HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER N.M. GIRENKO
To the President of Russia
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Moscow, June 24, 2004
We, representatives of human rights organizations concerned with problems of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination in our country, other civic associations, journalists, scholars, cultural figures, and Russian citizens, appeal to you in connection with the murder of the remarkable scholar and human rights defender Nikolai Girenko, which took place in St. Petersburg on the 19th of June of this year. This crime was the first known political killing of a Russian human rights defender.
Nikolai Mikhailovich Girenko was one of the country’s leading specialists on problems of nationalist extremism and racism, and over many years he successfully gave testimony in dozens of court cases dealing with the inciting of ethnic discord. The conditions surrounding Nikolai Girenko’s murder, and everything that we know about him personally, exclude this killing, in our belief, from the category of everyday crimes. Instead, Girenko’s active and effective work as an expert in court cases and his public status as a civic leader gives us strong reason to believe that it was because of this very work that he was killed.
Of course, it is up to the courts to determine the truth. And in order that this take place as quickly as possible, we ask that the General Prosecutor’s Office to take this matter into its own hands.
But already the murder of Nikolai Girenko is unambiguously percieved by the public as an act of revenge by neo-fascists for his anti-fascist activities. It is percieved as such not only by those who sympthize with his work, but also by those who sympathize with the inflaming of ethnic tensions, the subject on which Girenko held such expertise. In other words, the political killing of a scholar/anti-fascist has already become an established public fact that demands a public response.
But what kind of reaction do we expect from you, Mister President, as the defender of the Constitution, which forbids the incitement of racial, ethnic, and religious discord?
The usual official statements, that “such events” are impermissable in our society, seem insufficient to us. There have already been many such statements, while the “events” continue to increase; and here, for the first time, it has come to the murder of a scolar for holding a public position consistent with his work.
On the other hand, the experiences of the past few years suggest that none of the loudly decreed resolutions on the recent intensification of political repression will have any effect either. And the existing legal possibilities that have been realized for the state to punish those who incite ethnic discord are outrageously insufficient.
It is true that our society is deeply struck by ideological nationalism and the practice of discrimination and that it is not possible to solve this problem quickly. However it is absolutely necessary to make successive efforts in this direction.
In the first place, the more extreme forms of nationalism - violence, systematic hateful propaganda, discriminatory actions by law-enforcement officials, the encouraging of discrimination by state bureaucrats - must effectively cease in compliance with national legislative and international agreements. The task of opposing these unconstitutional displays must be declared a priority by the state and controlled by the highest political leadership of the country.
We must consider a threat to national security not only terrorism as organized violence but also that which precedes it - wide propaganda of unconstitutional ideas and spontaneous criminal activity that follows in the wake of such ideas.
You know better than us, Mister President, what must be done in the face of threats to national security, and so we will abstain from making concrete recommendations. As both citizens and experts concerned with the observance of human rights, we are convinced that opposing this threat does not have to lead to the breaking of existing laws or the decreasing of civil rights, and we are also convinced that such actions would be unnecessary. In order to break the tide of extreme nationalism and neo-fascism that is sweeping over the country, the systematic fulfilling of existing legislation and the corresponding political freedoms will be entirely sufficient.
We call upon you to strive for such fulfillment as soon as possible. And we are ready to provide assistance to the authorities to this effect.
We demand that law-enforcement agencies undertake a conscientious and thorough investigation into the murder of Nikolai Girenko and all other crimes committed on the basis of ethnic, racial, or religious hate.