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"Special Opinion� of Aleksandr Verkhovskiy

Human rights activists are concerned over the serious growth in nationalistic moods in society. According to the human rights center SOVA, for the first quarter of 2007, violence based on ethnic grounds had grown almost twenty percent compared with the same period last year. In this case, sociologists note an increase in Russian sympathy towards nationalists. According to the Levada Center, the slogan �Russia for Russians� was supported by 58 percent.

We talked with the director of the information-analysis center SOVA, Aleksandr Markovich Verkhovskiy, about nationalism and racism in Russian society.

There was a protest in Moscow against illegal taxi-drivers. Activists from one youth movement called for people to not use the services of a �non-Russian� driver with a Caucasian appearance. For several hours, standing at traffic lights, they passed out white and green leaflets depicting a girl of Slav appearance rejecting the services of a Caucasian taxi driver. On it were printed the words �We won�t go that way!�

In A. Berkhovskiy�s opinion, such a protest action is no different from �classic racism.� In his words, if one is to inattentively read the leaflet and nowhere on it is a racist group mentioned, but the leaflet talks about migrant, that �We won�t accept rides from them,� and the accompanying picture depicted a young person with a definite Caucasian appearance whose taxi services are being refused. In addition to this, it is understood that in the context of contemporary word usage, when migrants are mentioned in Russia, what first comes to mind are not those that came to Moscow from Saint Petersburg, but those people that have come specifically from southern regions, an even including those that were born in Russia as �migrants.� This indeed is not evident to someone who is observing only physical characteristics or traits. If a person has a Caucasian or Central-Asian physiognomy, then he or she will be called a migrant. Moreover, the expression �we won�t accept rides from them� means �we will not let them drive,� and not only in the sense of driving a car. And so �political ecologists,� as they call themselves, attempt to clean society of those people who were depicted in this leaflet picture. This is a racist leaflet.

"They intend to define nationality by external signs, a means which until now was only made use of by neo-Nazi organizations and the Ku-Klux-Klan," stated director of the information-analysis center SOVA.

At present, the concept of �racism�, according to Verkhovskiy, has strongly changed. Currently, there is not a conventional understanding, but in any event, according to terms used in international legal documents and science it is understood as not only comparing one race or other to another, but also in identifying someone else as a �stranger�, who can be defined in any way. It is well known that there does not exist such an ethnically defined group as �Caucasians� (which includes many different peoples), but nevertheless hostility is directed at the ill-defined �them� as a whole. People do not distinguish Ingush from Avar or from anyone else. Therefore racism is different in that it is not compulsory to discriminate someone by the color of their skin, in its place; it is possible to discriminate because of some behavioral elements, by religion or other signs.

Aleksandr Markovich described some fundamental problems that are connected with the language of hostility, focusing attention on the number of problems appearing at the regional, but not the federal level, which create a universal Russian tendency.

Source: Radio of Russia site

� 1993-2003

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