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Even during the May 9th celebrations, skinheads were free to stroll through downtown Moscow

The world recently celebrated the anniversary of the Victory over fascism. However, those who were vanquished 62 years ago in Europe are now gaining strength in Russia itself. And so, on May 9th, members of the �Slavyansky Soyuz� (Slavic Union), who boast of their �SS� abbreviation, demonstrated in the streets. According to the report recently presented by the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights (MBHR), the number of skinheads in Russia is already equal to that of skinheads in the rest of the world, and the number of their victims grew by 150% last year.

According to experts, the goodwill of authorities towards nationalists is explained by the fact that they help them carry out a policy of �island under siege�.

The MBHR�s recent report shows that the number of skinheads in Russia has quickly grown to reach 65 to 70 000 people, compared to 7 to 8 000 at the end of the 90s. For comparison, according to the American Antifascist League, there are about 70 000 skinheads in the rest of the world. That means that there is now about the same number of skinheads in Russia as in the rest of the world. Skinhead gangs are present in 85 Russian cities. They are especially numerous in Moscow (approximately 5 500) and in St. Petersburg (3 000). The Ministry of Internal Affairs, with the support of a few lawyers, disagrees and suggests a different number: 15 to 20 000 people, which is none the less a big number.

Not only is the number of skinheads rapidly increasing, but so is the number of their victims. According to the Center �Sova� (Owl), 172 people were attacked by nationalists in the first four months of this year. Of this number, 23 died. Last year, there were 120 victims, 9 of which died. In their report prepared for the European Union, �Sova��s experts pointed out that Russian authorities have recently been trying to create a �dirigible nationalism� by manipulating the population�s xenophobic sentiments. This tendency became especially apparent in the past year, after the pogroms in Kondopoga. Afterwards, �ethno-nationalism began to expand not only within the general population, but also in government politics�. Examples of this ethno-nationalism include the anti-Georgian campaign, as well as the new interdiction for foreigners to work in markets.

The director of the MBHR, Alexander Brod, told �NI� that, alongside with teenage skinheads, there are about 25 000 adult activists in the various nationalist organizations. The largest nationalist organizations are the �Movement Against Illegal Immigration� (�DPNI�), the �Slavic Union�, (�SS�) and the �Russian National Unity� (�RNE�). While the Day of Victory over fascist Germany is one of the most important government holidays in Russia, the RNE, according to Brod, �propagates the cult of Hitler� and �openly advocates learning from fascist Germany�s achievements, culture, discipline and development�. If nationalists used to be in the margins of society, they are now �mixing within the political milieu� and their ideas are more and more often used to support policies. For example, Vladimir Zhirinovsky called for the eviction of migrants from major cities and the interdiction for immigrants from the Caucasus to work as drivers.

The authorities� relationship towards nationalists is ambivalent. On one hand, the Russian leadership officially condemns manifestations of nationalism, a fact the President declared repeatedly. On the other hand, while the government broke up the anti-Kremlin protest march held in the capital on April 14th and beat and arrested many of its participants, nationalists were able to hold two sanctioned meetings in the center of the city on April 21st, in time for Adolph Hitler�s birthday (April 20th). Approximately 300 people attended the meetings. The speakers urged participants to arm themselves and to �enter the Kremlin in organized columns�, the participants yelled out �Hail Russia!� and gave the Nazi salute. Interestingly, one of those meetings took place on Pushkin Square, where authorities had refused the protest march to take place.

The organizations that took part in the April 14th protest march are being declared illegal one after the other. The National-Bolshevik Party (NBP) has already been deprived of its registration by a court decision putting it among the ranks of extremist organizations. It is now a crime to appear in public places with NBP symbols. The �Red Youth Avant-garde� and the �United Citizen Front� have received warnings and might also soon be outlawed. Interestingly, authorities only want to outlaw organizations whose actions have not caused any victims. No one is hurrying to outlaw nationalists. The leader of the DPNI Alexander Belov declared to �NI� that he is not worried that his organization might receive the same treatment as the NBP. �For that to happen there would need to be strong arguments, and I see none�, says Belov. He calls the majority of accusations against the DPNI �fictitious�, for example, that he would have given out vodka to the thugs in Kondopoga.

Human rights activists have a different opinion. The representative of the �Citizen Assistance� committee Svetlana Gannushkina told �NI� that DPNI activists �convince people that Russia belongs only to Russians�, and that �the only real outcome of what they say is violence�. Therefore, the organization�s leaders are guilty if �there are people who take the following step�. In the past year, Ms Gannushkina has demanded of the Office of the Public Prosecutor to abolish the DPNI. However, the person who received her claim declared that �no violation of the law has been observed�, and therefore �there is no grounds for the prosecutor to take action�. The executive director of the movement �For Human Rights� Lev Ponomarev received the same answer when we he demanded the abolishment of the �Slavic Union�, whose hackers broke into the websites of human rights and Jewish organizations, an act they were congratulated for by Duma deputy Nicolay Kuryanovich.

According to experts, the favorable relationship towards nationalists is linked to the fact that authorities profit from their existence. The political scientist Dmitriy Oreshkin told �NI� that national defense agencies in particular sympathize with nationalists. �At the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other special services, some generals support them for ideological reasons or out of personal interest�. In the Kremlin, nationalism is interpreted as �the cost of another more important process (from the point of view of the supreme power) � the consolidation of society around a revival of a defense consciousness: enemies are all around and we are an island under siege�. The political scientist calls this �the Soviet revenge�, when the inevitable slow-down in economic development caused by similar policies is sacrificed in order to make the country �more easily manageable�. Nationalists are especially convenient because they don�t aspire to a seat in the parliament and their political activity does not prevent politicians from gathering votes. A recent survey by the �Levada Center� bears witness to the success of this type of propaganda. According to the survey, 41% of citizens were convinced that Russians lived in worse conditions than other ethnic groups in Russia, 54% supported the slogan �Russia for Russians� either completely or �within reasonable limits�, and 11% were in favor of restricting any ethnic group other than Russian from living in Russia.

Source: �Novye Izvestiya� Newspaper

� 1993-2003

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