The murder of a Vietnamese student in St. Petersburg has once again underscored the growing problem of racist violence in Russia. Eyewitnesses report that on the evening of October 13, a group of 15-18 young men with shaven heads and black clothes and boots attacked Vu An Tudan, a 20-year-old first-year student at St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, while he was walking to the metro after attending a friend’s birthday party at the Pavlov Medical Institute dormitory. Tuan received at least five deep knife wounds and died at the scene. A group of around 80 foreign students demonstrated against “skinheads” outside the dormitory yesterday [October 14]. Six persons have reportedly been arrested in connection with the murder. However, the prosecutor of St. Petersburg’s Petrogradsky District, Alexei Terpigorev, said that investigators are considering several different motives for the murder and that a racially motivated attack is not the main one (Ekho Moskvy, October 14; Moscow Times, October 15).
The murder of Vu An Tudan took place the same week that seven young men went on trial in St. Petersburg for last September’s murder of a 6-year-old girl in an attack on a Gypsy camp south of the city, which also seriously injured a 5-year-old girl and 18-month-old baby. The defendants, described as skinheads aged 16 to 19 who belong to “extremist organizations,” are accused of attacking the children and two Gypsy women with metal rods, chains, bars, hatchets, and knives. According to eyewitnesses, they shouted “Russia for Russians!” and other racial epithets during the attack. The defendants were arrested as part of an investigation into the murder of a 9-year-old Tajik girl who was stabbed to death in front of her father and young cousin in February (Novye izvestiya, October 14; Moscow Times, October 15).
Late last month, a court in the city of Voronezh sentenced three young men for the racially motivated murder of a medical student from Guinea-Bissau. The accused, aged 16, 20, and 22 years old, received prison sentences ranging from nine, ten, and 17 years in prison, respectively. The two older defendants were reportedly members of Russian National Unity, a neo-Nazi group (MosNews, September 30).
While such successful prosecutions are heartening, Mark Deich of Moskovsky komsomolets claimed in an article published today [October 15] that the proportion of racial attack cases that are successfully prosecuted has actually been shrinking, while the number of such attacks has been growing. Out of 17 such cases recorded in 2000, eight went to court (although the accused in seven of these cases received only minor penalties). In 2001, 32 such attacks were recorded but only six went to court (and the accused in four of the cases received suspended sentences). In 2002, 74 such cases were registered and 19 were taken to court. In 2003, 72 racial attacks were registered but only 11 were taken to court (Moskovsky komsomolets, October 15).
Meanwhile, the independent Levada Center has published the results of a poll conducted last month on attitudes toward nationalism. Asked to characterize skinheads and other youth groups that persecute non-Russians, 30% described them as “ordinary youth who suffer from idleness,” 29% called them “hooligans,” 26% said they are putting nationalist and fascist ideas into practice, and 3% called them “Russian patriots” and “defenders of the homeland.” Nearly two-thirds of those polled (59%) said they thought Russian law enforcement shuts its eyes to the activities of skinheads and similar youth groups, while 19% said they thought the police and other agencies fight against them. Three percent of those polled said they thought law-enforcement supports the skinheads. At the same time, 67% said they thought the activities of skinheads and other such groups should be decisively countered, 13% advised ignoring activities of skinheads because they will outgrow them, and 4% said skinheads should be supported. Asked how they feel about people who call for fighting against “non-Russians,” 48% said they were angered by the actions of such people, 37% said they view such calls with tolerance but not approval, and 6% said they approve of such calls.
Asked whether nationalism is good or bad, 17% answered that it is “definitely” or “more likely” good while 72% said it is “definitely” or “more likely” bad. Asked whether they thought nationalism has grown in recent years or whether it has simply become more talked about, 39% said it has actually grown while 45% said it has simply become more discussed. Asked for the main reason for the growth of nationalism in Russia, 34% cited poor living conditions, 205 cited “aggressive actions and behavior by national minorities,” 14% cited the authorities’ inability to handle “outbreaks of nationalism,” 13% said the authorities have an interest in exaggerating nationalism, and 5% cited the “national prejudices of the Russian population.” (With each of these questions, some respondents found it difficult to answer.)
Another survey, conducted earlier this year by the Moscow-based Expertise Foundation, found that 60% of those polled supported placing restrictions on the habitation in Russia of persons of Caucasus origins, 42% said they supported limiting the influence of Jews in public life, and 68% said ethnic Russians should control Russia (Gazeta.ru, March 16).