According to Kazakhstan’s influential youth paper Express K, the Saryarka district court in Astana is investigating an unprecedented case. For the first time in Kazakhstan’s history, a member of a skinhead movement has been indicted for stirring up racial and interethnic strife. Yevgeni Yefimenko, a seventeen-year old college student in Astana, was arrested for distributing propaganda materials that called on like-minded people to fight for the “Russian cause” (Express K, July 7). When law enforcement discovered these inflammatory messages, Yefimenko was warned that his xenophobic activities violated Article 39, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of Kazakhstan. But Yefimenko continued to send electronic messages to Russian nationalistic organizations styling himself as “the leader of the skinheads of Astana.” The Russian leaders responded with instructions on how to conduct skinhead activities and promised to send nationalistic literature.
The investigation later revealed that Yefimenko had been involved in the Russian skinhead movement for about a year and was using his parents’ computer to create his propaganda tracts. However, neither his parents nor his friends made any attempt to stop him. When police searched his apartment, they found a whole stack of racist articles. It seems that his parents and friends had chosen to ignore his racist and anti-Semitic diatribes.
Skinheads are still considered a rarity in Kazakhstan, although the actual number of individuals who sympathize with Russian extreme right organizations is unknown. However, the constitution does state: “Any actions capable of upsetting inter-ethnic concord shall be deemed unconstitutional.” If convicted, Yefimenko faces a minimum of two years in prison, according to the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan. The Yefimenko case suggests that Russian extremists are looking for ways to export their rabid nationalism to Kazakhstan. Radical videotapes and literature can easily be smuggled from Russia across the poorly controlled borders. Many people are deeply alarmed by the surge of violence against Central Asians and Caucasians in Russian cities and open-air markets.
The problem is greatest along the Kazakhstan-Russia boarder. At least since the Khrushchev era, Russian leaders occasionally have asserted that the five northernmost provinces of Kazakhstan “historically” belong to Russia. The Russian nationalists who organize demonstrations in front of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Moscow echo this claim. On November 18, 1999, a group of armed Russian extremists infiltrated eastern Kazakhstan intending to overthrow the local government and establish a “Russian Autonomous Republic of Russkii Altai.” Munitions, hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, and Kalashnikov rifles were confiscated from the detained Russian extremists (Panorama, November 26, 1999). The insurgents, including some ethnic Russians, were tried in Kazakhstan, then later pardoned and expelled from Kazakhstan.
Mounting Russian nationalism is seen as a direct threat to Kazakhstan’s independence, but the government has largely ignored the phenomenon. The Kazakh paper Azat writes that Russian leaders and members of State Duma pursue their nationalistic policy openly. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his regret over the fall of the Soviet Union saying that it was “a mistake of history.” He may use the status of Russophones in CIS countries as a pretext to interfere in local inter-ethnic relations (Azat, April 21). The Russian-language press in Kazakhstan never comment in any way on the rise of extremism and neo-fascism in Russia. Russian nationalism is a taboo subject for government officials, who ignore developing problems and tirelessly refer to the “historical friendship with great Russia.” Astana must act before skinhead ideology becomes entrenched in Kazakhstan. Ignorance is not the best strategy for building friendly relations with Russia.