Racist Attacks Threaten Multiculturalism in Russia

According to Emil Pain, director of research into extremism and xenophobia at the Institute of Sociology, the breakup of a multinational state like the USSR brought about an identity crisis with scores of different nationalities, each with their own ideologies and visions of who the enemy was.

For decades, Soviet ideology nurtured the idea that Russia was surrounded by enemies. With the demise of the Soviet Union and the loss of economic and social stability, foreigners and ethnic minorities became obvious and easy targets.

Another significant factor may be the mass migration in the '90s from Central Asia, the Caucasus and Northern Caucasus. At this time there were frequent clashes and conflicts between locals and newcomers as a result of differences in lifestyles and mentalities, observers say.

Due to significant drops in standards of living, well-off migrants today are received negatively by locals often on the assumption that they gained their wealth at their expense. Such attitudes reign, experts point out, despite the fact that the majority of migrants work as laborers; they clean the streets, collect rubbish and work in construction.

Economically and socially, the majority of migrants are worse off than locals, according to experts. The government has implemented few measures to integrate migrants into Russian society, leaving the local population to cope alone.

As ever, the role of bureaucracy in Russian society is dominant; citizens understand that their lives are more dependent on the powers that be, than on personal effort. Since one cannot be the boss in one's own country, why not be the boss of ethnic minorities and migrants?

Furthermore, the ill feeling toward Chechens and Caucasians has been fueled by a series of terrorist attacks and the Chechen wars.

There is also the reported worldwide rise of ethnic, religious and racial hatred, which has inevitably affected the changing Russian order. Globalization has mixed effects; on the one hand, it standardizes lifestyles and on the other it provokes mass migration and the tendency to blame an outsider for social problems.

From the '90s and onward, people have been anxious about deprivation of housing, the crime rate, the health system, employment, failing public services as well as broken promises concerning the chasm between government rhetoric and government policies.

Russia has at least 10 extremist and nationalist groups that frequently preach xenophobia and racism. One of the larger and relatively long-established extremist groups is the National-Bolshevik Party, which was recently banned after a court hearing. However, plenty of groups are still thriving and party activists are believed to be between 10,000 and 15,000 in number.

However, extremist groups are marginal in comparison to the mass skinhead movement, which has tens of thousands of members age between 13 and 30. Analysis by the MBPCH Centre shows that most criminal skinheads are between 15 and 17 years old. Numbers are especially concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Voronezh and Nizhni Novgorod. These youths tend to come from low-income families in run-down areas, often belonging to football fan clubs and heavy rock groups; they supposedly offer an attractive image of the physical strength of youth, with their laced-up boots, cropped hair and leather jackets.

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