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Russia: Rights Groups Say Fascism, Racism Flourishing

Russian Nationalists at a Moscow rally in 2004 Russia may seem like an unlikely breeding ground for neo-Nazism considering the devastation German Nazi troops wrought on the country. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, however, Russian human rights groups are warning of growing ultra-nationalist feelings in the country. RFE/RL correspondent Claire Bigg reports from Moscow.

Moscow, 5 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As Russia prepares to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Russian human rights activists are denouncing what they call an upsurge of racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazism in the country.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow yesterday, the activists called on Russians not to forget that the Soviet Union also repressed, deported, and massacred ethnic minorities.

Alla Gerber, who heads the Holocaust Foundation in Moscow, said that despite the defeat of Nazi Germany, fascism is deeply ingrained in the Russian mindset. Fascism is a broad term used in Russia to describe any xenophobic attitude, including Nazism.

"We have gathered today on the eve of Victory Day because fascism was not defeated at the root, in the conscience of people, because fascism was always associated with the invaders," Gerber said. "Hitler's Germany was fascist, yes, but we haven't done anything, said anything about the country we lived in, and what happened to us, and today we are witnessing the consequences."

At the news conference, the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights released a report on racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazism in Russia based on the results of recent opinion polls.

According to the report, half of Russians consider that foreigners in Russia have "too much power" and say they are ready to support measures limiting the presence of nationals from former Soviet Central Asian countries.

The reports also showed that one-third of Russians described neo-Nazis as "cleansers of society" while 43 percent of respondents said they were disturbed by the presence of foreign nationals in Russia.

Participants at the conference said xenophobic feelings were exacerbated by the Beslan hostage tragedy in September. That attack, in which more than 330 people were killed, was blamed on militants linked to the Chechen rebel movement.

Meanwhile, reports of attacks on foreigners have multiplied in recent months -- the latest on 2 March, when two Algerian students were beaten up in the Moscow metro. Both suffered minor injuries.

Others, however, have not been so lucky.

Last year in Moscow and St. Petersburg, a Georgian man was stabbed to death, a Vietnamese student was murdered, an Uzbek migrant worker was beaten and stabbed to death, and a 9-year-old Tajik girl was killed in front of her father by a band of teenagers armed with knifes and chains.

In most cases, witnesses described the assailants as "skinheads."

The authorities, however, often file such attacks under "hooliganism," a charge that angers human rights groups.

Aleksandr Brod, the director of Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, denounced what he calls a lack of political will to fight ultranationalists groups in Russia.

"Russia doesn't have any planned government policy to counter racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazism," Brod said. "Looking at these brown [racist] newspapers, we see that hundreds of books promoting pogroms and Nazism and dozens of videos are being released and actively sent to libraries, schools, and higher-education institutions. But where is the governmental program to issue antifascist films and books?"

Like many human rights advocates, Brod said the Russian government turns a blind eye to the activities of ultranationalist groups in order to promote its own interests.

"We have the impression that the presence of these brown [racist] forces is very beneficial to someone. This is a well-tested method: neo-Nazi forces, publications, and groups are supported, an atmosphere of fear is created, and then the conclusion is made that the current president is needed otherwise a fascist president will come to power."

The wave of attacks has already forced a number of foreign students in Russia to drop out of university and go home.

In March alone, 15 students from Arab countries abandoned their studies in St. Petersburg and left Russia following a series of attacks on foreigners.