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(Un)Civil Societies Report: June 28, 2006

June 28, 2006, Volume 7, Number 11
IRAN, AFGHANISTAN CONTINUE TO SUFFER FROM ILLEGAL DRUGS. As the United Nations marked its International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 25, there was some good news: according to the UN's latest World Drug Report, global opium production fell last year. Though it is a welcome development, the head of the UN's counternarcotics office says Afghan opium production could increase this year. That will have a strong impact on Iran, which has the world's highest drug-seizure rate but also suffers from drug crime and abuse problems. While the UN believes a reduction in demand for drugs is the most important aspect of counternarcotics, the Iranian government continues to emphasize supply interdiction.

Global opium production is estimated to have reached 4,620 tons in 2005 -- 5 percent less than the previous year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) "World Drug Report 2006," which was released on June 26. UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa gave an overview of which countries are growing the opium.

A Good Year, But Much More To Do

"By and large, 90 percent is from Afghanistan," Costa said. "There is still a certain amount of cultivation -- I think over 30,000 hectares but going down rapidly -- in Myanmar [Burma]. On February 14 this year, we certified Laos as opium free; there is practically nothing from...Thailand; about 5,000-6,000 hectares were detected over time in Colombia -- to some extent eradicated but some is still there -- and the Colombia crop goes to the United States, while the Afghanistan crop goes basically to Europe, China, and Russia."

Overall cultivation figures from Afghanistan have fallen, but cultivation in some areas of the country has increased. There are indications, furthermore, that opium poppy planting increased this year, particularly in the south.

Some 24 percent of all the opiates produced annually are eventually seized by security forces. Afghanistan produced some 4,100 tons of opium in 2005, so it is natural that its neighbors -- Iran, Pakistan, and China -- accounted for the highest seizure rates.

Reducing Demand Also Important

But Costa said it is not enough to interdict drugs or even to eliminate opium crops. Costa recommended aggressive measures be made to reduce demand for narcotics. "We can consider drugs as an addiction problem and therefore a behavioral problem," he said. "We can consider drugs as a cultivation [and] an economic problem; but by and large it's a market, with a demand and a supply. An illicit market -- an 'evil' market, if you wish -- but still it has a demand and a supply. Like for any other product, if you cut the supply, the demand persists. Something is going to happen. First of all the price will skyrocket."

Costa added that more people will enter the drug business as it becomes more lucrative, and therefore more land will be devoted to drug production. It is also possible that heroin addicts will turn to other drugs that could be more dangerous. "Therefore, my plea is indeed to forcefully act on curbing the cultivation, and also, and perhaps even more forcefully, acting on reducing demand, namely abuse, namely consumption," he said.

According to the UN report, narcotics trafficking to Central Asia and Pakistan has decreased, whereas trafficking towards Iran has increased. Almost 60 percent of Afghan opiates go to or through Iran and, according to the UNODC, this figure will rise.

But UNODC chief Costa also pointed out that Africa is playing an increasingly important role in drug trafficking as interdiction efforts make it more difficult for traffickers to use traditional routes. "Africa is under threat. Nobody suspects transhipment of narcotics from Africa into Europe," Costa said. "Therefore, traffickers are using Africa to tranship cocaine coming from Colombia and the [Andes mountain region] and heroin coming from South Asia and Afghanistan, in particular."

Drugs Causing Problems In Iran

The amount of narcotics entering Iran is having a profound impact on public health. Mohammad Mehdi Gooya, the chief of the Iranian Health Ministry's disease-management center, said in April that approximately 3.7 million Iranians abuse drugs, "Mardom Salari" reported on April 18. He said there are 2.5 million addicts, and that some 137,000 inject drugs occasionally.

Gooya said that research conducted five years earlier in six cities in Tehran Province found that many addicts are female sex workers. "Some 94.8 percent of AIDS patients are men, and 64.3 percent of them caught the disease through the use of infected and shared syringes, while only 7.3 percent caught AIDS through sexual intercourse," Gooya said.

The impact of narcotics on the Iranian penal system is noticeable as well. More than 60 percent of the country's convicts, Iranian officials say, have been imprisoned for drug-related crimes. And more than 10,000 narcotics traffickers and drug users have been executed over the past few decades, while hundreds more face the death penalty.

Ali Akbar Yesaqi, the head of Iran's Prisons, Security, and Corrections Organization, said some 50,000 people go to prison every month, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 14. Yesaqi said that the prison population increased by 1.7 percent in the last year. He added that some 70 percent of the prisoners seek drugs, and he admitted that it is difficult to prevent drugs from getting into prisons.

Another prison organization official, Mohammad Ali Zanjirei, said drug-related crimes are the most common in 19 of Iran's 30 provinces, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 20.

The narcotics trade is not just having an impact on the public-health sector and the penal system. The Iranian government says more than 3,000 security officers have lost their lives fighting drug trafficking, and Tehran asserts that it has spent billions of dollars creating static defenses along its 1,800 kilometer border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. As most of the drugs smuggled into Iran are destined for Europe, Iranian officials say Western states should be greater financial support to their efforts.

Iranian Officials Speak Out

Fada Hussein Maleki, the secretary-general of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, addressed these issues in a speech before the June 23 Friday Prayers sermon at Tehran University. He criticized American and British efforts in Afghanistan because of the failure to stop drug trafficking, and he accused them of wanting to legalize opium cultivation, IRNA reported. Maleki added that the prevalence of crystal methamphetamine, Ecstasy, and other synthetic drugs is complicating the situation in Iran.

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani dedicated a great deal of his June 23 sermon in Tehran to counternarcotics as well. In countries like Iran, he said, synthetic drugs are more dangerous than opium, state television reported.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani failed to discuss Iranians' demand for drugs, and he focused instead on the supply side, for which he blamed other countries. "We realize that the leaders of all these major trafficking bands that we arrest are supported by colonial countries," he said.

The West could wipe out opium in Afghanistan by using chemical sprays, Hashemi-Rafsanjani argued, and if it can track down terrorists hiding in caves, why can't it deal with narcotics dealers in the streets and heroin manufacturers?

Iran's Expediency Council is revising current laws, Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the congregation, but the police, Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and legislature must work together as well to help combat drug use and trafficking. Public awareness is important, too, he said.

"After all, if we can change the destiny of a young addict, be it a boy or a girl, and give proper guidance to a household where an addicted person was brought up, we can help prevent others from falling into this dangerous trap," he said.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani called on all citizens to work against drugs: "We should all join hands and act together to tackle the problem."

It is notable that for UNODC chief Costa reducing the demand for drugs is the most important issue, whereas Iran's leaders seem to continue to focus on reducing the supplies of drugs. More than a year ago the Iranian government said that greater attention needs to be given to reducing demand, but with the election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad the old yet unsuccessful prioritization of law and order and interdiction have been reinstated. (Bill Samii)

THE DIFFICULT PROCESS OF HEALING TORTURE VICTIMS. Ahead of June 26, the UN's International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten spoke to Dorrit Ree Iversen of the Danish-based Rehabilitation and Research Center For Torture. The center is one of the oldest institutes of its kind in the world. For the past 20 years, its staffers have offered physical and psychological treatment to torture victims from around the globe who have received asylum in Denmark. The center also conducts medical research as well as fieldwork and advocacy in many countries aimed at stopping torture.

RFE/RL: Who are your patients? What countries do they come from?

Dorrit Ree Iversen: It's been an interesting evolvement of our patient group, because when the center was first established in the beginning of the 1980s, it very much catered -- so to speak -- to people coming from South America, from Argentina, from Chile. [We received] a lot of the people who were escaping military dictatorship in those countries.

And today we see that this has shifted quite a bit. Many of our torture survivors come from Iraq, countries in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iran. We have a few coming from the former Yugoslavia and Africa. But it's mainly from the Middle Eastern countries.

RFE/RL: Torture comes in many forms. In your experience, which wounds are harder to treat: the physical injuries or the psychological ones?

Iversen: Many of the survivors that come to the center have actually been in Copenhagen, in Denmark, for many years and have been leading quite normal lives, have been coping with the effects of torture on their own. And many of them have then maybe experienced some kind of flashback situation that brings back all the memories from the torture, so at that point, one could say that the mental treatment becomes a bit more important because it might have been a long time since the physical torture and those problems might have healed themselves -- at the least the ones that we can see.

RFE/RL: What kind of treatment do you offer patients?

Iversen: We have both individual treatment and group treatment and family therapy as well. And when the survivors are referred to the rehabilitation center, there is an assessment made to find out whether they are eligible for the treatment. And then we assess how the treatment can best be planned for each individual client. So that is how it is then determined whether to start the individual treatment or the group treatment. And within each of these treatment sessions, there are four people to assigned to each person -- a social worker, a doctor, a physiotherapist, and a psychiatrist. So they are part of the team that is then connected to each person.

RFE/RL: Does the need to communicate in many different languages present unique challenges to your staff?

Iversen: Yes, very much. And we operate with translators, obviously. And with this group treatment, we try to group people together [who speak a common language.] Right now we have a group of Arabic-speaking men, for instance and we are going to be starting an Iranian group as well, a Farsi [Persian] group. So in that sense, we try to group them.

And we have interpreters. We have one interpreter that is permanently working for the [Rehabilitation and Research Center For Torture] and we have a big group of translators that go through a very extensive process to be allowed to work here -- obviously to make sure that they don't have [any] kind of ties to any elements in their own countries that will affect the treatment. So it's a very long process to get the right group of translators because that is a very important part of the treatment.

RFE/RL: Do cultural factors also present special challenges, especially when you are dealing with people who have endured such trauma?

Iversen: People that work here have been working for many, many years and have developed a very intuitive way of knowing how to treat these people and have a knowledge of the cultural differences and how in some cultures it's very difficult for men to speak about their feelings -- even more, perhaps, than in Western culture. And in other places it's more of a physical way [that is used] to express your feelings, so that's something that factors in very much to the treatment.

RFE/RL: In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been growing debate, especially in the United States, on what constitutes torture and whether it can ever be justified. The administration of President George W. Bush has been criticized internationally over the way it runs [the detention center in] Guantanamo [Bay, Cuba] as well as its policy of rendering terror suspects to countries where torture is practiced by security forces. Do you feel the world has taken a step backward in the fight to eradicate torture?

Iversen: Obviously, what we have seen after 9/11 has been somewhat of a blow to the campaign against torture. With the consent of the different countries that existed before, that everybody was working for the prohibition of torture, there was a general agreement about what is torture and how we define torture. That has become a bit more difficult now.

But we are hoping that there's still some pressure on the movement and there are still many countries that are very interested -- and I think Denmark is one of those countries -- in keeping the issue of torture on the international agenda. And we are hopeful. We still see some positive signs.

RFE/RL: Some intelligence and military officials, as well as politicians in the United States, argue that harsh interrogation techniques used on terror suspects are necessary and do not constitute torture. Others disagree and have fought to have such methods banned. In your opinion, is it hard or easy to determine what torture is? Should we revise our definitions in the wake of 9/11?

Iversen: The [UN] Convention Against Torture, which was passed in 1984 and entered into force in 1986 -- that was the time when the countries agreed upon a set definition of what torture is. Today, we have 141 countries that have ratified the convention and who have agreed that this is a definition that we all adhere to and try to work for.

So if you look at it in that sense, then it's not so difficult. But obviously there are issues within the definition that can make it more difficult to determine whether or not something is torture. But in the end, organizations like my own, we have to work with the notion that we have a definition that we agree upon. And in the Convention Against Torture, it says that nothing can validate committing torture. So that is the goal that we are working for. And if we start somehow to derogate from that definition, then it's a slippery slope that really never ends.

PRISONERS FACE INHUMANE CONDITIONS. Inmates in Georgian prisons often live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, many of them even sharing beds. State budget contributions are meager and officials admit the outdated Soviet penitentiary model doesn't work. To alleviate the problem, the state is building new, modern facilities to house inmates.

Malkhaz Petanian entered the Rustavi high-security prison, near the capital Tbilisi, six years ago, after being convicted of robbery. He doesn't try to justify what he has done, but doesn't think his sentence is fair.

"I fought in Abkhazia; I'm a war veteran," Petanian says. "When I came back, I was left with nothing. I had no choice but to commit a crime to feed my family. That is how I ended up here. There is nothing I can do now -- I did something wrong, now I'm here. I have to serve my sentence, repent, and try to improve things in the future. I was sentenced to 13 years. I had never been tried before, and they still sentenced me to the maximum term. The article under which I was judged mandated a sentence of from six to 13 years. I admit that I was guilty, but why did they have to sentence me to the longest possible sentence?"

Trying To Straighten Things Out

Petanian regrets the crime he committed. But now he says he is trying to turn his life around. "I became a believer," he says. "When I was free, I lived a different life. Here, I started to read. I had not read the Bible before. I've become aware of many things -- now I understand the burden of my sins. Today, I live a religious life. I am doing my best to repent for the sins I've committed, and to live in a righteous way."

Most inmates at Rustavi are here for serious crimes -- robbery, burglary, or murder.

Sixty-five-year-old Guram Chelidze is serving a 15-year sentence. "I'm here for murder," Chelidze says. "But not all murderers are the same. I never killed when I was 25, so how could I possibly have murdered a person in my 60s? But it happened. Most of the elderly people who you see here are sentenced for murder. You know, some young people are nowadays very offensive toward the elderly and insult them deeply. And sometimes it becomes impossible to bear such insults. I never thought this would happen to me. Killing someone still seems unthinkable -- I would never be able to do it now, even if somebody promises me freedom in return."

Taking Turns Sleeping

Chelidze, like most inmates at Rustavi, grumbles about his living conditions. The inmates live in cramped rooms in a building that was built 50 years ago. The same is true across Georgia. In Tbilisi's Prison No. 1 space is so scarce prisoners have to take turns sleeping.

Part of the problem is with government funding. The state allocates only 23 laris (approximately $12) for each prisoner in Georgia every month. As a result, family members often provide for the inmates.

"My husband told me they take turns to sleep," said one woman who asked not to be identified. "The cells are full of fleas. He said there are cockroaches in the food they are given, so he would rather eat only onions, garlic, and bread. I need at least 300 laris every month to bring him food and also give him some cash. I used to bring it every week -- but now, I can no longer do this. I do not even know what he eats now."

The state, it seems, is taking note.

New Prison Construction

Georgia's ombudsman, Sozar Subari, says there are both objective and subjective factors causing problems in the penitentiary system. "The situation is catastrophic and there are two reasons for this," Subari says. "The first is that there is not enough space for prisoners. Prison No. 1 [in Tbilisi] is particularly overcrowded, three people sharing the space of one. The second reason is absolutely subjective: the corrupt administration. Judge for yourself. In the overcrowded prisons, there are several cells where one prisoner has 50-60 square meters all to himself."

The Justice Ministry runs two prisons, 10 colonies, and two hospitals. Officials say radical reform is needed. Deputy Justice Minister Ekaterine Tkheshelashvili says Georgia should abandon the Soviet penitentiary model -- including the so-called "corrective labor colonies" -- and should house all prisoners in cells. New prisons are being built in Rustavi, Kutaisi, and Tbilisi, which in total will house more than 5,000 prisoners.

"It has been decided that in 2006 a new prison will be built in Tbilisi, which will be big enough for both convicted prisoners, and those in remand custody," Tkheshelashvili says. "This should solve the problem of overcrowded detention facilities once and for all in Georgia."

Justice Ministry officials hope that reforms will help create a systemized, well-organized environment for the prisoners -- and will reduce the chances of prisoners escaping or reoffending.

The ministry also plans to reduce the number of prison officers -- while increasing the salaries of those who remain. Presently, a person employed in the penitentiary system earns an average salary of 100 laris a month, which is around $55. The Georgian average national salary is around $80. (Jimsher Rekhviashvili)

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- TRADITION OR CRIME? At least 17 women have died in Kyrgyzstan in the past two years at the hands of physically abusive husbands. It is a sad reminder that many Kyrgyz women are unable to escape the horrors of domestic violence. Statistics from the country's crisis shelters -- where many of the most serious cases end up -- suggest that 80 to 90 percent of Kyrgyzstan's victims of domestic violence are women.

Ainura says she never imagined married life could become such a nightmare. Or that she would have to suffer through so much in two years of life together. She was building a home and a future with a man whom she calls her husband, although she says her marriage was never officially registered. But he soon began to criticize and beat Ainura on a regular basis.

'In The Beginning...'

"In the beginning, it was all good -- until we got married," Ainura says. "Oftentimes, he was just jealous. It started after we got married, and got worse after I got pregnant. When he would leave for work, he started locking me inside our house. He broke our home telephone and, still, after coming back from work, he would start asking questions about visitors. I answered, 'Who could come when the door was locked?' He began to search for reasons to swear at me -- he even confessed that on the way home he would plan on what he could complain about. For example, if dinner wasn't ready or clothes not ironed or washed, and so on."

And that's when the beatings began, she says. "He beat me badly, kicked [me] -- even when I had our son in my arms," she says. "Our son was very scared afterward, and even when my husband was talking loudly, [our son] would start crying hysterically."

To Ainura, it was clear that her husband was trying to turn her into his property, rather than his wife. "I was just a slave to him," she says. "I cooked, cleaned, washed, [and] looked after our child. And when he came home, I begged him not to beat me."

The young couple lived together with her husband's relatives. To Ainura's surprise, they never intervened to stop a beating or to discourage her husband's cruel treatment. "The last time, he beat me and kicked me in the kidneys -- it was very painful," Ainura says. "I cried and ran out of the room. As I was running out, I saw his brother and sister sitting and silently observing in the next room."

'A Part Of Our Tradition'

How is it that seemingly typical families can stand by in silence and watch a young woman being savagely beaten by her husband? Perhaps society considers such violence acceptable.

"Men have beaten their wives since the ancient times," a young man named Sabyr who live in Bishkek said. "These actions became a part of our culture and traditions."

Does Sabyr beat his own wife? "Yes, I do -- two or three times a month," he said. "I don't want to do it, but sometimes it just happens on its own. They talk too much, [or they] complain, and sometimes it has to be done -- just as a warning to them."

Another man, Samat, says he has never raised a hand against his wife. But he adds that he considers that an option. "I think that couples need to understand each other," Samat said. "A husband and a wife -- both should be trying to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home. Beating is just too much. But there are times when women behave in a way that makes their husbands beat them. Those men's actions can be justified. But obviously men should try to explain everything through talking."

Another man, Askar, says he fears the effect that such violence can have on children. "I am against domestic violence," Askar said. "If a wife and her husband fight at home, what kind of a child will grow up in such a family?"

'Who Will Take Care Of My Child?'

Ainura eventually decided she had had enough of her husband's abuse. After a brutal beating, she sought the help of a doctor and eventually left home. She says her maternal instincts prompted that difficult decision. Ainura felt that she needed to be healthy and strong for the sake of her 1-year-old son. Wherever Ainura might end up, she thought, it would be better for herself and her baby.

"I thought: 'What is going to happen if he kills me one day? If I die, who will take care of my child?' And this feeling saved me," Ainura said. "I realized that my son needs me."

With no parents or other close relatives to turn to, Ainura focuses her attention and her energies on her child.

After leaving the home of her abusive husband and his compliant family, Ainura sought shelter at a crisis center in Bishkek. The Sezim crisis center is now their home, although it is difficult to say for how long. In addition to food and shelter, Ainura receives psychological counseling and legal advice.

In The Crisis Center

The shelter's director, Byubyusara Ryskulova, says the number of women turning to Sezim for help is increasing every year. The center recently sponsored a survey on domestic violence in which two out of three respondents claimed to have been the victims of domestic violence. Ryskulova places much of the blame on the way children in Kyrgyz society are raised.

"From a very young age -- in kindergarten, in school, and then in university -- we have to teach everyone that all members of society are equal," Ryskulova said. "Everyone should know their rights and know how to defend them and not violate the rights of the others."

Counselors from the crisis center are trying to determine whether Ainura's husband can be taken to court for his abuse and forced to meet his obligations to his wife and child. The task is made more difficult by the fact that Ainura and her husband never officially registered their marriage.

But still, Ainura says she is happy to have escaped what she describes as a life of "slavery." She wants to find a job and be a good mother to her son. And while she remains dependent on the shelter for the time being, Ainura talks about plans and hopes for her and her baby's future. (Bermet Egemberdieva)

RACIST VIOLENCE TAKES ON A POLITICAL CHARACTER. Violent attacks on ethnic minorities and foreigners in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities have become the focus of international attention. Much of this has examined how ineffective the authorities have been at combating the racist scourge. But analysts have suggested that rather than being an embarrassment for the Kremlin, the wave of skinhead and neo-Nazi violence is actually politically useful as elections and a presidential succession get nearer.

It sometimes seems that fear -- not hope -- is what drives the Russian electorate. So it isn't surprising that a specter always seems to haunt the country at election time.

Back in 1996, Boris Yeltsin conjured up the threat of resurgent Communists to frighten voters into giving him a second term.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin used the fear of terrorism and Chechen separatists to win the Kremlin.

And seeking reelection in 2004, Putin presented himself as the nation's defender against greedy oligarchs who were bleeding the treasury dry.

Russia's next presidential election is still 21 months away. But it appears as though the Kremlin is already looking to invoke a once-familiar menace to unnerve voters as the ballot approaches -- fascism.

"Those who are trying again to raise the defeated banners of Nazism, who sow ethnic strife, extremism and xenophobia, are leading the world to a dead end, to senseless bloodshed and cruelty," Putin said. "For this reason, the defeat of fascism must be a lesson and a warning about the inevitability of vengeance."

That was Putin in his May 9 Victory Day speech on Red Square, using the anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat -- and Russians' still-harrowing memories of their suffering in World War II -- to warn against the resurgence of fascist and racist ideals on Russian soil.

It's a threat, unfortunately, that is all too real. Reports of racist violence have become increasingly commonplace.

Russia's Sova center, which monitors extremist activity, says 18 foreigners and non-Slavic Russians have been murdered and nearly 150 injured in racist attacks since the beginning of 2006.

Similar statistics have been reported in recent years, and there is no clear evidence that the number of racially motivated beatings and murders is on the rise.

But the brazen cruelty of the attacks -- like the 2004 stabbing death of a 9-year-old Tajik girl, and this year's gunning down of a Senegalese student, both in St. Petersburg -- has terrified non-Russians living in Russia and provoked sharp criticism from the international community.

The country now has an estimated 60,000 skinheads -- compared to a total of just 70,000 elsewhere in the world. It's a trend the Kremlin has vowed to combat.

But veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomarev says the Kremlin's new attitude is mostly about politics -- in particular, the politics of presidential succession that will take center stage when Putin's second term expires in 2008. "The authorities look at the battle with fascism as a mechanism to legitimize themselves. They use this to influence average citizens by saying: 'Better us in power than the fascists,'" Ponomarev said.

Putin, who is constitutionally prohibited from serving a third consecutive term, is eager to ensure a hand-picked successor follows him into the Kremlin with the full support of the public.

Successfully battling the so-called "brown" specter of fascism would be one way to strengthen the support of an already affectionate electorate. It would also dampen anti-Kremlin criticism among the liberal intelligentsia -- and provide the Putin camp with a damning label to use against potential opponents from nationalist parties like Motherland.

The racism strategy may even prove effective in convincing a skeptical West that Putin and his team are the only ones who can prevent chaos from engulfing the country. Nikolai Petrov is a specialist in Russian domestic politics at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"The Kremlin is looking for a threat that can be exploited. The idea is to find something which will be shared by the masses here in this county and the West. If there is a real fascist threat, then something should be done, and this will justify a lot of different moves," Petrov said.

These "different moves," Petrov suggests, could include using less-than-democratic means to ensure a victory for Putin's chosen successor.

They could even mean keeping Putin in power past the expiration of his second term.

"Let's imagine that Mr. Putin will decide to stay for a third term. This idea is not very popular right now in the West, although it is supported by a majority of ordinary Russians. If the West will be forced to choose between Putin and the threat of the destabilization of the country on the other with a clear 'brown' threat, then it would be much more supportive of Putin staying in office," Petrov said. The Putin camp has already tied the fascism issue to 2008.

Sergei Mironov, a Putin ally and the chairman of the Federation Council, presented proposals to extend the president's term in office just after several racially motivated attacks, including the New Year's Eve stabbing death of a student from Cameroon in St. Petersburg and the knife assault on worshippers in a Moscow synagogue by a man shouting anti-Semitic slogans. (Brian Whitmore)