OPINION

Racism rises in Russia



Vladimir Radyuhin

KISHORE KUMAR Anjangi, 23, was walking through a dark archway next to his domitory in central St. Petersburg last week when he was attacked by two hooded men armed with knives.

The men stabbed Mr. Anjangi twice in the neck and fled without saying a word. Luck was on Mr. Anjangi's side twice that night as the knives closely missed the carotid artery and his friends at the Mechnikov Medical Institute knew how to stop him from bleeding to death before the ambulance arrived. Mr. Anjangi was taken to a nearby hospital where he was operated upon. The next morning Russian television showed the fifth-year Indian medical student, his neck bandaged, sitting in bed showing reporters where he had been hit.

Mr. Anjangi is the second Indian student in Russia to have been attacked by racists this year. Last month another medical student was beaten up by four teenagers in Ryazan, 200 km from Moscow. The latest attack took place on the eve of Adolf Hitler's birthday, which Russian skinheads mark by harassing or attacking Africans, Asians, and also non-Slavic residents with origins in the Caucasus or Central Asia.

Racist violence has been on the rise in Russia, particularly in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin's hometown, which has earned notoriety as Russia's racist capital. Two weeks before Mr. Anjangi was stabbed, a student from Senegal was shot in the neck and killed in St. Petersburg as he left a popular nightclub with friends. A week earlier, in the same city, a girl of mixed Russian and African origin was wounded in a knife attack.

There were 27 racially motivated killings in Russia last year, according to the SOVA Analytical Information Centre in Moscow, and police said 20 foreigners had come under attack this year.

According to official figures, there are 10,000 skinheads in Russia. But human rights groups and experts allege that the real figure is five times higher. As racist attacks are growing in number they are also becoming more brazen. Police found a swastika painted on the hunting gun dumped by the killers of the Senagalese student and, within hours, a neo-Nazi website applauded the murder, stating that "the clean-up of the city continues."

Experts link the racist wave in Russia to economic hardship and the crisis of moral values after the break-up of the Soviet Union. It is also a reaction to recurrent attacks on Russians in predominantly non-Russian Muslim regions in the country's North Caucasus, which threatens to start a vicious circle of hate crimes.

Many Russians suffer a deep sense of inferiority aggravated by an acute demographical crisis. With its 144-million population shrinking at the rate of 700,000 a year, Russia badly needs migrant workhands. But ill-conceived immigration policies have resulted in uncontrolled inflows of migrants from former Soviet republics. They have flooded Russia's big cities taking over wholesale and retail trade and stoking xenophobia and racism. Three days after Mr. Anjangi was attacked, an ethnic Armenian was stabbed and killed in a central metro station in Moscow in broad daylight.

The Federal Migration Service estimate the number of illegal immigrants in Russia at about 10 million, most of them from the former Soviet regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia. National polls show that most Russians blame immigrants for crime and other social problems and support restrictions on their migration.

Human rights groups have accused authorities of failing to rein in ultranationalist groups. They say skinhead mobs are allowed to act with impunity because they help channel people's anger at their social and economic hardships towards non-Russians.

Political opponents of President Putin also say racist attackers provide a bogeyman to frighten the public into voting for pro-Kremlin candidates in the 2007 parliamentary elections and the 2008 presidential election.

Foreigners therefore fall victim to what appears to be Russia's largely internal problem, which makes the country a less attractive destination for students from Asia and Africa.

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