Monday, November 07, 2005

Report #4 on the Conversion of Russia

Link to Original

From Guardian Unlimited

Russian Rights Groups Warn Racism Growing

Saturday November 5, 2005 8:01 AM


Associated Press Writer

VORONEZH, Russia (AP) - Just a week after Alexander Navarro Ayala arrived from Peru to study medicine in this central Russian city, he was attacked.

A group of young men assaulted the teenager and another Peruvian student in broad daylight, kicking and beating them with clubs and broken bottles, and sending Ayala to the hospital with cuts, bruises and a concussion.

Ayala, a shy, 18-year-old with thick dark hair, considers himself lucky - his friend did not survive.

As Russia celebrates a new holiday extolling national unity, rights advocates complain the country is neither united nor tolerant. They point to the scores of nationalists who marched down Moscow's streets Friday, calling for the ouster of migrants and foreigners.

Rights advocates accuse authorities of turning a blind eye to racism, which has snowballed in recent years, and warn that if resolute measures are not taken, hate crimes will grow both in number and in cruelty.

``The activity of radical and nationalist groups goes unhindered,'' Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights, told The Associated Press.

This year, 15 people died in attacks that appear to be racially motivated and last year saw 44 such slayings, said Brod, whose European Union-funded program monitors racism and xenophobia. His group estimates that Russia is home to some 50,000 skinheads and numerous neo-Nazi organizations.

The hostility is mostly aimed at those with non-Slavic features - Asians and blacks as well as dark-haired and dark-skinned people from the Caucasus region, many of whom are Russian citizens.

Experts say xenophobia is rooted in the economic hardships Russians suffered after the 1991 Soviet collapse and the influx of thousands of migrants from poorer ex-Soviet republics who seek jobs in Russia - often illegally.

Many Russians also mourn the loss of superpower status and often take out their economic and psychological woes on foreigners, experts say.

In Voronezh, a former weapons manufacturing center located 300 miles south of Moscow, racial tensions run especially high. This impoverished city of about 1 million has nearly two dozen colleges and universities, with some 1,500 students from African, Asian and Latin American countries coming to study there each year, a tradition dating back to the Soviet era.

The October stabbing death of Ayala's friend, 18-year-old Enrique Arturo Angeles Hurtado, was the second killing of a foreigner in the past two years.

Ayala, who said his entire family saved money for years to send him to Russia, said he plans to move to another Russian city to study. A Spanish student who was attacked along with the two Peruvians has already left.

``Why do Russians treat foreigners this way? Why don't they do something against fascism?'' Ayala asked.

Fazal Wahab Khan, a 23-year-old medicine student from Pakistan who has studied in Voronezh for seven years, says nearly every foreign student has been physically attacked. He said one foreign student lost an eye in an attack; another lost a kidney.

``When I walk out of the dorm in the morning, the first thing I do is look around to see that they aren't anywhere near,'' Khan said, referring to teenagers who he said move in large groups and attack foreigners walking alone.

Foreign students are also regularly subjected to racial insults from residents, said Mohamed Khamal, 32, who heads an informal foreign students' association.

``You ride a bus and they call you a monkey,'' Khamal said.

City authorities and law enforcement bodies say they try to protect foreign students, and prosecutors say they have detained 13 suspects in Hurtado's killing. Police officials say foreigners are often themselves to blame.

Vyacheslav Bezborodov, deputy chief of Voronezh region police, said often students drink before committing the crimes.

Khamal complained that foreign students are often harassed by police, who insult them and refuse to register their complaints.

``There are racists among police officers themselves,'' he said.

Rights groups say prosecutors often label hate crimes as hooliganism, because such cases are easier to investigate and allow officials to deflate racism statistics.

Many Voronezh residents were apathetic about the attacks.

``There is no racism - sometimes young people would get drunk and pick a fight, but that's all there is to it,'' said Dmitry Semyonov, a 35-year-old taxi driver.


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