Behind the Lens: Interview With Kelly Whalen
Reporter Kelly Whalen talks about the challenges of reporting on hate crimes and how the consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union have left many Russians asking themselves what it means to be Russian today.
Although 84 percent of the Russian Federation's population is ethnic Russian, about 100 other ethnic and national groups are also represented. The rise in xenophobia in Russia has been attributed to economic hardships -- particularly unemployment after the collapse of the Soviet Union -- and deep-rooted ethnically based nationalism that lay dormant during decades of Soviet rule. Some believe that the war in Chechnya has created a breeding ground for hatred of all ethnic minorities.
Groups targeted for hate crimes in Russia have included students from Africa, North Korea and Vietnam, as well as Armenians, Tajiks, Chechens and Jews. One survey indicates that 50 percent of Russians do not oppose restricting the number of ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and residents of former Soviet Central Asia republics who can live in Russia, and another survey indicates that more than 42 percent of Russians believe that the influence of Jews in government and business should be limited.
There are an estimated 600,000 to 1,000,000 Jews living in Russia. State-sponsored anti-Semitism was the norm during Soviet times: Jews caught going to synagogue could lose their jobs or be expelled from universities. Even though today Russian Jews enjoy freedom of worship, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the perennial problem of anti-Semitism has become increasingly violent in recent years. Vandalism of synagogues and desecration of Jewish cemeteries is frighteningly common, and in 2003, violent incidents included the explosion of a small bomb in a Jewish kindergarten and booby-trapped anti-Semitic signs placed along highways.
Accusations of anti-Semitism have been made against several nationalistic parties, including Rodina ("Motherland"), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and anti-Semitic rhetoric is said to have been part of some local election campaigns.
Experts agree that most hate crimes in Russia are committed by skinheads -- a group that has increased from a few dozen in 1992 to tens of thousands in 2005. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights reports that in 2004, there were 44 skinhead murders and 300 other attacks -- figures that rise by about a third every year.
Some maintain that although Russia has legislation that prohibits racist propaganda and violence, it is rarely enforced. All too often, critics say, racist attacks are dismissed as mere vandalism or "hooliganism."
Sources: U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, BBC, The Economist, Agence French Press, Ria Novosti, The Jerusalem Post.
"Anti-Semitism Alarms Russian Jews"
In early 2005, 19 members of the State Duma -- the lower house of the Russian parliament -- signed a letter that compared Judaism with Satanism and demanded that all Jewish organizations in Russia be investigated and banned. This BBC article covers reactions in the Russian Jewish community.
"Russia Gets Help From U.S. in Fighting Hate Crimes"
Kelly Whalen's March 2005 article for the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story of a delegation of police officers, city attorneys and judges dispatched to Russia, via a program called Climate of Trust, to help reduce hate-motivated violence.
"Russia Jails Killers of African"
In September 2004, the BBC reported that three Russian men were convicted of killing an African student and of fomenting racial hatred.
"Girl Killed by Russia 'Racists'"
This article from February 2004 covers the stabbing death of a 9-year-old Tajik girl, allegedly killed by a group of skinheads.
"Analysis: Israel-Russia Tensions"
In April 2005, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Israel, the first such visit ever made by a Russian or Soviet head of state. This BBC article examines the history of relations between the two countries, including the Soviet Union's severing of diplomatic relations with Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War and rapprochement after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ)
The UCSJ posts news of racist incidents in Russia and publishes the Bigotry Monitor, a weekly electronic newsletter that covers hate crimes in former communist countries and western Europe.
U.S. State Department Report on Anti-Semitism: Europe and Eurasia
This 2004 report from the U.S. State Department declares that one of the sources of anti-Semitism in recent years is "criticism of both the United States and globalization that spills over to Israel and to Jews in general who are identified with both." The report suggests that the Russian government has been slow to distinguish between "hooliganism" and anti-Semitism.
"Ethnic Minorities Under Attack"
Amnesty International (AI) reports on racial profiling in Russia and attacks against Africans seeking asylum in the country. According to AI, in some attacks by skinhead gangs, "police were reluctant to classify the attacks as racially motivated despite strong indications that they were."