|SKINHEADS' ATTACKS ON VISITORS INCREASE IN RUSSIA|
Wednesday, May 20, 1998
By Neela Banerjee, Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning
MOSCOW - Sitting near a red and black banner that looks like
a cross between the Confederate and Third Reich flags, Konstantin
Kasimovsky said that he understands why skinheads beat up on
"They provoke the attacks," said Mr. Kasimovsky, explaining
how angry he gets at the sight of interracial couples.
"I'd behave the same way if I weren't head of this
organization," he said, referring to the Russian National Union,
whose official motto is "Purity of faith and purity of blood."
Many of the group's members are skinheads, ideological
brethren of the five young men who beat an African-American
marine this month in an open-air market in Moscow.
A slender 23-year-old with two missing front teeth, Mr.
Kasimovsky avows nationalist and white supremacist ideas but
insists that his group eschews violence.
The attack on the marine is just the latest in an epidemic
of racially motivated beatings and slayings of Asians and
Africans in Moscow. The crimes are the work of increasingly bold
right-wing extremists whose troops are teenage skinheads.
Though the skinhead movement has festered in Europe for some
time, the emergence of fascist groups in Russia is particularly
ironic. The Soviet Union suffered more than any other country
during World War II, losing 20 million people in the fight
Now, Russian "nationalist socialism" gives the disgruntled
easy answers for the country's many woes: A government dependent
on outsiders has wrecked Russia, and only an iron hand and racial
cleansing can improve things, they say.
The skinhead gangs draw young men because it's "cool to
shave your head and wear combat boots and beat up anyone you want
and feel that you can get away with it," Mr. Kasimovsky said.
That feeling of impunity is part of the problem, observers
say. For years now, many say, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has made
nationalism official city policy.
As a result, police are often accused of harassing and
beating foreigners and looking the other way when skinheads do
"For Africans, there are two enemies in Russia: skinheads
and police officers," said Edmundo Manhica, 37, a journalist from
Mozambique who has lived in Russia for 14 years.
After the Soviet Union fell apart, racial harassment
increased. About 40 percent to 50 percent of Russians hold
xenophobic views, double the proportion in the early 1990s,
according to a survey by the All Russian Center for Public
Most foreigners agree that attacks have grown more frequent
and more organized.
"A year ago, the skinheads walked around in ones and twos,
and they were often drunk or on drugs," said Ibimina Ibamo, a
25-year-old student from Nigeria, who was attacked last year and
again this March. "But those who came after me this time were
wearing a uniform. They were sober and in a big group."
In Moscow, there are about 3,000 to 4,000 skinheads, while
other cities may have a few dozen, said Pyotr Kaznacheyev, head
of the watchdog and activist group the Anti-fascist Youth Action.
It's not just because Moscow is a larger city but because
"here there is official intolerance toward outsiders," Mr.
Indeed, a few years ago Mr. Luzhkov signed a decree to fight
crime that gave police a free hand to chase out people from the
Caucasus region, most of them dark-skinned. The mayor declined to
Race-based law enforcement now affects foreigners, too.
Though document checks are unconstitutional, police routinely
pull aside Africans and Asians to go over their passports. The
police also shakedown foreigners.
Raj Agrawal, a 25-year-old Indian student, was detained by
police even though his documents were in order. After holding him
all day, they strip-searched him and stole about $250 before
releasing him, he said.
The police not only set an example for skinheads, "they give
them passive support," Mr. Kaznacheyev said.
The goal of Mr. Kasimovsky's group is to run Russia, he
said, although it hasn't been able to field candidates in any
elections. But Mr. Kasimovsky said he is patient.
"To quote Lenin, 'The worse it is, the better it is for us,'
Neela Banerjee is a free-lance journalist based in Moscow.
Copyright 1998 The Dallas Morning News