There has been some cricket chirping on AFOE the past few days, so allow me to make a little bit of noise here and chase them away.
Amnesty International has a new report out, called Russian Federation – Violent racism out of control. I shall quote part of the report below the fold and ask some questions to our readers.
The quote from the Amnesty International report:
Racist attacks and killings of foreigners and ethnic minorities are reported with shocking regularity in Russia and disturbingly, their frequency seems to be increasing.(1) Victims whose cases have come to the attention of Amnesty International include students, asylum-seekers and refugees from Africa and Asia, as well as people from the south Caucasus, from South, Southeast and Central Asia, from the Middle East and from Latin America. However, citizens of the Russian Federation are no less at risk of physical attack. Anyone who does not look typically ethnic Russian, for example, individuals from ethnic groups of the North Caucasus, in particular Chechens, as well as members of the Jewish community, Roma and children of mixed parentage are at risk. Even ethnic Russians who are seen as sympathizing with foreigners or ethnic minority groups, for example, fans of rap or reggae music, members of other youth sub-cultures, and campaigners against racism, have also been targeted as they are perceived as “unpatriotic” or “traitors”. Attacks have been reported in towns and cities across the Russian Federation.
Ordinary Russians and foreign citizens have protested against the violence and the failure of the state adequately to respond to the situation. There have been mass demonstrations in response to racist murders. Students in Voronezh took to the streets to protest for three weeks following the murder of Amaru Antoniu Lima, demanding safety guarantees from regional law enforcement officers. In St Petersburg in October 2004 following the murder of Vietnamese student Vu Anh Tuan, and again in April 2006 following the murder of Lamsar Samba Sell, students in St Petersburg organized demonstrations and meetings to protest against what they viewed as the authoritiesâ€™ failure adequately to address the wave of racist violence in the city. A “March against Hatred” was organized in November 2005 in St Petersburg in honour of Nikolai Girenko (see below).
President Vladimir Putin has spoken out against racism. On 3 March 2005 at a meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berl Lazar, President Putin stated that anti-Semitism and any kind of extremism and xenophobia will not be ignored by the authorities(52), and he has called racism an “infection” that should be stamped out.
After reading this report I went over to The Russian Dilettante who, in fact, had something to say on Russian xenophobia. Not on his own blog, but in the comments section of a post on the Publius Pundit blog:
To begin with, the rise of racial violence in Russia is more of an impression than a fact, and the Russian press under Putin is busy reporting on every episode that might turn out to have a tinge of racial hatred. In the case of the murdered Tajik girl, the press assumed it was a racially motivated murder from the beginning, relying on nothing but guesswork and ignoring other possible explanations (such as drug gang violence). Moreover, the prosecutors seem to have spent too much energy on finding racial motives that they failed to prove that any of the defendants actually stabbed the girls. (Some of the attackers escaped and have not been identified to this day, which is a huge problem for the prosecutionâ€™s case.)
Why is this happening? Putin is in desperate need of an opposition force that the West would love him to crush. His first attempt at building an â€œuglyâ€ opposition was Rodina but it became somewhat too independent and is now being reformated under the Kremlinâ€™s guidance for the 2008 election.
This is not to deny that Russia has no problems with racial violence but considering the large share of its underclass in its population â€” the underclass is invariably racist, and viscerally so â€” and the unchecked immigration, we could expect violence on a much greater scale.
The issues that various fake nationalists like Rodina purport to address are real and long-term. As James Cox put it, â€œprotection of indigenous rightsâ€ is at their heart. Putinâ€™s government has an aggressive immigration program that will, if implemented, replace tens of millions of native-born Russians with immigrants from Central Asia, China and the Caucasus. Native-born Russians, and especially ethnic Russians, fear becoming a minority in their own country, knowing the fate of Russian minorities in Central Asia and the Caucasus is barely preferable to that of Zimbabweâ€™s white farmers.
This is, of course, a pessimistic scenario but I hope it shows that, whatever xenophobia is observed among the Russians, can be rational. (Moreover, xenophobia is indispensable at early stages of nation-building.) But â€” and this is also inevitable â€” the dislike for immigration is intimately connected with a dislike for immigrants, often racist in essence. In other words, large-scale immigration â€” a social phenomenon perceived as negative by most Russians (myself included) â€” brings out, as a reaction, the racist (or â€œhate-the-ugly-otherâ€) potential that is dormant in most humans. Once this potential actualizes, we see attacks not only on immigrants but on native Russians of certain ethnicities.
Severely limiting immigration or restricting it to people of Russian ancestry (regardess of ethnicity) would at least alleviate some of these pressures.
It is a difficult situation and, as Alexei says, a universal thing. It is eery how alike we all are no matter where we live. A few questions to our readers: Do you also believe that mass immigration, a true shock of cultures as it were, inevitably brings out the racist potential in most of us? Is this reaction (the reaction, not the violence it brings) normal? How many foreigners could any given society tolerate? Is there a threshold that should not be crossed or are we more flexible than we think?
These questions are by no means rhetorical, I am honestly trying to understand the limits/possibilities of human nature and would like to see a discussion focussed on that. I would therefore humbly ask you to keep the discussion civil and take it to another level. We all know the multiculturalist and the xenophobic stances, I am looking for something better than the usual “we are all human beings” or “toss all the foreigners out” arguments. I am aware of how broad these questions are, but so are the issues at stake. BTW, if there are any sociologists out there, please do respond. Some scientific input would be most welcome.
PS: All emphasis is mine