Moscow race hate ‘on the rise’

By Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, Tuesday 4 September 2001, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK

Africans students and refugees in Moscow say they are increasingly falling victim to violent attacks and police harassment—and all racialy motivated.

In Soviet times, Moscow played host to thousands of students from all over Africa.

They had been offered generous scholarships by the Soviet authorities. In those days they felt like welcome guests.

Many Africans remain in Moscow but today the atmosphere has changed dramatically.

Prayers for victims

Most of the congregation at the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy come from Africa and almost every week the pastor prays for the victim of yet another racist attack.

After the service one of the choir members takes me to a nearby park to meet Joseph, 29, a missionary from Sudan.

He fled his own country for Russia nine years ago when the situation at home became too dangerous. But Russia has offered its own risks.

In the park, Joseph shows me the spot where he was recently attacked by a gang of skinheads.

“I was kicked from the back,” Joseph said. “When I fell down, they came and started kicking my head, body. About 15, if not 20 groups of young people were standing by and shouting: ‘hey Negro, out of Russia, otherwise we’ll kill you.’”

Message of hate

One of Moscow's best-known thrash metal bands is Metal Corrosion. A Hitler look-alike performs on stage and the walls are plastered with fascist iconography.

The band's followers are mostly skinheads—boys as young as 13 who have been convinced that blacks and Asians are fair game.

After concerts they often take to the streets in packs, dispensing their own violent brand of justice.

Mikhail Kurkin of the Interior Ministry says attacks by skinheads are serious but not widespread.

Yet the victims of violence say police records are a poor indicator as many of those attacked do not report the crime.

Beatings ‘commonplace’

Victims complain that the police officers themselves are racist and random document checks, detainment and even beatings are commonplace.

Mikhail Kurkin is adamant the police are doing their best to protect Moscow's diverse population and that there is no such thing as institutional racism in his force

Mr Kurkin said recent increase in terrorist attacks in Moscow has led to police implementing a series of measures, including document checks.

“It is possible—and we do know about this—that in some isolated instances our police officers do not behave tactfully towards foreigners, giving them just cause for complaint,” Mr Kurkin said. “But there's no deliberate targeting of them.”

Traders and refugees who come to Moscow from Central Asia and the Caucasus say they also face abuse. The authorities in Moscow have acknowledged there is a problem.

Tolerance programme

The government is working on a major education programme aimed at nurturing tolerance among its citizens and in the police force.

But it is an enormous task and many are sceptical it will ever come into effect.

Meanwhile, students like Jane, from Nigeria, are left constantly looking over their shoulders.

“I don’t feel safe because you don’t know what will hit you [from] behind and that's why I don’t go out late. I take a taxi anywhere I go, for safety,” Jane said.

“Even on the metro I’m scared. I can’t even go out anymore. Russia is no longer safe for us blacks.”