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Analysis & Opinion
05.04.10 Exploding Hatred
By Svetlana Kononova

Russia has recently banned Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical work “Mein Kampf,” joining a number of countries where the “Nazi Bible” is already forbidden. State prosecutors said that a book that describes the concept of “Lebensraum” and paints the Slavic people as inferior beings has “a militaristic outlook and justifies discrimination and destruction of non-Aryan races, reflecting ideas which, when implemented, started World War II.” Experts suggest that the decision to add the book to the federal list of extremist materials signifies the Russian government’s wish to illustrate the war it is waging against the far-right movements. But can this war be won, especially after the Moscow metro bombings?

“Generally speaking, publishing and disseminating the works of all Nazi leaders was prohibited in Russia in the summer of 2002, after a law against extremist activity was passed,” said Galina Kozhevnikova, a spokesperson at the SOVA center, an NGO that tracks neo-Nazi and xenophobic violence. “But this law was never explained to society. Therefore, many thought that there is nothing illegal about reading Nazi books.” The court’s recent decision seems to be a public relations stunt performed on the eve of Victory Day (May 9), Kozhevnikova believes.

Maxim Stepanov, an anti-fascist and a spokesperson for the Web site, created to promote ideological opposition to fascism in Russia, agreed. “The ban of ‘Mein Kampf’ reflects the authorities’ zealous efforts to demonstrate that they are fighting against the ultra-right,” he said. “It is very important now. Violent incidents and terrorist acts committed by neo-Nazis, such as the assassinations of civil rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, have captured the attention of high-ranking officials. The government realized that there is a casual attitude toward neo-Nazis in the country.”

Experts predict that there will be further legislative “tightening of the screws” in the area of extremism. However, it is hard to believe that a ban on Hitler’s book will have a significant impact on the xenophobia that is spreading in Russian society. “Mein Kampf” was written in the mid-1920s, and it is quite far from Russia’s present reality. It cannot be considered a guide for action and, regardless, the book remains available on the Internet despite the ban. “Any kind of ban whips up interest in the book,” wrote a blogger nicknamed Serge Nickel. “Some people may start paying attention to Hitler’s ideas after the ban of ‘Mein Kampf’ was announced.” Another blogger, Arseny Smolyak, wrote that he does not see any difference between “Mein Kampf” and the works of Vladimir Lenin’s and Joseph Stalin. “Fascist aesthetics have been described in many books and films. The aesthetics attract some youngsters much more than any fundamental historical work. They shave their heads and raise their hands in Nazi salutes because of these aesthetics, not because they have read Hitler’s book.”

Although Nazi literature has been prohibited in Russia since 2002, statistics show that the level of xenophobia in the country remains high. A poll conducted by the independent Gallup agency found that only 37 percent of Russians think that their city is a safe place to live for racial or ethnic minorities. This is the second-lowest percentage across more than 70 countries that the Gallup poll encompassed, and the lowest among former Soviet republics surveyed.
Data from the SOVA center shows that at least 71 people were killed and at least 333 were injured in incidents of racist and neo-Nazi violence in Russia last year. Racially-motivated violent crimes were reported in 40 Russian regions, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Sverdlovsk. Most attacks were perpetrated by the ultra-right, although a few attacks by nationalists from the Caucasus were reported as well. Most victims of xenophobic attacks were people from Central Asia (29 killed and 68 injured) and from the Caucasus (11 killed, 47 injured). In January and February of 2010, at least 42 people became victims of racist and neo-Nazi attacks, leading to seven fatalities.

So why are neo-Nazi sentiments so widespread in a country whose population was dubbed “racially inferior” in Hitler’s books? Why do the grandchildren of those who defeated fascism show interest in neo-Nazi ideas? “The popularization of Nazi and xenophobic attitudes in society is a result of a collapse in migration policy, the education system and social services in the past few decades,” said Stepanov. “We should understand that the modern neo-Nazi is from the generation that grew up in the ‘new Russia,’ with ubiquitous corruption, cynicism and popular ideas of personal wealth and power.” While living standards remain low, especially in some of Russia’s regions, some Russians will continue looking for “foreign enemies” and redirecting their aggression toward migrants.

Anti-fascists believe that numerous measures are needed to combat neo-Nazism in Russia. Firstly, the government should develop civil society, not suppress it. Secondly, the country should be governed by the rule of law. Surveys show at that present, most Russians do not trust the authorities and law-enforcement agencies. Moreover, social problems such as crime, heavy drinking and drug abuse are yet to be solved. Russia has become wealthier in the past few decades, but it is on a downward spiral in the social and culture spheres, antifascists believe. Members of claim that the government should not prohibit books, but any far-right organizations and movements that promote neo-Nazi ideas.

The recent tragedy on the Moscow metro has given rise to a wave of xenophobic temper in Russia, and neo-Nazis blame the government for not protecting the native citizens from Caucasian terrorists. Their ideas may well get more support in society after the explosions. “It is very difficult to predict how the situation will develop. We see that the authorities do implement some measures to decrease the level of neo-Nazi violence, such as arrests, lawsuits, recognizing racial and nationalistic hatred as a motive in crimes, etc.,” Kozhevnikova said. “However, they do not undertake any strategic steps to prevent Russian society from endorsing xenophobic sentiments. Therefore, the problem will be not solved in the nearest future, and it may get worse.”
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