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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 19:30 GMT 20:30 UK
Russia parliament backs extremism law
Nazi flags
Critics of the bill say it is not enough

After a heated debate, the Russian Parliament has passed on the second reading a controversial law on countering extremism.

Opposition deputies and human rights groups had criticised the draft when it was introduced two weeks ago, saying it would allow the authorities to crack down on legitimate political and social dissent.

The bill must go through one more reading and then be approved by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.

Russian neo-Nazi
Racist violence has shocked many Russians
But many believe it will take more than legislation to combat a problem Russian society has wrestled with for so long.

The stormy discussion in the state Duma centred on the essence of the bill - what exactly qualifies as extremism.

Deputies eventually voted through a definition - the first ever in Russian history - but one that is unlikely to allay the fears of its opponents.

As well as provisions to outlaw racial hatred and incitement to violence, actions that jeopardise the constitution, national security and public order are also covered.

The Duma opposition fought the amendment, arguing that it would "lead to the dictatorship of the bureaucracy".

The Communist Party is particularly worried that the law would give the government an excuse to close it down.

The presidential envoy in parliament tried to reassure them that the proposed law would not apply to political parties.

It was stressed that any decision to ban or suspend an extremist group would be scrutinised in the courts.

Public criticism

The government is hoping to rush the final reading through the Duma before the summer recess.

It is obviously trying to make up for public criticism that it was too slow in reacting to a recent spate of xenophobic violence in Moscow.

But many believe it is not another law that is needed to tackle the problem, but a change of attitude in society - and among the police and media in particular, which all too often seem to be sympathetic to nationalist sentiment in the streets.

Around Hitler's birthday, on 20 April, there is often an upsurge of neo-Fascist rhetoric in Russia, often from obscure political groups with radical views, trying to raise their profiles.

Public outcry

This happens every year but this year it coincided with the beatings of several foreigners, mainly from Asian countries.

One such beating resulted in a death and prompted a protest by the foreign ambassadors to Moscow against the general atmosphere of hatred and fear which was they thought was being stirred up by the media.

Recent months have also seen the rise of football hooliganism, resulting in large-scale riots, which some say has been organised not by football supporters by hardcore groups of people with a xenophobic agenda.

Their focus of hatred are foreigners or those from the southern parts of the former Soviet Union, particularly those with darker skins who came to Moscow and to other northern and central Russian towns.

There was also a chilling incident recently when a booby-trapped placard with the words Death to the Jews was put on the roadside just outside Moscow. When a woman tried to remove it, it blew up in her face.

There was a huge public outcry and as a result the government has come under increasing pressure to act.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov
"The Duma opposition fought the amendment, arguing that it would "lead to the dictatorship of the bureaucracy"
See also:

28 Jun 00 | Europe
22 Jun 98 | Europe
11 Jul 99 | Europe
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