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Moscow Diary: Rise of extremists?

The recent conviction of a racist youth gang in Moscow suggests extremist groups in Russia could grow in numbers as economic hard times continue, the BBC's James Rodgers says.

His diary is published fortnightly.

TWISTED IDEOLOGY

"For faith, tsar, and fatherland!"

Nationalists hold a rally during Russia's National Unity Day in Moscow. Photo: November 2008
Nationalist groups marched in force in Moscow on Russia's National Unity Day
The cry predates 1917, when faith and tsar were swept aside by the Bolshevik revolution, and the fatherland became a very different country.

Yet these were the words which a 17-year-old reportedly shouted in defiance in a Moscow courtroom in 2008.

Artur Ryno was identified as one of the leaders of a gang of skinheads. Last week, the groups was found guilty of 20 racist murders, and 12 attempted murders.

Even in a country where racist violence is relatively common, this was a particularly shocking case. Some of the attacks were apparently filmed so that the gang could boast of what they had done.

Exact details are hard to come by. The trial was held behind closed doors - the norm under Russian law when the defendants are minors.

My grandmother told me how they really believed in communism. Before that, we had the tsar, and Orthodoxy
Russian PhD student

So accounts of the proceedings, like Artur Ryno's words above, have only come from unofficial sources who have spoken to the Russian media.

Faith, tsar, and fatherland - values which were dear to millions of Russians for centuries, but which belong to an era long before Artur Ryno was born. Now a teenager, he started life as communism collapsed.

Artur Ryno and his gang are the extreme, dangerous face of generation who have grown up in an ideological vacuum.

Their childhood was spent in the wild 1990s, when the Soviet Union and all the certainties which went with it had evaporated.

Recruiters for radical causes have always known that disaffected, hopeless youth are often easily moulded into fighters.

That doesn't seem to have been the case here. Ryno seems to have made up his own mind to "cleanse Russia and her capital of outsiders".

To most Westerners living here, Russian attitudes to race seem, at best, old-fashioned. Racist remarks are far more socially acceptable than they might be elsewhere.

The incidence of racial violence shows the violent, extreme, side of that: the Moscow Human Rights Bureau - a non-governmental organisation - says that 74 people were killed, and 340 injured, in racist attacks in Russia last year.

That's not to say that every Russian is racist. The profiles of most of those involved in the killings seem to fit a pattern: angry teenagers who have been left out of their country's recent economic boom.

Now there's a question mark over whether the good times will continue. Russian shares have lost around two-thirds of their value since May.

Oil, the fuel which has driven the boom, looks set to trade at a much lower price for the foreseeable future.

DANGERS OF DOWNTURN

The longer term consequences are harder to guess at - but economic hard times tend to make extreme politics more attractive.

A woman walks past graffiti reading "We love you!" with a swastika mocking migrants
Russia has been plagued by racist attacks in recent years

In recent years, the Kremlin administration seems to have been aware of the possible consequences of the vacuum of belief.

The public holiday which used to remember the 1917 Bolshevik revolution was shifted a few days and renamed National Unity Day. The decision to include military hardware in the Victory Day parade on Red Square in May this year was taken to satisfy a yearning for national pride.

"My grandmother told me how they really believed in communism," a PhD student here told me recently.

"Before that, we had the tsar, and Orthodoxy."

Now there's nothing.

Perhaps aware of the burden which ideology placed on the people of the 20th Century, modern Russia's leaders are reluctant to identify themselves with any particular political creed.

Russia is not on the verge of some kind of extreme nationalist revolution, but the unpleasant case of Artur Ryno, the young man who was apparently studying icon painting, shows that there is a disaffected, and potentially dangerous, group in Russian society.

They are a minority - but if there are tougher times ahead, their numbers could grow.


Your comments:

The activity of such groups make me worried about my friends who happen to be 'outsiders of the Russian nation'. True, our grandparents BELIEVED in communism. What is more important was that older generations were brought up in Soviet Union, where all people were Soviet no matter what nationality they belonged. And Russia was one of the 15 republics.
Olesya Tsurgan, Moscow, Russia

It is useless to deny that hate speech is tolerated more in Russia than, say, in the UK. Laws in Russia are such that it is much better not to send extremist to jail just for the hate speeches, but for other crimes - they will be in prison for longer. But pray don't say (or hint) that it's worse than in EU as a whole.
Dmitry, Now in UK, ex-St Petersburg, Russia

Israel has similar problems to Russian with immigrant Nazi skinhead groups. I'm amazed that any Russian would consider Nazism a viable alternative, since Hitler and the Nazis killed about 25 million Russians in World War II and planned to turn all Russians into slaves because they considered Russians to be sub-humans.
Donna Metreger, Be'er Sheva, Israel

It is quite shocking to me seeing the video of these racist attacks, how they were carried out in broad daylight and people in the background carried out business as normal. If the world doesn't address the issue of extremism in Russia, we may have to deal with a Fascist state that has the largest number of nukes on earth.
Dimitri, Baltimore, MD

I have been here for two years now as an expatriate from the US, I have never seen anything "racist" attacks, though it does exist, it's very rare. There are racist attacks in England as well, and maybe you choose to ignore the many gang killings that happen in the United States from mostly Black and Mexican people. I only ask that you don't exaggerate this so much, and maybe cover the events of killings not JUST y Russians, but any race in Russia. I am half Mongolian, and have never had any problems.. just avoid the bad areas just as in any city.
John Samazin, Moscow, Russia

I am Indian, I've been to Moscow around six times. Apart from corruption there is nothing that stops me from going there. People there are lovely. A very small percentage of people do not represent the whole country. Though people should stop this disease from spreading.
Avi, Sunderland, UK

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