By John Finerty
CSCE Staff Advisor
On October 15, 2002, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing devoted to two recently issued reports on the subject of ethnic and religious intolerance in today’s Russia: the Moscow Helsinki Group’s “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia” and “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions” issued by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.
Expert panelists were Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Tatyana Lokshina, International Department, Moscow Helsinki Group; Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union; and Dr. Leonid Stonov, Director of International Programs for the Union.
In his opening statement, Commission Senior Advisor Donald Kursch welcomed the prospect of openness and tolerance in Russia, calling for the Russian leadership to set an example for its citizens to emulate. “Achieving success in the fight against intolerance demands strong leadership by the Russian Government and the Duma to provide effective legislation, regulations and standards. Training and sensitizing public officials...to be proactive in dealing with attacks on religious and ethnic minorities is critical,” he remarked.
The panelists described the rise of ethnic and religious intolerance in several regions of the Russian Federation and the general lack of adequate response by authorities to the violence that frequently accompanies this intolerance. Such inaction, Alexeyeva contended, sends a message encouraging further manifestations of violence based on xenophobia and intolerance.
She pointed to growing prejudice against persons from the Caucasus region of Russia, “Caucasophobia (sic) is definitely the most serious problem that Russia is faced with today. It is very widespread among the population in general, at all levels.” As an example of this phenomenon, Ms. Alexeyeva cited remarks by the former governor of the Krasnodar Region, Alexander Tkachev, who stated that people who do not have Russian last names or last names with typical Russian endings “have no place in the territory of Krasnodar Region.”
Ms. Lokshina addressed the “religious xenophobia” carried out against minority religions, most notably against Catholics. There have been several instances in which Catholic clergymen from abroad have been denied permission to return to the Russian Federation despite their possession of valid entry visas and longstanding ties with their Russian parishes. “The introduction of educational programs that focus on the dangers of racism, nationalism and xenophobia and that foster respectful attitudes toward cultural diversities in officials, especially in police officials, judges and law enforcement, is vital and necessary in Russia,” she contended.
Mr. Naftalin supported the statements made by the prior panelists, raising particular concern about anti-Semitism in the Russian Federation. He reported that, according to his organization’s research, there had been instances of xenophobic aggression and anti-Semitism in 63 of Russia’s 89 regions, and that violent incidents against minorities in Russia has increased 30 percent from last year. This exemplifies “a failed criminal justice system that it is in both Russia's and America's interest to repair,” he asserted. Against the negative attitudes of many public officials, Mr. Naftalin complimented the positive attitude and actions of Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, and his regional network of regional offices. Naftalin concluded that the West should treat and monitor human rights abuses as seriously as the West monitors and inspects access to weapons of mass destruction.
Copies of prepared witness statements and an informal transcript of the briefing may be found on the Commission Web site at www.csce.gov.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
United States Helsinki Commission Intern Shadrach Ludeman contributed to this article.