TALLINN, Estonia, April 20 (UPI) -- Over the last 30 months, Nazi groups have become increasingly active and murderous in St. Petersburg, a development that has prompted some of the northern capital's most important lawyers, human rights activists and intellectuals to demand that the authorities there and in Moscow take strong action now.
Irina Flige and Dmitriy Machinskiy, two researchers at the St. Petersburg branch of the Memorial Human Rights organization, have prepared a report documenting what they describe as the increasing violent actions of Nazi-type groups in that city since September 2003. it can be found on the web site polit.ru/analytics/2006/04/17/piter.html.
Their 7,000-word study, which documents case after case in which members of ethnic, racial and religious groups have been attacked or even killed and in which those responsible have either not been brought to justice or treated with extreme leniency, has now attracted the signatures of many notable residents of St. Petersburg.
The report and its recommendations now collectively form a public appeal to the city's governor, Valentina Matvienko. If the cases that Flige and Machinskiy list have been widely reported in the past, the new report's six conclusions and recommendations deserve more widespread attention than they have yet received.
First, the authors of the report note that the upsurge in such crimes clearly reflects the existence in the city of „ideologically convinced Nazis" rather than being the product of simple „hooliganism" as the authorities often suggest, on the one hand, and the „weak" response of officials up to now to such violence, on the other.
Indeed, the report states that it is difficult not to conclude that „in St. Petersburg and in Russia as a whole, there are political forces which if they do not openly profess fascist convictions nonetheless are interested in the existence of a fascist underground and the terror" such underground groups inevitably spread.
Second, the report says that St. Petersburg has become „the leader in terms of the number, planning and cruelty of Nazi-style terrorist actions directed up to now basically against people of a different race and appearance and also against their defenders." But because many officials are „infected" by xenophobia, such violence may soon spread to other groups as well.
Third, the report continues, Governor Matvienko has promised to take action to counter xenophobia and promote tolerance, but her proposals, the report says, are too little and too late and do not include public recognition of just how serious the situation now is and what a threat Nazi groups pose to the future of the city and the country as a whole.
Fourth, the failure of a jury to convict those responsible for the murder of a Tajik girl of more than hooliganism has had the effect of "compromising in the eyes of many" the very ideal of jury trials. The authorities need to combat this by improving prosecutorial efforts and also by coming down hard on those who view that verdict as a license for more violence.
Fifth, social organizations and individuals aware of "the danger of neo-Nazism" in St. Petersburg must increase their activities and create "a coordinating center" to combat this menace and to prevent its further spread both in the city and in the Russian Federation as a whole.
In making this recommendation, however, the authors pointedly note that they would "not want to call this center 'anti-fascist'" because that historically esteemed term has been compromised by the ways in which Russian officials have employed it against their opponents in recent months.
Such a center, they argue, must develop a wide range of programs, all of which reflect a clear acknowledgement of "the enormous role of nationality problems in contemporary Russia.," one that is the product both of the distortions introduced into ethnic self-consciousness during Soviet times and of problems that have arisen since that time.
And sixth, the report and those who have signed on to it say, those in St. Petersburg who are disturbed by this development must appeal to international organizations and groups and call on them to "exert all possible influence on the power structures of Russia and St. Petersburg so that they will take real steps for the salvation of our city from the disease of neo-Nazism which threatens it and us.
If this struggle against Nazism does not begin soon, the Memorial report concludes sadly, "St. Petersburg could become 'renowned' around the world" not for its beauty and intellectual achievements but rather "as the capital of Russian fascism."
(Paul Goble teaches at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)
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