FAR RIGHT-WING EXTREMISM AND XENOPHOBIA IN CONTEMPORARY RUSSIA
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has witnessed a marked and progressive increase of extreme right-wing ideology, which has led to violent interethnic clashes, terrorism, outspoken government officials calling for neo-imperialist expansion, and as some would argue - war. Along with Russia’s relative prosperity and stability following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power at the turn of the century, Putin has gained strong widespread support and will surely be re-elected in March 2012. However, the Russian government under Putin has indirectly allowed for the evolution of an extreme right-wing movement through its policies and lack of action toward preventing attacks. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that Putin is not responsible for creating or orchestrating a movement that has in many cases been responsible for lethal violence.
It was in 2004 that the Russian Federation experienced the most dramatic increase in militant hate crimes on non-Russian ethnic groups with 215 people injured and 49 killed. Following this, 414 were injured and 47 killed in 2005, and 485 injured and 54 killed in 2006 (Varga, 2008). These findings demonstrate the rapid growth in support of such hate groups, or at least the frequency of attacks and demonstrations. This suggests that the continued rise of xenophobic hate crimes is not likely to lose momentum. The factors that have played a part in developing the spread of far right ideology include political parties, radical individuals within government, and nationalist groups and associations.
Russians have had a long history of strong nationalistic and imperialist tendencies, which began as early as the wars against the Mongols and Russia’s first tsars, who were praised for expansionism and demonstrating Russian superiority across two continents. Pamyat, a type of think-tank formed not too long before the fall of the Soviet Union, was an extreme right-wing group of intellectuals comprising many of the contemporary far right thinkers later discussed in this paper. William Korey (as cited in Varga, 2008) explains that this group is considered the base of which the current Russian far right extremist ideology was formed and it was from this group that led to the construction of the two most significant and extreme political parties in modern Russia.
Between 2001 and 2006, the Levada Center (as cited in Laryš & Mareš, 2011) found that following the wars in Chechnya, more than fifty percent of Russians agreed with the phrase “Russia for Russians”. This demonstrates a rise in fear and hatred toward ethnic minorities, specifically those from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Laryš & Mareš (2011) argue that this rise in xenophobia is linked with the wars in Chechnya and the influx of both legal and illegal ethnic migrants into Russian cities. These migrants have generally been uneducated, do not speak Russian, live in non-Russian ethnic neighbourhoods, and fail to adapt to Russian culture. This is of particular annoyance to Russians as many view these migrants as taking advantage of the Federation and spreading malignantly throughout Russian cities; making it more difficult for native Russians, for example, to find employment. Furthermore, several Chechen terrorist bombings that took place in various cities within the last decade have instilled fear in many Russians who in turn have grown more fearful and distrustful of all Caucasians (Laryš & Mareš, 2011). It is also important to note the role that politicians, in particular Alexander Zhirinovsky, have played in exacerbating these elements of fear among Russian people. Considering these facts, it is possible to understand the festering of hatred that has taken place among Russians toward non-Russian ethnic groups.
This paper analyzes contemporary far right-wing extremism in the Russian Federation, the causes for its emergence, the groups responsible for recruitment of extremists, violent attacks on ethnic minorities, and the potential for far right-wing extremism to take hold as part of the ideology of a national governing party. Furthermore, it will discuss the role of the administration under Vladimir Putin and the strategies that the governing United Russia party has taken in both combatting and aiding far right-wing ambitions.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation under President Boris Yeltsin sought to democratize the country and create stronger relations with the West - namely the United States. This, however, severely backfired as the country spiralled into chaotic economic disarray, leading to a strong anti-Western resentment among Russians. Along with anti-Western sentiments, some ethnic minorities of Russia and citizens of former Soviet republics became the prime target of right-wing extremist groups. This has been mainly due to an influx of Caucasian and Central Asian migrants, seeking opportunities unavailable in their home lands, and a rising paranoia following the wars in Chechnya (Varga, 2008). Although these groups have varying fundamental values and methods of acting on their beliefs, support for far right-wing extremist measures has steadily increased in popularity over the past decade in Russian society.
Derek Mitchell (2007) also argues that a great deal of xenophobia has occurred in Russia’s Far East due to a long history of distrust between Russia and China, illegal migration of Chinese into Russia, and a growing demographic imbalance as Russians move westward and Chinese migrants apparently occupy an increasingly large portion of the Russian Far East population. Although Russia and China are allies, international relations policies of both countries have had a history for fueling hatred and suspicion between the two states, continuing to breed disgust for one another. It does not appear that a strong militant effort is underway in Russia’s Far East, however, if Russians’ acceptance and growth of militant force against ethnic minorities in western Russia continue; this could lead to more backing of violent measures in the Far East.
Furthermore, a study conducted by the Center for the Study of Public Opinion at the Vladivostok Institute of History, Ethnography and Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (as cited in Alexseev, 2001), shows compelling evidence of Russian xenophobia in the Far East and, in particular, the Russian federal subject of Primor’e. The data shows that the majority of Russians in this region feel that there is a continuing high influx of illegal Chinese immigrants, posing a threat to the federal subject’s economy, traditions, culture, and workforce. There is also a great deal of anti- Chinese support among Russians found in this survey, indicating that more than half of Russians believe that hostile military force is needed to thwart Chinese migration. Some political means of retaliating against the Chinese was also found in this survey, with respondents strongly supporting the ban of Chinese-language television, development of ‘Chinatowns’, and interracial marriage between the two ethnicities. These responses show that Russians, at least in this region, are in general support of a Russian state without a presence of visibly and culturally different ethnicities.