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Moscow Killings Blamed on Racism

Uvaido Shirinbekov, left, a carpenter from Tajikistan, was fatally stabbed in Moscow while out with Amid Nasratshoyev, second from left, on Valentine's Day.
Uvaido Shirinbekov, left, a carpenter from Tajikistan, was fatally stabbed in Moscow while out with Amid Nasratshoyev, second from left, on Valentine's Day. (Courtesy Of Salim Silmonov)
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Vladilen Bokov, another official with the city's nationalities committee, said that since December, only 10 killings in the greater Moscow area could be clearly identified as racially motivated.

Human rights groups say the problem has grown unchecked because of the failure of police and prosecutors to acknowledge and directly confront racist violence. According to Human Rights First, a U.S.-based advocacy group that studies hate crimes across North America and Europe, racist attacks in Russia are often prosecuted as simple acts of "hooliganism."

"Although adequate hate crime legislation exists, it has been ignored in the prosecution of the vast majority of hate crime cases," the organization said in a report this year. "Even when prosecuted, hate crime charges are not always vigorously pursued."

According to Semyon Charny of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, there are an estimated 70,000 skinheads in Russia. Promoting an overtly Nazi ideology, they espouse hatred for those who are not ethnic Russians, typically describing them as invaders stealing jobs and destroying Russian culture.

Also targeted are Russian citizens from the Far East and Caucasus, but attacks on groups such as Chechens have dropped because they began to arm themselves and fight back, according to Galina Kozhevnikova of the Sova Center.

Violent nationalists have become more organized in recent years, according to human rights groups. "If before, attacks were spontaneous and chaotic, now skinheads are going on hunts for victims," Charny said.

Kozhevnikova said the attacks are the most extreme expression of rising nationalism in Russian society. "The xenophobic mood in politics and society is quite high," she said, arguing that denunciation of migrants has entered mainstream discourse.

The Sova Center noted in a recent report, for example, that Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate for president, expressed concern about the "lack of Russian faces" in some industries. A poll by the Levada Center in December found that 54 percent of those surveyed support the notion that Russia is a state for the Russian people, and that the influence of other ethnicities should be limited.

There are people of 168 different ethnicities living in Moscow, according to city officials.

Radical nationalists blame the rise in murders on increased pressure against their groups from authorities.

"They've driven large, legal movements underground," Dmitry Demushkin, leader of the Slavic Union, said in an interview with Newsweek's Russian edition. "Now the guys have taken out their knives."

Violent racists are threatening to intensify their attacks. "We'll see how these animals start baying when we start with explosives and shootings," read a comment on the Web site Russian Will after the Moscow city parliament held a session to discuss hate crimes.

Shirinbekov arrived in Moscow from Tajikistan in November. His family described him as a skilled carpenter. It was his second stint in the city, where he worked legally, sponsored by his employer. He and his younger brother, Khofiz, worked at the same site, and each month they wired cash to their family in rural Tajikistan.

"He was a quiet, lovely guy," Salim Silmonov, 38, Shirinbekov's cousin, said in an interview. "He didn't go out much. He talked about saving money so he could study here."

On Feb. 14, Nasratshoyev told his friend he was heading into the city. "He just suddenly decided to come along," Nasratshoyev said in an interview.

Two days later, Silmonov picked up Shirinbekov's body at a city morgue and took the coffin to the airport. Shirinbekov's brother accompanied it home. "Khofiz is never coming back," Silmonov said.

"His family is afraid to lose another son. We're all afraid, and we're all dreaming of going home."

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