Over 100 Killed in Racist Attacks

BRUSSELS -- More than 100 people have been killed in hate crimes in Russia this year, with natives of Central Asia being the most frequently targeted victims, according to figures released this week by the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights.

Through Nov. 15, a total of 114 people died in racist attacks, 37 of whom hailed from the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, according to the nongovernmental organization.

Alexander Brod, head of the NGO, said this week that another 357 victims were injured in the 269 hate crimes that his organization managed to register in the same period, Interfax reported Tuesday.

Leading human rights activists and top government officials have warned in recent weeks that the global financial crisis could lead to a rise in nationalism and xenophobia in Russia.

Should the current crisis lead to widespread unemployment, migrant workers could become a lightning rod for resentment by Russians, who believe that their jobs are being taken by foreigners, said Semyon Charny, an analyst with the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights.

Nationalist movements could also actively capitalize on a possible rise in unemployment to broaden their bases, said Dmitry Badovsky, a political analyst with the Institute of Social Systems. "A certain rise in nationalist mood is possible," he said.

The prospect of ethnic animosity, exacerbated by economic unrest, has not gone unnoticed in the Kremlin. At a Nov. 7 conference in St. Petersburg, President Dmitry Medvedev warned that ultranationalist groups could use the financial crisis to promote racism, calling on law enforcement agencies to step up their investigations of hate crimes.

The issue of a possible surge in nationalism and xenophobia was addressed last week at a tolerance promotion event at the European Parliament's headquarters in Brussels.

"It's very easy to find an enemy when there are any economic difficulties and a loss of ideology," Russian Holocaust Foundation head Alla Gerber said on the sidelines of the Nov. 10 event.

Gerber, a member of the Public Chamber's commission on interethnic relations, said it could be advantageous for Russian authorities if widespread discontent over economic difficulties was directed toward foreigners. She stopped short, however, of blaming officials for fomenting ethnic animosity.

The Brussels event was dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the German pogrom against Jews in 1938, with speeches promoting tolerance.

"It is precisely at more difficult economic times that tolerance will be put to the test," Lluis Maria de Puig i Olive, Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly president, said in his speech.

U.S. attorney and author Samuel Pisar, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor, recalled in his speech how the Great Depression triggered a wave of anti-semitism in Europe.

"The world where I was born was in a financial crisis vaguely similar to the one we see today," Pisar, 79, told the audience. "At the root of [the anti-semitism] was hate but mostly fear. People feared for their pensions, savings."

In such a situation, Pisar said, it was easy to "find a scapegoat" in the Jews.