Uvaido Shirinbekov, left, a carpenter from Tajikistan,
was fatally stabbed in Moscow while out with Amid
Nasratshoyev, second from left, on Valentine’s Day
The Washington Post reports:
It was Valentine’s Day, work was over, and Uvaido Shirinbekov, a Tajik carpenter, headed out for a night in the city. With Amid Nasratshoyev, a co-worker, he took the Metro from the Moscow suburb where the two lived. They planned to visit a cafe in the fashionable Chistiye Prudy neighborhood where Nasratshoyev’s wife worked an evening shift.
But in Moscow, they were attacked by a gang of youths. Nasratshoyev, 27, was struck from behind on the head and fell dazed to the ground. As he stumbled to his feet, he said, Shirinbekov fell into his arms. “I’ve been stabbed,” Shirinbekov said, according to his friend.
Five youths fled in the darkness. And Shirinbekov, 25, died on the street, just blocks from the pair’s destination that night.
The killing of Shirinbekov, which remains under investigation, is part of a wave of racially motivated murders in Moscow that has put the city’s migrant communities on edge, particularly people from Central Asia, according to human rights groups. Easily singled out because of their non-Slavic appearance, Central Asian workers have borne the brunt of the attacks by skinheads and neo-Nazis.
“People are living in fear,” said Gavkhar Dzhurayeva of the Tajikistan Foundation in Moscow, a support group for citizens from that country. “We are advising people to be very careful. But they still have to travel to work in the morning and go home at night.”
From January through March, 49 people have been killed in assaults by radical nationalists, 28 of them in the greater Moscow area, according to the Moscow Human Rights Bureau. There were 27 racist killings in Moscow in 2006 and 45 in 2007, according to the group. Most of the killings remain unsolved.
Twenty-three of the victims this year were from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan, all former Soviet republics that supply many of the city’s markets and construction sites with cheap labor. There are an estimated 850,000 migrants from Central Asia living and working in Moscow, a city of more than 10 million, according to city officials.
Kyrgyz Ambassador Raimkul Attakurov, in a letter to Russia’s ombudsman this year, labeled the attacks the “savage outrages of fascist monsters” and called on Russian authorities “to pay the most serious attention to this vile phenomenon.”
Local and federal officials, including President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, have begun to express alarm about the rising violence. “Law enforcement bodies should take a tough stand, should not keep silent or retreat into the bushes,” Medvedev said recently. “They must act and enforce legislation.”
But some officials question the scale of the problem. “I am sure there is no growing wave of extremism,” said Moscow prosecutor Yuri Syomin, speaking recently to the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. He said the number of hate crimes is falling “year by year.”
It is difficult to obtain firm statistics on hate crimes. There are no official figures. Organizations such as the Moscow Human Rights Bureau and the Sova Center, another group that tracks hate crimes, assemble their statistics from media reports and by monitoring Web sites associated with extremists as well as police reports when they are available.
City officials say the methods of both groups are deeply flawed. “Even if one person is killed, it’s a problem,” said Alexei Alexandrov, head of Moscow’s Committee for Inter-Regional Ties and Nationalities Policy. “But some human rights groups are counting killings of non-Russians by a Russian where the motive is unknown. It could be over a girl, over money.”
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.”