Russia’s Drift Rightward

In The Nation:

“Since 2000 there has been an increase in xenophobia and nationalist propaganda in the media at every level. It’s created a favorable atmosphere for the development in young people of a chauvinistic worldview. For Putin the question is not how to fight racism but how to use it as a political tool without letting it slip from the Kremlin’s control.”

Indeed, it can be confusing. Officially, the Kremlin is taking an increasingly hard line against racially motivated hate speech and crimes. Some members of the ruling party in the Duma have drafted a law that would make it illegal to mention “in mass media and on the Internet any details concerning the ethnicity, race or religion of the victims, perpetrators, suspects and accused of crimes.” In theory, the law is meant to ban race-based criminal stereotypes from the media, but many fear that it will serve as just another way to manage coverage of rising hate crime or that it will be loosely interpreted to target a broad range of articles and reports unfriendly to the Kremlin. Even without the law, say observers, coverage has dropped way off. State-run Russian media have reported far less on hate crimes over the past year, even as their numbers have risen, forcing observers like Sova to rely increasingly on witness and victim accounts.

Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to play the populist race card. In recent months, nonethnic Russian migrants have been banned from selling produce and other goods in Russia’s outdoor markets–which have traditionally been dominated by immigrants from Russia’s southern border regions. A pamphlet published in June by a Moscow city government-affiliated youth group, Mestnie (or “Locals”), urged ethnic Russian women not to accept taxi rides from dark-skinned drivers (many immigrants moonlight as gypsy cab drivers).