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Xenophobia, nationalism in Russia ease over years

October 23, 2015, 19:12 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Russian nationalists in 2010 (archive)

Russian nationalists in 2010 (archive)

© ITAR-TASS/Dmitry Serebryakov

MOSCOW, October 23. /TASS/. Human rights activists agree xenophobia and nationalism in Russia have shown a noticeable decline over the past two years, and this is not just an achievement of the law enforcement agencies, but a result of society’s consolidation in the face of external challenges facing the country, experts say. They agree that with the emergence of the Islamic State the threat of Islamic radicalism has taken centre stage.

Aggressive xenophobia, racism and nationalism in Russia were steady on the decline in 2014 and 2015. However, it would be an exaggeration to say radical sentiment in the country has been reduced to nothing by now, because instead of the old threats new ones, such as the Islamic State, have cropped up. The risk of its ideas and practices spreading to Russian territory is very great. This is the gist of a report entitled Aggressive Xenophobia and Nationalism in Russia: Manifestations and the Authorities’ Reaction, compiled by the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. Human rights activists attribute the easing of xenophobia to the authorities’ proactive measures in fighting extremism and successful operations by law enforcement agencies to neutralize underground militants in the North Caucasus. Another factor the report points to is a "split inside the group of Russian ethno-nationalists" over the events in Ukraine. "Their marches and rallies gather less than half of the former number of participants and there are far fewer nationalist raids in search for illegal migrants," the report says.

Opinion polls, too, indicate that aggressive xenophobia has been retreating. "The fact that Russia is a home to people of many nationalities is one of its strengths rather than a weakness," said nearly half of the audience polled by the Public Opinion Fund. Less than a quarter of respondents said that multi-ethnicity is rather harmful to the country, and 32% offered no answer. As many as 90% of the respondents said they had never been discriminated against for ethnic reasons and only sixteen percent acknowledged they feel dislike towards people of other ethnic groups.

"This trend will largely depend on progress in reforming the socio-economic sphere, because one cannot expect the people will go on living on patriotic feelings alone. If the changes in the economy and the social sphere that the president and government have proclaimed begin to materialize, if unemployment eases and a decent standard of living is maintained, then there will be less reasons for protest sentiment the nationalists may try to use for their purposes," the head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, Aleksandr Brod, told the daily Izvestia.

"I believe that the report describes the real state of affairs," the deputy head of the general political science department at the Higher School of Economics, Leonid Polyakov, told TASS. "The main reason why the level of xenophobia has been down is this: after Crimea’s reunification with Russia the country achieved great national consolidation. Confidence in the authorities and in the president in particular is very high. This has a cementing effect. In the face of external challenges to Russia inter-ethnic tensions have eased."

"We have left behind the peak of the political crisis of 2011-2012," Polyakov believes. "Radical nationalists were one of the basic components of the out-of-parliament opposition. After normalization their activity has died down somewhat. Besides, the presence of migrants from Central Asia in Russia has become normal. The people are getting used to it and aggressiveness towards them in society is dwindling.

The president of the National Strategy Institute, Mikhail Remizov, has told TASS "the human rights activists are quite right when they say that the threat of Islamic radicalism to national security is immeasurably higher than the threat of right-wing radicalism or any other kind of extremism." "The more so since Islamic radicalism is mostly linked with terrorist activities," Remizov said.

Among the factors for lower xenophobia, nationalism and racism Remizov mentioned first and foremost "rather strong pressures on the ultra-right radical groups from the law enforcement" and also "better quality of work by law enforcers on cases involving ethnicity-related crimes."

Remizov agrees that hostile attitudes towards migrants in society have eased: "At a certain point society has switched to emotions over Ukraine. The share of Ukrainians, who are mentally and culturally better compatible with Russians, has increased in the migration flow. In the meantime, migration from Central Asia eased as the rouble slumped. But the problem remains by and large, because migration is a long-term factor and a long-term source of tensions."

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