An annual report that tracks how the Russian state tackles political extremism sends mixed messages for people watching hate crime trends –like racism motivated attacks- ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Political extremism, Neo-Nazism and Ultra Nationalism in particular, is under the spotlight in Russia on the back of concerns that it could dent the 2018 World Cup. This is because the Russian football fraternity suffers from a relatively strong concentration of racist tendencies and other discriminations which is a sign of a more fundamental challenge in the Russian society.
The report titled “Countering or Imitation: The state against the promotion of hate and the political activity of nationalists in Russia in 2017” shows a relatively strong trend of unrelenting hate crimes. But this is met with what appears to be steely determination to curb such crimes.
The key trends
The report compiled by the Moscow based SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis features the following key 2017 trends:
- The Federal List of Extremist Materials was updated 33 times (54 times in 2016). 330 items were added to this list (785 items in 2016).
- The Federal List of Extremist Materials grew from 4,016 to 4,345 points.
- Six organisations were added to the Federal List of Extremist Organizations. 10 organisations were added in 2016.
- There were at least 213 convictions against 228 people in 65 regions for “extremist statements” like incitement of hatred, calls for extremist or terrorist activity. In 2016 there were 201 such convictions against 220 people in 66 regions.
- The number of people sentenced to prison for public statements rose to 47 from 36 a year ago.
- There were four convictions and six individuals in four Russian regions for participation in extremist communities and banned organizations. In 2016, there were seven convictions against 20 people in seven regions.
The SOVA report makes for an interesting, if alarming, reading. On one part it might be showing Russia’s determination in tackling political extremism. But it also shows the intensity of such activity in Russia and the inherent risks thereof.
It all means that FIFA has its work cut out for it to ensure that its promise of keeping discriminations out of the game of football is not compromised.
SOVA has on previous occasions warned that Russia has not been doing enough to tackle hate crimes, like racism, in and around the football game. But Russian authorities have poured cold water over concerns that the 2018 World Cup might be marred by hate crimes.
The summary of the SOVA report compiled by Alexander Verkhovsky states that “In 2017, the number of criminal convictions for public ‘extremist statements’ (the promotion of hate, calls for extremist or terrorist activities, etc.) again exceeded the figure for last year, as did the number of convictions for all other ‘extremist crimes’”
And the number of administrative convictions also rose. But the number of convictions for violent crimes motivated by hate fell.
The report acknowledges the complexity of this law enforcement activity. That’s because “it’s not so easy to establish” a dominant trend in this activity between the following factors: political pressure on nationalist movements and groups, use of repression against extreme/ordinary instances of intolerance or prosecution of random individuals in order to improve law enforcement figures. “Our data for this is quite limited, but undoubtedly, all such components are present in practice,” says the report.
The report does note that “Traditionally the targets of law enforcement have largely been neo-Nazi grass-roots activists and ordinary people who republish xenophobic statements on social networks.”
The report notes the continued prosecution of ‘popular’ neo-nazi and ultra-nationalist leaders. These include Dmitry Bobrov, Nikolai Bondarik , Yury Yekishev , Vladimir Kvachkov and Dmitry Dyomushkin.
The report also notes that participants in the neo-nazi Misanthropic Division movement and the Volya party were convicted. But, says the report, the majority of nationalist organisations that have not been banned were able to continue their activity, albeit to a lesser extent.
The report says the number of convictions passed down for “extremist statements” (incitement of hatred, calls for extremist or terrorist activity and so on) continued to exceed all other types of convictions for “extremist crimes” combined. “In 2017, there were at least 213 convictions against 228 people in 65 regions. For 2016, we learned about 201 such convictions against 220 people in 66 regions.”
The punishments for the 228 people convicted for public statements were distributed as follows:
- 47 people were sentenced to prison;
- 114 – received suspended prison terms without any additional sanctions;
- 31 – convicted and fined in various amounts;
- 8 – sentenced to corrective labor;
- 22 – sentenced to mandatory labor;
- 1 – sentenced to restrictions of freedom;
- 5 – sent for forced treatment;
- 1 – released due to remorse.
The Federal List of Extremist Organisations features ultra-right-wing organisations like the “Frontier of the North” and the T.O.Y.S. football fan organization (The Opposition Young Supporters).
Frontier of the North is an interesting organisation that comes with what is called “new Russian ethnic nationalism”. It was described in one academic paper as representing “de-ideologization of the nationalist milieu” with inclination for civic activism. This denotes “an ideologically ambivalent organization that combines dual Russian/Komi ethnic nationalism, anti-migration sentiments, white racism, and fragments of other ideologies…”
Its grassroots activism, mixed with a focus on sports and other healthy recreational activities, attracts young people. By tackling “the most acute social problems, often neglected by everyone else” it’s become “a working civil society institution”.
Dealing the internet
The report notes that Russian authorities have in the last four years significantly increased their scope of extremist content on the internet which is used to block access to banned or other supposedly dangerous materials.
“A system of internet filtering is operating on the basis of a Unified Register of Banned Websites, which has been functioning since November 1, 2012… We believe that 297 resources have ended up on the register ‘for extremism’ following a court decision versus 486 a year earlier. As at January 1, 2018, according to preliminary calculations, the number of resources blocked in this way for the lifetime of the register itself amounts to at least 1,205.”
Types of resources on the list are distributed as follows:
- materials of Russian nationalists – 180;
- Nazi symbols independent of ties with Russian nationalists – 3;
- materials of radical Islamic militants and other calls by political Islamists for violence – 31;
- peaceful Muslim materials – 40;
- banned Islamic symbols on their own, apart from connections with radical Islamists – 1;
- anti-Islamic materials – 1;
- materials of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – 2;
- inflammatory anti-government materials (including Boris Stomakhin’s article) – 2;
- extremely radical statements from Ukraine and symbols of banned organizations – 9;
- other materials from Ukrainian media and internet – 6;
- materials by Fascist ideologists – 9;
- large, varied masses of texts that were blocked as a whole – 1;
- peaceful materials criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church – 5;
- peaceful opposition materials – 3;
- materials that were clearly banned by mistake – 1;
- unknown – 3.
The report is highly critical of the effectiveness and legitimacy of this internet policing activity. “Like the Federal List of Extremist Materials, the registers are swelling, and the quality of updates is not improving. As a result, the current systems for blocking resources are not winning the public’s support, and in no way are they helping to strengthen security, and furthermore they do not prevent possible radicalization, but rather cause distrust in law enforcement and prevent the realization of free speech on the internet.”
There is another serious challenge with these numbers. The Russian authorities can themselves be unreasonably extremist in their operations of tackling extremism. For example the list of six new additions to the Federal List of Extremist Organizations included the Administrative Center of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and all of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 395 local organisations. SOVA noted that the inclusion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses into this list was inappropriate.
This article forms part of the ProBonoMatter’s FIFA Monitor campaign. The campaign is designed to monitor FIFA’s promise to tackle racism and other discrimination from the game of football in the run up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and beyond.