Slain Moscow Judge is a Lesson for Russian Gov’t

Judge Eduard Chuvashov. Source: ITAR-TASSMoscow City Judge Eduard Chuvashov, famous for presiding over a series of high-profile murder cases blamed on skinhead groups, was shot dead in his apartment building earlier this week. His death is only the latest in a wave of ultranationalist and neo-Nazi violence that has been steadily growing in Russia over the past decade. The hate crime watchdog Sova estimates that 71 people were murdered and more than 300 were wounded in such crimes in Russia last year alone.

The surge in Russian nationalism has been endorsed in no small part by a variety of government representatives. At the same time, Russian rights activists and oppositionists have been repeatedly targeted by ultranationalist groups, and accuse the government for turning a blind eye. The editorial team at points out that with Chuvashov’s murder, they’re going to have to either start make some changes or start watching their backs.

Brown Blackmail
April 12, 2010

Attempts by the Russian authorities to use nationalist organizations to further their own goals, in particular the battle against the democratic opposition that exists outside of the political system, are dangerous to the authorities themselves.

Investigators immediately linked the shooting of Moscow City Court Judge Eduard Chuvashov with his professional activities, naming revenge by nationalists as one possible motive.

Chuvashov presided over the scandalous cases of Artur Ryno’s and the White Wolves nationalist group’s skinhead bands, whose followers had repeatedly and publicly – on the internet – threatened him with physical violence.

One very telling commentary on the murder was given by Dmitri Demushkin, leader of the Slavic Union nationalist organization (By the way, Union members participated in the “Youth Against Terror” rally organized by the pro-Kremlin organizations Young Russia and Young Guard on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square on March 31). Demushkin said that “A new generation is coming to replace the large organizations of nationalists, a generation of disparate groups of autonomous youths, aimed at committing grave and very serious crimes.” Lamenting the government’s ban of the Slavic Union, he pointed out a direct threat to the government: now, “the wave of attacks from illegal nationalist groups will intensify… Many young people who don’t see any alternatives will start taking more aggressive action.”

For a long time, the Russian government has not seen nationalists as a threat to itself or to order in the country. Crimes against migrants from Asian or African countries are almost always treated by the courts as common hooliganism, not as a manifestation of interracial strife.

There are still a significant number of people in the Russian political elite and law enforcement agencies today who sympathize with Russian nationalists, and some of the slogans of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration were completely in tune with various bureaucrats’ proclamations.

Moreover, soon after the colored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, the authorities even allowed the nationalists to hold a “Russian March” in Moscow on November 4 – National Unity Day.

In the past few years, the government has finally begun to gradually understand the danger that nationalist organizations pose. At the very least, the Russian Marches have invariably been banned over the past few years [although not in 2009 – Ed.]; judges began more commonly punishing skinheads for crimes committed on a nationalistic basis, without hiding behind the formulation of “common hooliganism.” And the cases for Ryno and Skachevsky’s band (Judge Chuvashov announced the sentence on the second case against this group on April 8, 2010) and the White Wolves had become the biggest antinationalistic judicial cases in the country’s modern history.

Nationalists in Russia have also previously been charged with murdering their opponents from among the “native” (in their assessment) population. In particular, Petersburg skinheads are accused of murdering the famous Petersburg ethnographer and human rights advocate Nikolai Girenko on June 19, 2004, in a trial that has already been going on for more than a year. Nationalists are charged with the 2009 murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov. Judge Eduard Chuvashov, who was physically threatened numerous times by the White Wolves, was clearly their enemy as well. But unlike Girenko and Markelov, Chuvashov is a representative of the state.

Ultranationalists have always and everywhere been a subversive force that is prepared to commit crime – including against government representatives, even if the government has tried to play along with them.

And for sure, if radical nationalists came into power, it would lead to a great amount of blood – remembering the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany is enough.

The Russian authorities need to be aware of the fact that there are no “tame nationalists.” You can create the moderate nationalist block Rodina in the political-technical test tubes, so that you can then slam the door on the first threat of its return to real, serious political power. But you cannot, with impunity, use grassroots nationalist organizations as instruments of the state. And powerful nationalistic rhetoric from government representatives is extraordinarily dangerous as well, since it feeds the radical xenophobic mindset of some young people.

The government needs to understand that the “browns” [umbrella term for fascists/ultranationalists/neo-Nazis – Ed.] cannot just be fellow travelers in the battle against the liberal opposition; they will inevitably enter into conflict with state representatives, especially when they sense their own impunity. And that’s the main lesson that it’s time the government learned from the notorious murder cases involving representatives of nationalist organizations.