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Feature Story November 15, 2001
 
Get With The Pogrom
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 3 of 6
 
And they meant it. Beginning the next day, and continuing on through Victory day on May 9 several weeks later, scarcely a day passed without a serious attack. A pregnant Indian woman who was beaten by skins during that time had a miscarriage; the body of a black student was found near the Danilovsky market in an unsolved murder police suspected was connected with skins; and dozens of nonwhites received serious injuries in dozens of separate attacks.

The violence was so widespread that the embassies of Benin, South Africa, Sudan and India all sent official complaints to the MVD, demanding that something be done. Even the U.S. embassy sent out an advisory warning to black Americans, suggesting that they steer clear of skins and not walk the streets alone. The embassy proved prescient in their warning; one of the victims in the 1998 skin spree was William Jefferson, a black American marine, who was seriously beaten by skins near Fili park on May 4. The Jefferson incident was widely covered, and marked the first time that Russian skins made the papers abroad.

The skins pressed ahead in the face of the international uproar over the Jefferson incident. May 7 marked the first real skinhead pogrom, as a gang of skins descended upon the Luzhniki market and beat dozens of Caucasians, including one Azeri man who died of his injuries. This incident was remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that when the skins met resistance from Azeris, they ran to the police for help. Police complied, lending them walkie-talkies that they used to call for reinforcements. Police behavior in the incident prompted Caucasians in Moscow to organize a series of public protests that, despite being heavily covered by the international media, led to no significant changes in police policy towards skins.

Also during that time, the skinhead group "Nebesniye Arii" carried out a series of arson attacks on a synagogue in the Otradnoye region. When the first attack failed to burn the synagogue completely, the skins returned and burned the car belonging to the synagogue's rabbi. The group later claimed responsibility for the "terakti", sending a videotape of the attacks to NTV.

After the 1998 crime spree, the skins "settled down" to a milder regime of attacks -- not "one black a day", but more like one a week. The range of victims also expanded; blacks and foreigners were no longer the only targets, as attacks on vagrants, as well as members of groups loathed by skins like hippies and hip-hop fans, became more common.

September 21, 1998: 62 year-old vagrant Vladimir Kochin was beaten to death on Zelenodolskaya street, his body burned with motor oil. Two months later, on the same street: 30 year-old Angolan Jorge Manuela Perreira de Silva was killed, his throat cut. July 19, 1999, Lyublino Metro station: skins kill a 70 year-old wino. And so on and so on.

A persistent them in all of these attacks was the seeming indulgence of the police. A good example is the October 17, 1998 attack on Guinea-Bissau citizen Erberndt Rodgerio. Rodgerio was beaten nearly to death by two skinheads, but police concluded that the attack was "not racially motivated", and was instead "an ordinary scuffle between young people."

And there was another disturbing theme: an odd media silence about the skin problem. There were obvious reasons for this, the biggest one being the August financial crash, which supplanted all other news stories in the city and occupied almost the whole of the foreign press corps throughout the second half of 1998. It was for this reason that one of the most disturbing developments in the skin story -- the September, 1998 trial of Sergei Tokmakov, Jefferson's attacker -- passed almost without comment in the press.

Tokmakov was the first Russian citizen to be charged under article 282 of the criminal code, governing racially-motivated violence and incitement of race hatred. That he even went on trial at all was, of course, a coup; in most skinhead violence cases, "unless someone is killed" as Mitrokhin put it, the attackers are released after police take them in for a night to cool out. But the Tokmakov case was, of course, a different matter. In their coverage of the case, FLB (Free-lance bureau) put it this way:


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