By Paul Goble
There may be as many as 100,000 skinheads in Russia, Rimma Fedyayeva says; and neither their numbers nor the violence they commit against ethnic, religious or racial minorities are likely to decline until the country begins to address the basic cause for their appearance – significant downward social mobility in many parts of the population.
Tatars were shocked and outraged by the recent murder of an African student there, the Kazan psychologist says; but they shouldn’t have been surprised given that there have been other murders and attacks on a racial or ethnic basis in recent months and that there is as yet no program in place to block such actions (business-gazeta.ru/article/340263).
“Our Russian skinheads are the result of economic and social problems,” she says. “Frequently, they are children of the employed or of parents whose social status over the course of the years of reform has sharply declined.” And many of them believe that members of other groups are doing far better than their own.
Hence, they have a more or less well-developed ideology, Fedayeva says, one based on a “social hatred” which holds that they “must hate Jews, Blacks, Chinese, and Caucasians because in their opinion, these are all rich because their members ‘live well at the expense of the Slavs.’”
Because of the objects of their hatred, many associate skinheads “with Nazism, racism, fascism and aggression, but if one considers the main stages of the development of the formation of this subculture,” the psychologist says, “then it is possible to see that not all the directions within it are connected with politics.”
“In Russia, skinheads include asocial persons who are aggressively inclined who use symbols and when possible ideas for the justification of what are essentially hooligan actions,” a pattern that is exacerbated by the propensity of journalists to present these hooligans as something more formal.
Students of the phenomenon, she continues, find that “young people do not have precisely defined political views.” Instead, they are acting out of hatred without much regard to how it might be explained by politicians or one or another kind. They simply don’t know enough or care about history and ideas to focus on these parallels.
Most Russian discussions of skinheads focus on Europe and the United States, but according to the interior ministry, there were between 15,000 and 20,000 skinheads in Russia in 2014-2015. But many researchers believe the actual number is far higher, perhaps as large as 100,000.
Many of them are concentrated in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara and Rostov-na-Donu, but there are examples across the country. One of the most careful studies of the phenomenon concerns the Northern Capital where there are estimated to be approximately 3,000 skinheads and another 11,000 to 12,000 “representatives of neo-fascist organizations.”
Fadayeva says that “according to various sources,” there are “approximately 80 to 100 people” in Kazan who “identify as skinheads or as so-called right nationalists.” They see themselves as engaged in protests against “public morality” but mostly just say that while behaving like hooligans.
There are four reasons why this movement remains so significant, the psychologist continues: First, the main problems that gave rise to it – including “mass poverty” – haven’t been addressed. Second, there isn’t “a definite ideology” that could be used to turn young people away from this subculture.
Third, there is an absence of prophylactic work in schools and youth institutions. And fourth, there has been “a collapse in the system of school education, especially in the humanities.” As a result, many young Russians don’t see the reason why they should reject xenophobia or violence.
As far as skinheads in Tatarstan and Russia are concerned, Fadayeva says, there is bad news and less bad news. The bad news, she suggests is that “there are no political examples in history when countries have been able to do away completely with racist and Nazi-like movements.”
But the less bad news, at least as far as Tatarstan is concerned, is this: “the level of extremist manifestations among young people of the republic is lower in comparison with other regions of the country,” the result she suggests of the fact that Kazan officials take the threat more seriously than do those in many other places.