The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1523 (85), Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Federal Migration Service Busts Anti-Racism Marchers
By Sergey Chernov
The March Against Hatred, an annual rally against neo-Nazi and racist violence held on Saturday, was raided by the Federal Migration Service. Officers started to single out participants of African descent and check their residency permits as the demonstration reached Ploshchad Sakharova, where the platform for the speakers had been installed.
Ella Polyakova, the local head of the Soldiers’ Mothers organization climbed the platform to demand that immigration officers, who left a minibus marked “Immigration Control” parked on the square, stop harassing rally participants.
“It appears that tolerance doesn’t exist in this city, while racism is flourishing,” she said.
“As we were marching with our friends, whose skin happens to be a different color, grey-jacketed men tried to drag them out and […] check their passports. We said, ‘Check everyone’s passports then.’”
She invited protesters to demand that the immigration officers either leave or join the rally and “protest hatred with us.” The crowd responded with applause.
Organizer Alexander Vinnikov, the chairman of Russia Without Racism and a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council, described the raid as “racist” and “illegal.”
“The immigration service decided to use our march to catch illegal foreigners — there was an ‘Immigration Control’ bus waiting for us on the square, and three officers who began a check,” Vinnikov said by phone on Monday.
“The people who were exposed to this totally illegal procedure asked the organizers for help, and we demanded the police put an end to this disgraceful behavior. No concrete measures were taken, but the three men … spent the rest of the time standing still.”
Vinnikov said the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council would be looking into the legal aspects of the raid and would make a statement.
“They grab Africans — it’s a purely racist approach,” he said.
“There’s a March Against Hatred going on — against Nazism, fascism and xenophobia, and a state body appears immediately and starts behaving in a racist manner. They grab people who have lived in St. Petersburg for 20 years and who are all Russian citizens — simply because they have a different skin color.”
Vinnikov said the goal behind the raid was to intimidate the public and prevent them from taking part in protests.
“It’s sheer boorishness — dumb, primitive, bureaucratic boorishness and xenophobia — and it was done right during the march,” he said.
“It’s done with only one goal — to make people afraid so they would not go to this march. There’s no other reason.”
According to Vinnikov, African students were previously warned not to take part in the March Against Hatred on the threat of having their visas canceled. Similar unofficial orders were given to the House of National Cultures, the City Hall-backed organization that encompasses more than 40 ethnic communities in St. Petersburg, he said.
The St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Federal Migration Service did not answer the phone when called repeatedly Monday.
The sixth annual March Against Hatred, one of the few protest marches authorized by City Hall, began at Yubileiny Sports Palace, from where the protesters, heavily escorted by the police, marched two kilometers to Ploshchad Sakharova, close to the Strelka of Vasilyevsky Island.
Protesters carried portraits of three murdered human rights campaigners: Scholar and hate crimes expert Nikolai Girenko, in whose memory the march was launched in 2004, journalist Anna Politkovskaya and liberal politician Galina Starovoitova. Large groups of both anarchists, many with their faces covered with scarves or masks for security reasons, and gay rights activists carrying rainbow flags stood out.
The meeting on Ploshchad Sakharova to wrap up the march, whose official organizers included Russia Without Fascism, African Unity, Memorial, Soldiers’ Mothers, Yabloko, Solidarity and the gay rights group Vykhod (Coming Out), began with a list of victims of racist and neo-Nazi murders in St. Petersburg being read out.
The protesters expressed perplexity about UNESCO awarding City Hall’s Tolerance Program an honorary mention last month for “its constructive efforts to inculcate mutual respect and tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and to prevent and eradicate all forms of discrimination,” and criticized the Russian authorities for inspiring or indulging hatred toward certain nationalities.
“We, participants of the Sixth March Against Hatred, declare our categorical rejection of a social order based on fear and hatred of anyone who is different,” the organizers said in the rally’s resolution, stressing that Russia is heading toward “isolationism, which will inevitably lead to the growth of xenophobia and great-power chauvinism.”
Among other things, the protesters demanded that police officers who provide protection for extremist nationalist groups, thus provoking nationalist pogroms and murders, be removed from the police force.
The police said 150 people took part, but a video recording showed at least 400 protesters marching.