Over the last several weeks, racist crowds have reportedly attacked markets in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, often with the assistance of the police. Without cause, immigrants selling fruit in marketplaces have been beaten or arrested, and their produce destroyed, often before they are even given an opportunity to present any documents that could prove whether or not they have legal status in the country. Though some of the merchants may be illegal immigrants, they are often being profiled based on race, not on any legal justification. More worrying, in many circumstances neo-Nazis appear to be encouraging the police, and their own actions do not appear to be receiving any scrutiny from law enforcement.
Neo-Nazis have been seen torturing and shaming gay teens on online videos, incidents that have caught the attention of the international press. But the reports of widespread anti-immigrant “pogroms” are also deeply concerning. In both circumstances, the immigrants are being targeted and are being offered little or no protection from the law, while the racist mobs appear to act with impunity.
This week, thousands of immigrants have been rounded up and placed in internment camps while the government figures out what to do with them. Journalists have been given a tour of these tent cities, and the pictures alone speak for themselves. While the claims that slavery is alive and well in Russia are alarming in and of themselves, the Russian government is defending its raids on marketplaces on human rights grounds. Many of these immigrants, some of whom may not be in the country of their own free will, have been in the country for quite some time, but just now they are receiving attention from law enforcement. This raises the question as to whether human rights in Russia are being selectively championed to hide abusive tactics of the police.
In July, a policeman was beaten while trying to arrest a Dagestani in Matveyevsky Market. A Youtube video captures the entire incident. Since then, police raids on markets, and pograms led by racist vigilantes, have been widely reported. Some have been captured on camera, such as an August 6th raid in St. Petersburg.
However, the pogrom we’ve posted below may be the most disturbing example of this phenomenon we’ve found. On July 27th, a crowd of racists attacked merchants in a St. Petersburg market, overturning fruit stands and bullying suspected immigrants in the process. When the police arrived, however, they joined in, detaining the merchants while watching thugs, some armed with bats, harass the marketplace. Below is a translation and summary of the video, provided by The Interpreter’s Catherine A. Fitzpatrick.
-James Miller, Managing Editor.
A nationalist mob of several dozen or so men and women, some in black t-shirts and some wearing face masks, goes rampaging through marketplaces in St. Petersburg. First they demand working papers and vendor permits from the fruit-sellers, then they begin overturning fruit and vegetable stalls, confronting or chasing away frightened immigrants from Tajikistan, other Central Asia republics, and the Russian North Caucasus.
They confront one vendor, demanding to know where his permits are; he walks away and they claim the stand is empty and the fruit is available for free. The crowd keeps filming the action with their cell phones.
The mob shouts, “They aren’t paying taxes! They are selling rotten fruit and vegetables!”
Some are wearing black shirts with the slogan “God is With Us”. The ringleader reprimands a policeman for not carrying a gun.
The mob deliberately knocks over boxes, then stamps on the fallen watermelons, apples, eggplants and tomatoes. The ringleader shouts, “What are you doing? The wind is blowing hard, the wind is blowing hard!” as if the wind has knocked over the boxes and not his companions.
The ringleader calls the police to complain about the vendors and their “illegal trade.” He complains, “The police aren’t taking any measures!” Just then some cops arrive on the scene.
The policeman looks around and says, “Give the fruit away to people then.” And the ringleader says, “No, not to people, to the garbage.” They chase a vendor, demanding his documents, and he runs away.
The ringleader confronts police for supposedly not doing their jobs but says he understands it’s difficult, they don’t have enough personnel, and adds, “We will help you.”
“We’re not closing our eyes to this,” the policeman assures him.
The mob grabs a young man selling fruit and accuses him of pushing one of their women. He denies it, and they continue to push him around and confront him, demanding an apology. He continues to deny it, and the policeman demands his papers. When he can’t produce them, the policemen informs him he is going down to the station, and the crowd shouts that he has pushed a Russian woman and applauds his detention. Somehow, the immigrant is forced to apologize to the Russian woman, although he doesn’t believe he has done anything.
The mob presses on, overturning boxes of fruit in stalls and shouting, “It’s bad weather! The wind is blowing.”
A woman shopper passing by stops to look at the mayhem and says, “You shouldn’t be doing that. That’s not allowed.” They confront her, shouting, “But they are killing us!”. She responds, “But there’s so many of you, and only one of them. That’s not right.” The nationalist tries to reassure the woman that it’s only fair because the migrants are “killing children.”
The ringleader gathers everyone and shouts, “The Russian wind is blowing! A very strong wind!”
The mob then comes across a van stacked with boxes of fruit and some of them demonstratively call the police, saying, “A vehicle is being used as a warehouse.” “Get the license plates, call the traffic!”
A petite blonde policewoman says “Right now? Ok, I’ll call right away,” as if she takes instructions from the mob.
As one immigrant woman is detained, she cries in protest about the mob, “Take your hands off me!” Then objects to the policeman, “They’re filming me!” The mob applauds as the police ask for her documents. The policeman shouts at the Tajik woman and takes her away. “Do you know who I am?” he demands. Then he tells her, “If you jerk away one more time, I’m putting the hand cuffs on you.”
The mob then cries, “She jerked, put the handcuffs on her!” When he pushes her into a police car, they clap and whistle and shout, “Thanks, thanks, good work!” The policemen smile.
The nationalists stand around another immigrant jeering, mocking his accented Russian, confronting him and his friend.
“Do you pay taxes?” they shout. “Why don’t you stay in your own country and work things out there?” “Our’s beat your’s in 1990.” The police appear and lead the young men away, and the crowd shouts “Go to the train station, leave at your own expense.”
The leader of the rampaging group reconvenes the group and complains that after they came and protested the previous day, all the stalls were put back where they were.
A blonde with a bat appears in the group, and then the leader cries to the merchants:
“We’re coming back. Every day.”
The traffic safety police, who have been summoned because of ostensible vehicle violations, says:
“Your documents, please.”
A woman in the fruit stand says her partner will come back soon and all their papers will be produced. She repeats this several times.
Some in the crowd start reprimanding her.
“Can you listen to the officer? An officer is talking to you!”
“You should have them in your possession at all times,” she is told.
Finally, the woman in the fruit stand is taken away by an officer, and the crowd of thugs claps and chants “thank you, thank you!”
They then proceed further, shouting, harassing, and overturning stands of fruit and smashing them to the pavement.
“Go and show your migration and street vendor papers, the police are coming,” they shout to the fearful fruit-sellers, some of whom begin running away.
The crowd then surrounds a Tajik woman in a stall and begins heckling her, demanding her papers and permits.
The policeman demands her documents, and the crowd chimes in, “Can’t you hear what the officer is telling you? Where are your documents?” Finally, police shut up her stall and take her away as she struggles. The mob keeps filming and clapping and shouting, then begins chanting, “Thank you! Thank you!”
They press on and stop another Central Asian woman. “The police are coming! Get your work papers out!”
“Where’s your work permit? Where’s your registration? Where’s your ticket?” everyone keeps shouting.
The camera pans to a car with a sticker “Racial Purity is the Foundation of Health.”
The crowd stops an older man and demand his papers. He says he has lived in Russia a long time. The ringleader flirts with the blonde policewoman and invites her to his home to watch some videos. Then the mob stops a Central Asia woman. “Are you an illegal? Where’s your ticket?” When she says she arrived in Moscow only recently, they accuse her of lying.
His female friend asks if the woman has sold enough fruit to pay for her return ticket yet and urges her to buy a ticket and go home. “Why are you earning money here? Go home and earn money there,” the ringleader of the mob says.
The mob tells shoppers to take the fruit for free. A woman who says she is a reporter tries to get the police to give their names, but they say, “No comment.”
The rampagers confront another fruit seller who says he is a citizen of Russia and lives here with his family. When he says he has lived in the country a long time, they demand to know why he doesn’t speak Russian better. He explains that he is missing some teeth. He then shows his registration papers. They demand to know why he left his native country and brought his wife to Russia. “We’re locals,” he continues to object. “My wife works in a school as a teacher.”
The ringleader approaches a police car and complains that people are selling without permits and that the police should do something… The policeman replies, “We don’t have orders.”
“They say they don’t have orders!” the ringleader now complains to the camera. “They’re awaiting orders from the people who provide the protection for all of this, I suspect,” he explains. “Go and film them!” he tells the camera crew. “The people must know their heroes!”
A policeman now comes and confronts the older man, demanding his documents. While he appears to have a residence permit, he doesn’t have a vendor’s permit and they demand that he remove his goods. The crowd starts removing his boxes.
A man with a Sputnik and Pogrom t-shirt lifts a box of tomatoes.
The mob continues on, overturning stalls and umbrellas and shouting that the vendors don’t have permits. They confront an older man selling watermelons, and mock him because he is not wearing shoes. They demand to know which country he has come from, and he replies, “Azerbaijan.” “When?” He says recently, and when they ask “why,” he shrugs and tries to make a phone call. The crowd accuses him of buying his permit, and he denies it. “Why have you left your sunny country to come here?” a woman demands to know. “You should go work there,” another woman says.
A young Russian woman then complains to the camera, “The police are sitting here across the street, watching what is going on, but don’t approach, apparently they are afraid.”
Evidently the older man’s friends then arrive on the scene in a car. “Let’s talk,” they say to the ringleader, who is now wielding a black bat
“What’s to talk about?” he retorts. “We aren’t selling our conscience,” and walks away.
Next a woman in the crowd confronts a young woman apparently from Moldova who is selling parsley. “Why have you accepted such a lot, to work in slavery, without any documents?” she cries. “What are you doing?” objects the woman.
“The police are going to come and demand registration papers.”
“I have registration and work papers,” the vendor responds.
“But why are you coming here to work? Why don’t you work in your own country? We don’t have enough work spaces,” complains another woman in the mob. The vendor stares at them mutely in resignation. Then the owner of the stall is summoned by another man on a cell phone. Soon he arrives in a car.
“Are your earnings meager?” taunts a woman in the crowd. “I don’t have any earnings at all,” the owner complains. “People who don’t have earnings don’t drive cars,” cries the woman.
Police arrive and the mob starts dismantling the stall and putting boxes of vegetables into a police van, laughing and jeering. One is wearing a Headbangers t-shirt. The Moldovan woman is led away by police and some women in the mob jeer at her, “Go back to your own country.” “Yes,” she mocks back.
The camera pans over to a young man dismantling the wooden stand while boxes are overturned and potatoes and tomatoes roll around on the ground.