A group of young skinheads was recently tried and convicted in Surgut for beating to death a Tajik citizen on the day before Adolf Hitler's birthday. The killers, who were all minors when the horrific crime was committed, were sentenced to between 4 and 8 years in prison. A few of them were sent for psychiatric treatment.
What motives guide these young people who call themselves skinheads and why have they appeared in Russia and the rest of the world?
The first skinheads emerged in Britain in 1968-9. They came from the ranks of the "working aristocracy" in Britain's industrial areas. First wave skins personified the young class protest culture moving against the bourgeoisie and the influence of the 1960s (hippies, mods and rockers).
To stress their class background, these young men dressed like dockers and shaved their heads. They borrowed their latter feature from Jamaican sub-culture to demonstrate their positive attitude towards the "coloured" culture. First wave skinheads were not racists.
A cecond wave skinheads appeared in the UK in the late seventies. They were the byproduct of the national economic crisis that led to mass unemployment. Britain's neo-fascists then began to influence the skinheads, as they propagated their racist views, blaming foreigners for taking "English" jobs. The slogan "Keep Britain White" was soon their trademark. Some of them with extreme right-wing views became known as Nazi-skins. Great Britain aside, they emerged in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Bulgaria. Particularly strong Nazi-skinhead groups formed on the football terraces in Germany and the UK, while similar gangs appeared in the US.
So-called red skinheads also emerged at around this time. They rejected Nazi ideas and any race's supremacy, while they fought against the Nazi skins and were often involved in violent clashes. The ideology of the red skinheads was based on the principles of internationalism and social justice. They are active today in Britain, Germany, France, the USA, Poland and Spain (the Basque Country).
Skinheads first appeared in Russia in the early 1990s. Like other youth sub-cultures (hippies, punks, bikers etc.), they came from the West. Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhni Novgorod became the centres for their movements.
By the middle of 1998, according to various estimates, there were between 700 and 2,000 skinheads in Moscow, 700 to 1,500 in St. Petersburg and up to 1,000 in Nizhni Novgorod. There were also hundreds in various cities such as Yaroslavl and Voronezh, as well as in the Siberian cities of Irkutsk and Omsk, and also as far as Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar in the south and Vladivostok in Russia's Far East. By the end of 1999, the figures for Moscow had risen to between 3,500-800, in St. Petersburg up to 2,700, Nizhni Novogorod more than 1,500, and Yaroslavl, Pskov and Kaliningrad (Russia's Baltic enclave) 1,000. For the sake of comparison: there were ten skinheads in Moscow in 1992 and five in St. Petersburg. Russian political scientists believe that skinhead movements in Russia have flourished for two reasons: economic crisis and the collapse of the system of education and upbringing.
As a rule, skinheads get together in small bands where they live and study. These are mainly secondary school students, vocational school students, as well as unemployed people. At the same time, there are already organisations with a strict hierarchy and which are involved in nationalist activity in some Russian towns and cities. For example, there are four such skinhead organisations in Moscow: "Skinlegion," "Blood & Honor' - Russian affiliate," "United Brigades 88," and "Russian Aim." In all, there are about 450 members. Interestingly,there is a small group of Nazi-skinhead feminists, the "Russian Girls". St. Petersburg has its own gangs, such as "Russian Fist" (150 members), while there is the "North" group (150) in Nizhni Novgorod and the "White Bears" (80) in Yaroslavl.
According to Interior Ministry information, as many as 20,000 young people may belong to skinhead groups, but there is no single organisation. Sergei Zherebin, the head of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department's section for crimes committed by minors, believes "there is no such skinhead movement, no organisation that could take root." He goes on to call this idea "a myth created by the press." In his opinion, there are sub-structures, but they are rather an attribute of youth fashion. Nevertheless, even uncoordinated extremist groups, he says, "are a serious factor destabilising the socio-political situation in the country." An analysis of the events linked with Russian skinheads' acts show that the periodical riots, beatings and murders they commit are usually targeted at people from the Caucasus and Asians, as well as the occasional American or European. The skinheads themselves think that they are thus trying to counteract immigrants into Russia who bring their cultures with them.
Links between Russian skinhead movements and foreign neo-Nazis exist. Since 1998, representatives of neo-fascist groups have come to Russia from the USA, Germany and Austria, to share their experience with the local youth.
In particular, representatives of the Ku-Klux-Klan and NSDAP/OA have arrived from the US, while the Youth Vikings, the Germany National Union, National People's Front, Steel Helmet, and Union of Rightists have visited from Germany. They send literature, equipment and audiocassettes via extremist organisations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
According to some information, the ideology of various Nazi skinhead groups has recently become to draw closer. They have made attempts to work out unifying ideas based on Russian nationalism, anti-communism, anti-liberalism, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism.
The federal law "On the Counteraction of Extremist Activity" was adopted to put an end to the activity of extremist organisations. The law stipulates that hooliganism (and this covers a wide area of offences in Russia up to assault) motivated by ideological, political, race, national or religious hatred is a criminal offence and will be prosecuted under the law. Some experts claim preventative work against extremism has to be conducted among young people as well. Skinheads are the consequence of social misfortune. The end to the crisis in society, improvements in the national level of prosperity, education and culture could be far more effective, reliable and painless in the fight against extremism than the strictest laws.