New measures needed to counter extremism and nationalism effectively

An expanded meeting of the Prosecutor General’s Office collegium was held last week. Speakers criticized existing counter-extremism efforts and recommended some new measures. According to Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin, there should be a federal list of extremist websites.

An expanded meeting of the Prosecutor General’s Office collegium was held late last week. We have obtained some exclusive materials from that meeting.

The weight of criticism from the Prosecutor General’s Office was focused on the Interior Ministry, the agency responsible for investigating cases involving extremism and nationalism. Speeches made at the meeting by Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika and Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin indicate that the Interior Ministry’s investigation performance has not been good.

“A significant proportion of those who break the law on extremism and interethnic relations are never charged,” said Chaika. “When extremist groups are identified, no measures are taken to eliminate them.”

According to the Interior Ministry, Russia now has around 150 extremist associations. Their total membership is up to 10,000; according to a source present at the meeting, that figure counts only people who have been identified by law enforcement agencies. Seven thousand of them are the active core members. In reality, the number of extremists is far greater: each active core member must be ready to summon five to ten “fighters” if necessary. Most members are young, with 70% aged 16-25.

It was noted at the meeting that very little information is available about what goes on within these extremist groups. Fewer than 50 criminal cases have been opened in 2007 on the basis of evidence obtained from the informer network. Only a tenth of operative cases go on to become criminal cases. “Nine out of ten remain unused,” said our source. “Although the evidence collected there could be used to secure court decisions to shut down an association or an extremist publication. But this is not being done.”

Neither are the police succeeding in tracking the funding sources of extremist groups.

Viktor Grin said: “Operations and investigation work aimed at detecting extremist and terrorist funding sources is ineffective. In 2006-07, not a single crime has been exposed involving individuals or organizations funding extremist activity.”

Journalists came in for some criticism as well. The Prosecutor General’s Office maintains that the media “add fuel to the flames” of interethnic conflicts by publishing information which is sometimes inaccurate. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, this happened in the Kondopoga and Stavropol cases.

Regional branches of the Federal Service for Monitoring Observance of the Law in Mass Communications and Protecting Cultural Heritage (RosSvyazOkhranKultura) are failing to monitor media activity effectively. Consequently, the Prosecutor General’s Office has decided that it would be useful to bring back the “Soviet” practice of submitting samples of publications to RosSvyazOkhranKultura – as publications were submitted to GlavLit for censorship in the Soviet era. But now it will be a matter of “checking for extremism,” not political censorship. A proposal to this effect will soon be submitted to the Cabinet.

By the end of this year, the Prosecutor General’s Office plans to analyze all recent criminal cases and materials from pre-investigation inspections to see if they mention media materials of an extremist nature. The owners and managers of publications found to have incited ethnic hatred, as well as the authors of such materials, will be prosecuted.

But the greatest amount of freedom for extremist of all types can be found online.

“Their Internet activities are practically uncontrolled,” said Viktor Grin. “Hundreds of websites are promoting inequality between citizens on ethnic, racial, or religious grounds – inciting interethnic or interconfessional hatred.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office intends to submit a bill to the Duma: proposing a ban on using the Internet to distribute extremist materials. Moreover, according to Grin, there should be a federal list of extremist websites, updated regularly; RosSvyazOkhranKultura should be responsible for this. ISPs should first restrict access to these blacklisted sites, then shut them down entirely.

According to Grin, there are also some objective factors obstructing counter-extremism efforts: mainly the fact that most Russian regions are short of money. Therefore, the Prosecutor General’s Office intends to request the federal government to allocate targeted funding to the regions for countering extremism and nationalism. Regional governments should use this money to develop anti-extremism programs – organizing recreational events for young people, teaching them tolerance and respectful interethnic relations, monitoring the media, and so on.

The Prosecutor General’s Office meeting focused particular attention on ethnic and religious extremist organizations. Grin noted that they are becoming increasingly influential in promoting separatist views in Russia’s ethnic republics, thus posing a serious threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian state. The Trans-Volga area and the North Caucasus have the highest concentrations of these religious extremist groups: a whole network of jamaats.

“They operate as an underground, made up of small secret groups,” according to a statement made at the meeting. “They use religious and ideological arguments to recruit new members. Sermons are often accompanied by the use of narcotics and psychoactive drugs, and video footage of ‘infidels’ being punished.”

This movement receives financial and ideological support from international Islamist centers. Their agents operate in Russia under the cover of educational and religious organizations. Federal Registration Service inspections found that over half of such organizations lacked licenses for educational activity, but they weren’t shut down until the Prosecutor General’s Office intervened.

It was noted at the meeting that Russia’s high level of internal migration contributes to interethnic tension. Almost 2 million people relocated from one Russian region to another in 2006. This often leads to gradual changes in the ethnic and religious make-up of particular territories, creating tension. Grin noted that federal and regional authorities have failed to analyze these processes or take timely measures to alleviate tension.