Russia's far right blamed for murder of anti-fascist

Andrew Osborn in Moscow
The Independent

One of Russia's leading anti-Nazi campaigners has been assassinated in his home, apparently in revenge after he helped to convict Russian extremists. Nikolai Girenko, 64, was shot on Saturday morning in St Petersburg. His attacker, who authorities believe was almost certainly a professional contract killer, rang the doorbell and asked to speak to him.

Mr Girenko did not open the door but did identify himself. The killer fired at least one round from a sawn-off shotgun through the steel door, striking the academic in the chest.

The anti-fascism expert, trained as an anthropologist, worked for the Public Campaign Against Xenophobia, Racism, Ethnic Discrimination and Anti-Semitism, and collaborated closely with various human rights groups.

In the past two years, Mr Girenko performed two dozen studies on neo-Nazi and skinhead groups for the authorities in Moscow and St Petersburg, and frequently acted as a special adviser to the public prosecutor in St Petersburg in high-profile race-hate cases. His intervention led to the conviction of several skinheads and colleagues say his face was well-known among the country's sinister neo-Nazi gangs.

Colleagues say that he had received several death threats, and the communal entrance hall to his flat had been daubed with fascist and racist graffiti.

Mr Girenko was best known for his work in the trial of three youths accused of the racist murder of an Azerbaijani man in 2002, and for the role he played in the trial of an extremist group called Schultz-88 (eight standing for the eighth letter in the alphabet, H, 88 therefore signifying Heil Hitler).

Moscow's human rights bureau has appealed to Russia's leading prosecutors to take special control of Mr Girenko's case. "We insist that the authorities finally acknowledge the danger of the growth of neo-Nazism and xenophobia in the country," it said. Human rights activists say the authorities are doing little to quell a rising tide of hatred and skinhead violence.

Alexander Sokurov, a prominent film maker, told the daily Izvestia: "This murder shows that the Nazi movement and the so-called 'second column' exists in our country. Anyone posing a threat to this second column is destroyed. The level of hatred towards foreigners in our country is huge and is a poison that gushes from millions. Keeping quiet in this case would be tantamount to complicity."

Mr Sokurov said the government's security council should examine neo-Nazism in Russia. "There is appalling bitterness in the capital and in the provinces. The situation is much harsher than four or five years ago. The restlessness of millions, unemployment and people's terrible moral condition is primed to detonate."

There are an estimated 50,000 skinheads in Russia and a total of 80,000 is expected in the next few years. With names including Blood and Honour, Moscow Hammer Skin and United Brigade 88, they are said to number 5,000 in Moscow and 3,000 in St Petersburg.

They have been implicated in a string of horrific crimes. In February a nine-year old Tajik girl, Hurshida Sultanova, was stabbed to death in front of her father by a gang of 10 "Skins". Authorities dismissed the killers as mere "drunken delinquents".

Activists say that there are 30 to 40 such murders every year. Many Skins look up to Alexander Sukharevsky, the leader of the far-right National People's Party. Members favour the Nazi salute and wear black armbands with a Russian swastika-like cross. Mr Sukharevsky believes the white race is being attacked by a tide of undesirable foreigners.

Yakov Gordin, a prominent writer, told Ekho Moskvy radio: "Mr Girenko was shot in a brazen way, on the threshold of his own flat. This is a threat not only to people who campaign for human rights or against fascism. It is a threat to all society."