Kazak Thugs Trigger Alarm

There are fears that extremist politicians may exploit Russian skinhead gangs prowling the streets of the former capital.

Kazak Thugs Trigger Alarm

There are fears that extremist politicians may exploit Russian skinhead gangs prowling the streets of the former capital.

Korean student Sergei Park was on his way home from table tennis practice when the Russian gang stopped him. He noticed their shaven heads and the swastikas on their clothing, but didn't realise he was in serious trouble until the insults started flying.

"Two of them came up to me and asked for matches to light their cigarettes," the 18-year-old told IWPR. "Then one of them called me 'squinty eyes'. I couldn't stand this and told the guy he was an idiot. Then all the others started beating me up."

The assault happened on November 12 in the Orbit district of Almaty - near the Sary-Akra (Yellow Back) cinema - a known hangout for local skinheads currently causing trouble in the former capital.

Luckily, the gang was disturbed by a group of Russian men, and Park was able to run away. He suffered serious concussion and severe bruising, and is still confined to his bed.

According to locals, skinheads, thought to number around 70, have attacked a number of people in the area. The media, while admitting such gangs are on the prowl, say they don't pose a danger. Indeed, some publications actually view them as an exotic novelty.

But with more than 100 different nationalities in the city, there is a very real danger that inter-ethnic relations may be damaged if the gangs step up their activities.

One Almaty skinhead, who did not want to be named, told IWPR that he joined a gang for ideological reasons, "I love Hitler and his book Mein Kampf - and I physically can't stand slanty-eyed people and blacks. I don't want to say that Kazakstan should be a land of Russians - I just don't like anyone who isn't white."

He denied that the gang actively set out to target other ethnic groups, but admitted that he and his friends attack a non-white person to cap "celebrations" on Hitler's birthday.

"Our goal is to avoid mixing of blood. We tolerate the native people, but do not feel sympathy towards them," he went on, adding that skinheads are forbidden to meet with Central Asian girls or have any non-Russian friends.

Parallels have been drawn between the Almaty skinheads and the rise of neo-fascist gangs in Russia, but analysts believe that the Kazak-based groups are operating on their own and have no political backing - for now.

Psychologist Tlek Askarbaev blamed the phenomenon on fashion. "Newspapers write about skinheads, they're shown on television and films are made about them. Many of them want to be like the Moscow thugs."

But some here are concerned that politicians may exploit the skinheads for their own ends. " They're basically just stupid youths, but if political forces start trying to control them, the consequences could be terrible," said local schoolteacher Margarita Kekova

Others suggest, however, that the skinhead phenomenon, though worrying, is unlikely to grow because of resistance from Kazak youngsters who are on the whole opposed to racism and extremism.

"It's surprising and strange that skinheads are appearing in Almaty as there are so many different nationalities living here," student Serik Nurdauletov told IWPR. "If there were to be any mass disturbances, I think the Kazak people would put them in their place."

Erbol Jumagulov is an independent journalist in Kazakstan.

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