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Russian Football Hooligans Target Asians

Much of the soccer violence last Sunday was directed at Asians who are increasingly being targeted by the city's thuggish fans.
By Erbol Jumagulov

Football hooligans on the rampage in Moscow following Russia's loss to Japan at the World Cup took much of their aggression out on Asians.


Police largely stood by and watched as skinhead-led rioting on June 9 led to the death of two people, injuries to about 100 and the trashing of all the Japanese and Chinese restaurants and stores around the Kremlin and state parliament.


"They [the rioters] saw signs with Asian characters, and struck immediately," said local resident, Evgeni Makarov, who witnessed the mob violence. "They attacked every Asian they spotted."


The authorities have yet to release the identities of the two fatalities. Six Kazak nationals were seriously injured in the violence.


Several thousand football fans had congregated in Manezh Square, which is near Red Square, to watch the game on a giant screen, set up on the initiative of the capital's mayor Yuri Luzhkov.


The fans were restless and aggressive during the match and their anger was further fuelled by the huge quantities of alcohol freely available in nearby stores. When the Russian team lost 1-0 to Japan, severely damaging its chances of staying in the tournament, the real trouble began with cries of "Kill the squinty-eyed!" amid aggressive football chants.


Many citizens of Kazakstan and other Central Asian states were among those who suffered at the hands of up to 8,000 bottle-throwing rioters. The violence quickly spread to other areas of the city and was the worst seen in the Russian capital for a decade.


"I had hidden in a courtyard, otherwise they would have bashed me for sure," said Serikjan Maulenov, a Kazak student in the capital.


"I hate Moscow police and Moscow teenagers. I go to school here and I don't mess with anyone. Why do I have to suffer because Russians cannot play football?" said another Kazak student who was beaten outside his house. "The cops just stood and watched. They looked like they could join in on the attackers' side any moment."


Many Asians in Moscow, fearful of being beaten by a mob of angry football fans, now think twice before going out, especially on match days.


"I'm scared for my family and friends," said another Central Asian living in Moscow. "Those people do not care that you're innocent and friendly. They target Asians and Africans just because they look different. They treat us like animals."


People from the Caucasus and Central Asia are widely - often openly - blamed for the country's crime and economic woes.


Many of the ringleaders of the latest violence were skinheads, who often model themselves on violent shaven-headed British football hooligans. A large number are supporters of the city's Spartak team, which boasts the country's largest fan base. When the club fared badly in the last Russian championship, several Kazak citizens were assaulted.


"My girlfriend and I were on a Metro train. Suddenly, a crowd of football fans barged in. I think Spartak had just lost a game," recalled Mukhtar Samatov, a Kazak who acquired Russian citizenship this year. "One of them confronted me and called me a 'black'. Then he hit me. Someone slapped my girlfriend. Thankfully, other people in the carriage broke this up, so we were able to flee at the next stop."


Ozod Novruzov from Uzbekistan has been living near Moscow's Luzhniki stadium for the last three years. "I stay home whenever Spartak plays. Its fans are regular brutes. They target all Asians, and the police don't mind at all," he said.


Despite an avalanche of angry protests from Asian embassies in Russia, national and local authorities have not been doing much to curb rampant racism in the capital beyond announcing a halt to further broadcasts of World Cup matches on giant outdoor screens.


It appears to many Asians that the Moscow police are less interested in protecting them than hounding and harassing them for money. Now some foreigners here are gearing up to counter violence with violence.


"I've got a gun," said a Japanese national who preferred not to be named. "If they hit me, I'm going to shoot. I'd rather face punishment for illegal arms possession than get beaten to death by some scum on the street."


Erbol Jumagulov is an independent journalist in Kazakstan