Putin denounces rise in hate crimes in Russia

Anti-Semitic signs appear, some attached to bombs

July 26, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - President Vladimir V. Putin strongly denounced racial and religious prejudice yesterday during a meeting in the Kremlin with a 28-year-old woman who was seriously injured when she tore down an anti-Semitic sign attached to a bomb.

"If we let this chauvinistic bacteria of either national or religious intolerance develop, we will ruin the country," Putin said in remarks prominently replayed on Russian television last night.

Tatyana V. Sapunova, an office manager from Moscow, suffered serious injuries to her face, hands and legs May 27 when she stopped on a highway 20 miles southwest of Moscow and pulled down a poster scrawled with "Death to Yids" in thick block letters. Her action triggered an explosive device.

The bombing underscored the depth of racial and ethnic animosities in Russian society today, something that Putin emphasized in unusually stark terms during his hourlong meeting with Sapunova.

"I must say that for any country the development of extremism undermines the foundation of the state's existence," he said, "but for a country like Russia it is absolutely fatal, because we have a multinational and multireligious society."

Putin has often spoken out against extremism and recently expressed support for new legislation passed by the parliament that imposes tougher penalties for hate crimes. But the roots of racism and anti-Semitism run deep.

In recent months there has been a wave of racially and ethnically motivated violence, with almost daily reports of attacks on Africans, Asians and people from Russia's southern Caucasus region.

Earlier this month a mob of young men rampaged through the town of Krasnoarmeysk north of Moscow, injuring a dozen Armenians. In that case, a local prosecutor said there was no ethnic motivation to the attacks, which began with a barroom fight.

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