It is slightly more than a decade since the 70-year-old communist iron curtain was torn down. But ethnic minorities are reaping bitter fruits of the Russian version of freedom and democracy which has opened a highway for extremists to go unchecked.
In what victims and human rights activists see as a covert state support for the culprits, random racist attacks against non-Russians and dark skinned people have become the order of the day.
On 24 February this year, hundreds of foreign students in Voronezh in central Russia took to the streets demanding security from local law enforcers following the murder of Amaro Antonio Limo, a student from Guinea Bissau. The previous day, a group of skinheads stabbed to death Amaro Antonio Limo, a 24-year old second-year student of the Voronezh Medical Academy. Limo was the 7th victim of racist murder and 70 other violent attacks in Voronezh in the past five years, a high record in a city of about one million people and 1,500 foreign students. None of the cases has ever been solved.
The desperate students sent a petition to President Vladimir Putin, asking for his immediate intervention and gave the local political authorities and law enforcers a week's ultimatum to come up with a well-defined security policy, or they would boycott lessons, resort to a hunger strike or pack and go home.
But after boycotting lessons for almost a week, the students resumed classes after some sort of compromise had been reached between the authorities and the student body. The details of the compromise were not announced.
However, on the same day as the students returned to classes, a Russian female student, Yulia Bordovskaya, claimed she had been stabbed by a black man at the same spot where Limo was attacked, evoking racial tensions that led to immediate arrests of dozens of black students who were forced to line-up for identification by the girl's hospital bed.
On the same day, the police released a composite sketch of a black man in dark sunglasses, based on a description given to them by Yulia's. Three days later, Yulia, who had in fact been injured in a fight with her parents over her boyfriend, admitted to have cooked up the story.
She was, however, only reflecting the xenophobic attitude currently sweeping the country, and especially of the police who had moved with lightening speed in search of Yulia's attacker at a time when they were still reluctant to accept that Amara Limo's murder was racially motivated, let alone make any efforts to arrest the culprits. It has since been revealed that Limo's compatriot and room mate, Adilson Sanca, was attacked by skinheads on a bus last October.
Last December, Shultz-88, one of the more vicious racist groups in Russia, was charged with the offence of publishing a racist journal containing humiliating and denigrating materials about non-Russians. The group's leader, Dmitry Borbov, was jailed...