Sunday, October 11, 2009

Black Hawks Caged in Moscow

A court in Moscow last week sentenced six members of a gang to several years in jail for an ethnically-motivated assault in the Moscow Metro. Sadly, that in itself isn't all that newsworthy - in the past decade Moscow, and other Russian cities, have seen a dramatic spike in what we'd call in America "white supremacist" groups and gangs attacking ethnic minorities, particularly people from former Soviet republics in southeastern Europe and central Asia and Africans. What makes the case of the "Black Hawks" gang different is that its members are young Muslim men from the Caucasus region and that they attacked two ethnic Russian students.

The court case marked the first time an ethnic gang was prosecuted for attacking Russians, not the other way around. The members of the Black Hawks were accused of luring the two men to the subway to assault them; they filmed the attack and posted it on the Internet, which led to their arrests.

But the lawyers arguing in defense of the Black Hawks said the case isn't that simple. They say the two victims themselves were members of a skinhead gang and that the meeting had been planned by both sides, only this time the skinheads got the worse end of the meeting. They also argued that the Black Hawks "gang" really was just a collection of young men with a common ancestry who otherwise barely knew each other.

Whether or not the Black Hawks are the start of a new chapter in race relations in Russia remains to be seen, but the emergence of gangs like them wouldn't be a surprise. In America groups like the Italian Mafia, Chinese Tongs and even Latino gangs in California all had their roots as men within a then-oppressed ethnic group banding together for self-protection.
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