II. Attacks on Places of Worship and Cemeteries
In 2007, almost every religious congregation in Russia was subjected to acts of vandalism and serious property damage. Overall, places of worship and cemeteries affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church had been vandalized and attacked the most. Proportionately, Jewish and Muslim sites were the most frequent targets of vandals. Western Christian groups, including Baptists and Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced similar problems. Overall, no religious organization operating in the Russian Federation is safe from attacks, robberies, neo-Nazi graffiti, or cemetery desecrations. Many sites are vandalized multiple times, reflecting a lack of security and deficiencies in police protection. Some examples of attacks on places of worship and cemeteries include the following:
- On May 14, 2008, unidentified vandals defiled several gravestones at a cemetery in Nizhny Novgorod. The unidentified perpetrators targeted the resting place of the city’s former chief rabbi, Judas Bershtein, which is a well-known site visited by many Jewish residents of Nizhny Novgorod. Earlier in the year, nine gravestones were covered with black paint at a Muslim cemetery in the city’s “Tatar Quarter.”
- On April 4, 2008, a synagogue in Vladivostok was covered with nationalist graffiti and swastikas, which was the third act of vandalism at this synagogue in seven months.
- On February 4, 2008, a mosque in Vladimir was attacked at night. The perpetrators threw Molotov cocktails at the façade, causing a fire to break out. Some ten acts of vandalism have occurred at the same mosque over the past three years.
- On October 19, 2007, a group of unidentified young men carried out an attack on a synagogue in Astrakhan. The vandals threatened the members of the Jewish community, shouted racial slurs, and inflicted damages on the building.
- In the fall of 2007, a Christian cemetery was vandalized in the city of Kotlas, Arkhangelsk Oblast. Gravestones were covered with graffiti, swastikas and other Nazi symbols, and many crosses were overturned.
- In October and November 2007, a Jewish school was vandalized in Bryansk. Four minors broke windows while shouting “we shall build a white heaven! Sieg Heil!” at the Or Avner School. The police originally charged the perpetrators with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” (article 213, part 2). However, on May 21, 2008, the prosecutor of Bryansk changed the charges to hooliganism (article 213) and vandalism (article 214).
- On August 29, 2007, a Christian Orthodox center was attacked in the Moscow Oblast. Three vandals broke windows and beat one worker. The attackers had apparently meant to assault a nearby Jehovah’s Witnesses center, but mistook the target.
- On August 1, 2007, unknown perpetrators drew swastikas and neo-Nazi graffiti on gravestones at the Arsk cemetery in Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan. This historic Christian Orthodox cemetery had been vandalized on previous occasions.
- In June 2007, unknown vandals drew swastikas on the building of a Pentecostal church in Voronezh, which was previously vandalized a few months earlier. The Pentecostal community did not file charges after the first incident, but finally approached the authorities after the repeat offense.
- In June 2007, a Jewish cemetery in Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, was vandalized. The vandals defaced the arc at the entrance, drew fascist messages and swastikas. Similar incidents have occurred at the same cemetery many times in the past.
- Two incidents occurred in the Kurgan Oblast on April 15 and 16, 2007. First, 19 gravestones were broken by vandals at a Muslim cemetery. The next day, unknown vandals wrote “Death to Jews” on the façade of a building.
- On March 18, 2007, a synagogue in Voronezh was vandalized. The vandals drew nationalistic and neo-Nazi graffiti, such as swastikas and Celtic crosses, and other racist slogans. In March 2007, attackers partially destroyed an Assembly of God church in Moscow, setting off a blaze that destroyed the roof and much of the interior with an explosive device. The congregation had previously received numerous threats, and local authorities had refused to register the property as belonging to the church.
- In February 2007, a young man fire-bombed a Jehovah’s Witnesses building in Kuybyshev, Novosibirsk Oblast.