Russian professor on trial over ethnic survey

January 3, 2003

A sociology professor at Stavropol State University in southern Russia has been put on trial on charges of provoking inter-ethnic strife.

Viktor Avksentev is editor and co-author of a monograph titled Stavropol: An Ethnographic Portrait , based on the results of a sociological survey commissioned by the government of the Stavropol territory.

The prosecutor's office has alleged that the report contains "statements and unconfirmed conclusions that formed a negative image of migrants of non-Slavic nations, and which also promotes the supremacy of one nation over others".

In a press interview before the case opened, Professor Avksentev said he and his colleagues had been trying to show the real state of inter-ethnic relations in the territory. Students who carried out the survey confirmed in court that the statements had been made not by the professor but by residents they had interviewed. The "xenophobic" responses included calls that all non-Slav migrants should be sent back to their place of origin.

The Stavropol territory is in effect the first point of entry to Russia for refugees and economic migrants from the multi-ethnic Caucasus. In the past, for example, the Chechnya conflict has spilt over into the territory. In July 1995, Chechen rebel troops took some 1,500 civilians hostage in the town of Budennovsk.

Russia's law against inciting ethnic hatred has rarely been invoked, even in cases with a clear ethnic bias. In the mid-1990s, some prosecutions involving xenophobic publications foundered due to failure to prove intent.

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