“White wagon” attacks

At least two “white wagon” attacks were perpetrated in the Moscow region his month. This tactic, used by ultra-right groups, consists in getting on a train or subway car, and either preventing people considered as “non-Slavic” from getting onboard, or violently attacking such people already seated in the car.

On March 1, a group of 30 to 40 people got on a Moscow suburban train, their faces covered with knitted and medical masks. According to an eyewitness, shortly before the train reached the Opalikha station, they walked into one of the cars looking for people with “non-Slavic appearance”. Some of them started beating up Central Asian nationals present in the car. After the train stopped at the station, they ran off the train and tried to attack two Japanese people on the platform. As in many cases, the number of victims is unknown. A few days later, on March 9, a group of 5 people carrying an imperial flag beated up people of “Central Asian appearance” on a Moscow-Khimki train before dragging them onto the platform.

These are only two of the most recent occurrences of a phenomenon that seems to be gaining in intensity since last year. But such incidents are not a novelty. An article published on the Chicago Tribune website and dating back from December 31, 2006 recounts the following incident : “On Nov. 19, the 26-year-old Kyrgyz construction worker [Kuvanichbek Soltonoyev] was on a Moscow commuter train when 23 Russian skinheads saw him in a nearly empty car and attacked” him. While shouting slogans such as 'This is a white wagon' and 'Russia for Russians',the assailants kicked him, jumped on him and beat him up with a metal chain, causing severe injuries that left the young man in a coma for four days.

“When the train stopped at a depot in Romashkovo, the attackers got off and placed the battered Soltonoyev halfway out of the train car, with his head and torso hanging outside”, the article goes on. “The attackers stayed on the platform to watch what would happen, but a passenger noticed Soltonoyev and pressed the car's stop button before the train passed into a tunnel.”

If this kind of violence is not recent, nor is it limited to Moscow. Several incidents of the same type occurred in other Russian cities. In 2013, one major “white wagon” action took place in Saint-Petersburg. The attack was carried out in early November, in the metro station Udel'naya. A large group of about 40 or 50 right radicals stormed into one of the metro cars in which they had noticed people with “non-Slavic appearance”, and started to beat some of them while shouting slogans such as 'Kill them' and 'One for all, and all for one'. A video record of the incident shows two people being beaten up on the car and one being attacked on the platform, although it is possible that more people were victimized.

Two other attacks in the city's metro were reported the same day, possibly due to the same group. After the attack in the Udel'naya station, many of the radicals, armed with batons, went outside to the local market, where they started an actual pogrom, destroying selling outlets and assaulting vendors.

Despite their similarities, these incidents cannot be traced back to a single organization, and some of them are not linked to any organized group at all. An attack may well be organized by just a few people meeting up on the Internet. This makes the “white wagon” actions very difficult to predict.

Some of them, though, are directly linked to radical right events and gatherings. In Saratov last September, a “white tram” action was organized by a group of young people who had just participated to a “people's gathering” attended by members of several organizations such as “Russkie Probezhki”, “White Saratov” and the “Russians” movement. After preventing non-white people from getting on the tram, the activists told the passengers about a fight that had occurred between “Russkie Probezhki” activists and Caucasian nationals a few days earlier, and enjoined them to participate in any future “people's gathering”.

More notoriously, such attacks were triggered by the gathering of thousands of football supporters and ultra-right activists on Manezhnaya Square in Moscow, in December 2010. The event was meant to commemorate the death of one “Spartak” supporter, and turned into what has been called “race” or “ethnic” riots. After the crowd were forcefully dispersed by the police, several groups attacked non-Slavic people in nearby metro stations.

It seems that many “white wagon” operations were committed at least partly by football supporters, and such events are more likely to occur on match days. In April 2012, for example, about twenty “Spartak” fans irrupted onto several trains with masks and hoods to beat up people whom they considered to be “migrants” and “visitors”. The Moscow football team had played a match a few hours earlier.

The feeling of insecurity resulting from these assaults is aggravated by their relative impunity. Although some real progress has been made in recent years, in many cases the perpetrators are not arrested – and when some of them are, they are quite unlikely to be prosecuted for what their actions really consist in, that is, hate crimes.