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In Russia, hatred of non-Russians a part of everyday life

A Tajik guest worker is shot in broad daylight in Moscow, losing an eye. The attack was racially motivated. Hate crimes are becoming a sad fact of everyday life in Russia, says DW’s Juri Rescheto.

I try to look into his eyes, or rather, into his right eye. The left eye is missing. But I can only see myself reflected in his black sunglasses. Under his hat, a 10-centimeter hole in his skull made by the bullet when he was shot is covered with a temporary implant that will eventually be replaced with a metal prosthetic. Sulaimon Saidov of Tajikistan still has a lot of complicated surgery ahead of him. His health has forever been ruined. The 38-year-old speaks quietly, relating the horrific attack in his mother tongue; an attack, for which there is no other explanation than pure, unadulterated hatred. Hatred of non-Russians like himself.

Shot without warning

It happened on an April evening earlier this year, when Saidov and his 19-year-old nephew were going home on the subway to the Moscow suburb of Tjoplij Stan. Saidov was sitting down, his nephew was standing beside him. "I don't know which station it was," he says, "but a man got in. He stank of alcohol. First he babbled something unintelligible, but then he began cursing loudly at us."

When Saidov asked the man if he had something against Tajiks, he suddenly pulled out a gun loaded with rubber bullets and fired it. First he shot Saidov in the stomach, and then the head, before pointing the gun at his nephew. Saidov tried to protect his nephew by throwing himself in front of him. He was shot a third time, in the eye.

General suspicions about guest workers

When the subway train stopped, the other passengers ran off. At first, the police moved to arrest not the drunken attacker, but his blood-covered victim.

Central Asian guest workers are under general suspicion in Russia

of being in the country illegally. Eventually the police were able to subdue and arrest Saidov's attacker.

"I've been coming to Russia for 13 years," says Saidov a month after the horrific shooting. "The Russians that I worked with never had a problem with me. I renovated their apartments, I knew many of them personally, and they all valued my work. I can earn between 30,000 and 40,000 rubles a month here - that's four to five times more than what I could make in Tajikistan."

'The authorities didn't want to cooperate'

Russia xenophobia

Sulaimon Saidov lost his left eye protecting his nephew

Our conversation is being translated in Russian by Saidov's cousin, Dilshod Saidov. He says it's important to him that as many people as possible learn about what happened. "The authorities didn't want to cooperate at first, even though it's so clear what happened in this case. For a while, we didn't know if Sulaimon would lose his eye or not. For us, that was everything, but they acted like it wasn't so bad."

Saidov's attacker, Sergej Z. is now being investigated on charges of attempted murder. It's not yet known whether hatred of foreigners will be recognized as an aggravating factor in his case. For both Sulaimon and Dilshod Saidov, it's important. But it's not a priority for the authorities, they say.

Number of guest workers in Russia growing

According to official statistics from the Russian immigration office, there are currently 878,536 Tajiks living in the country. Almost all of them are migrant workers, or guest workers, as they've now commonly become known in Russia. Each year, about a million such migrants come to Russia in search of work. Their home country, Tajikistan, is among the poorest ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia.

But more than a million Tajiks also leave the country each year. Most are deported. In the fight against terror, Russia has tightened its immigration laws and is now quick to take action against illegal immigration.

Transporting the dead back home

"Often, you'll see migrants be arrested in the middle of the street and demonstratively led away by police," said one guest worker who declined to give his name.

"Sometimes it's just a matter of bureaucracy that the people don't understand, some form that they've filled out wrong, or a high registration fee that they don't want to pay," Karomat Scharipov, chairman of an association for migrant workers from Tajikistan, told DW. "We Tajiks live by the motto: Fight if you want to survive. We are in the minority, and here, it's the rights of the stronger party that count. The weak have to suffer."

There are no statistics on how many Tajiks have been victims of hate crimes, or have lost their lives in Russia. Often, the bodies of murder victims aren't even sent back to their home country, but rather buried quickly at the nearest Muslim cemetery. Scharipow says he alone arranges for the transport back to Tajikistan of three to four of his countrymen each day with the so-called "Fracht-200": Dead, in a coffin made out of zinc. "In total, about 1,300 Tajiks die in Russia each year ", said Scharipov.

Sulaimon Saidov is still alive, although he now has considerable disabilities. Does he hate Russians? "No. Because I don't think that the man who did this had anything against me personally. He just hates anyone who isn't Russian."