New York Times, July 27, 2002
By Steven Lee Myers in Moscow
July 27 2002
President Vladimir Putin has deplored racial and religious prejudice during a meeting in the Kremlin with a woman seriously injured when she tore down an anti-Semitic sign attached to a bomb.
“If we let this chauvinistic bacteria of either national or religious intolerance develop we will ruin the country,” Mr Putin said on Thursday in remarks prominently replayed on Russian television.
A Moscow office manager, Tatyana Sapunova, 28, suffered serious injuries to her face, hands and legs when she stopped on a highway about 30 kilometres outside Moscow and pulled down a poster scrawled with the words “Death to Yids” in thick block letters, triggering an explosive device.
The bombing underscored the depth of racial and ethnic animosities that plague Russian society, something that Mr Putin emphasised during his hour-long meeting with Ms Sapunova.
“I must say that for any country the development of extremism undermines the foundation of the state’s existence,” he said. “But for a country like Russia it is absolutely fatal because we have a multinational and multi-religious society.”
Mr Putin has often spoken out against extremism and recently expressed support for new legislation passed by the lower house, the Duma, that imposes tougher penalties for hate crimes. However, the roots of racism and anti-Semitism run deep, reaching virtually all levels of Russian society, despite official condemnations.
Recently there has been a wave of racially and ethnically motivated violence, with almost daily reports of attacks on Africans, Asians and people from Russia’s southern Caucasus region.
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