Saturday, June 17, 2006
RUSSIA, FASCISM, ANTI-FASCISM
For quite some time the Oread Daily has covered increasing fascist and racist violence in Russia. So if you are an OD reader you won't find whats below surprising.
The following is from Searchlight magazine.
RUSSIA The ultimate risk of being an anti-racist
For the past two years Russia has witnessed a wave of nazi violence on a scale unimaginable to most people in Western Europe. This violence, which has accelerated since November 2005, is aimed mainly at foreign students and asylum seekers, citizens of the former Soviet republics especially ethnic minorities and active anti-fascists.
The Russian authorities however classify the nazis, who belong to groups with grandiose names such as “White Patrol” and “Schultz 88”, as hooligans or vandals. This conceals the specific racist motivation and anti-anti-fascist strategy that lies behind the violence.
Nazi violence in Russia is nothing new. Since the collapse of the Communist regime, nationalists of every stripe have had the wind in their sails and openly nazi parties have recruited tens of thousands of people and organised training in military camps for their strong-arm squads. Some non-government organisations estimate that ultra-nationalist, racist, antisemitic and fascist organisations have as many as 50,000 members.
The nazi activity is brazen. In April, for example, police in Bryansk broke up a nazi march on the anniversary of Hitler’s birth when drunken skinheads waving German flags paraded down a main road. Four youths were detained and charged with drunkenness and minor hooliganism.
For 12 years Russia’s bloody war in Chechnya has opened the way for free and open expression of anti-Caucasian racism from street level to the highest echelons of politics and government. Some groups have exploited this atmosphere to launch attacks on the many Caucasian traders at street markets in Moscow and St Petersburg. Shops owned by Caucasians have been torched with fatal results in Moscow and Yekaterinburg.
It can be difficult to walk alone on the streets if one does not have a European face because racist intimidation and aggression are common and frequently lethal. Foreign embassies are now advising their citizens to take care, always go in a group or even stay at home on dates such as 20 April, Hitler’s birthday.
Roma people are often the targets of assaults. On 13 April a group of 20 youths armed with metal bars and spades attacked a Roma family and a visiting ethnic Russian woman in the Volgograd region of Russia while they were sitting round a fire and talking. A Romani man and the ethnic Russian woman were killed; a 14-year-old girl and an 80-year-old woman were seriously injured.
Antisemitic attacks on people and property have also increased. On 11 January a man described as a skinhead stabbed nine people at a Moscow synagogue, seriously injuring four.
In June 2005 antisemitic slogans and swastikas were painted on the walls of a synagogue in Vladimir near Moscow. The following month there was an arson attack on a Jewish centre in Penza and the Jewish centre in Taganrog was vandalised. Vandals had attacked both buildings on previous occasions. In March this year, the Jewish centre in Penza was vandalised again.
The sheer extent of the harassment, violence and murder prompted the human rights organisation Amnesty International UK to issue a 35-page report titled Russian Federation: Violent racism out of control in early May. The report states that at least 28 people were murdered and 366 assaulted on racial grounds in 2005.
Indeed throughout 2005 one racist attack followed another, even if the Russian authorities did not treat the incidents as such. This was despite the conviction in September 2005 of three young men for the racist murder of Amaru Antoniu Lima, a medical student from Guinea-Bissau who was stabbed to death in broad daylight in Voronezh, a university town 600 km south of Moscow, in February 2004.
In contrast, a trial of five people on charges arising from a violent onslaught in 2001 by more than 100 skinheads against mainly ethnic minority market traders in Moscow ended with the acquittal of two of the defendants, while another two received suspended sentences and the fifth was given a mere six months in custody.
The public prosecutor’s office also excluded a racist motive for the killing of a nine-year-old Tajik girl in St Petersburg in February 2004 even though the attackers screamed racist insults before stabbing her 11 times. Khursheda Sultanova had been on her way home with her father and cousin and died in her father’s arms.
The government of Vladimir Putin has used chauvinism and patriotism to ease the transition towards a post-Communist society without worrying about the consequences. Now, in a reaction to rising extreme-right violence, he has established his own “anti-fascist movement” called Nashi, which he hopes will gather young people behind him.
Determining when the wave of targeted nazi violence began is not easy, but the brutal murder on 19 June 2004 of Professor Nikolai Girenko, an eminent defender of human rights and an expert in the struggle against racism and discrimination in Russia, was probably the turning point because of his official role.
The identity of the victim made it difficult for the Russian authorities to drag out the usual explanation of the killing being the result of war between rival gangs of hooligans. Professor Girenko was president of an official commission on the rights of minorities and had several times tried to warn the public of the mounting danger from the bands of nazis and skinheads that he had spent so much time researching.
Professor Girenko was shot through the front door of his flat as he was going to answer the doorbell. So far police have found neither the killers nor the weapon, a shotgun of Second World War vintage.
The killing took place just days after the release of a nazi arrested for wrecking the premises of the human rights and anti-fascist association Memorial and beating and tying up its president. Soon afterwards the head of an NGO based in Memorial’s offices started receiving death threats and nightly threatening phone calls and a swastika was painted on her apartment door. Incredibly, a man purportedly belonging to the FSB (the new name of the KGB secret police) was arrested inside the prison where one of the attackers – a neo-pagan – was being held. The reason for his arrest was that he was trying to give the prisoner a list of names of people who might provide him with a false alibi.
Russian anti-fascists are very divided and isolated and consist of a few grass roots activists, human rights campaigners, activists belonging to parties that are politically and economically liberal, traditional anarchists and a radical alternative social, cultural and music movement which is mistrusted by all the political forces. This radical alternative scene, which has no hesitation about confronting nazis in the street, at least organises a militant anti-fascist response, sometimes successfully, by working together with experienced activists whose focal point is research and analysis.
Violence specifically aimed at anti-racist and anti-fascist activists accelerated towards the end of 2005, concentrated on Moscow, St Petersburg and Voronezh.
It started on 13 November 2005 when Timur Kacharava. a young militant punk musician in St Petersburg, was stabbed through the throat in front of a bookshop by a dozen nazis who knew his face and his name. He died in front of his friend Maxim Zgibay who was seriously injured.
The two musicians, who had just taken part in an event organised by the group Food not Bombs, belonged to the radical anti-fascist scene in St Petersburg and had been threatened by nazis a month previously. Kacharava, 20, was dead before the ambulance arrived, leaving Zgibay as the sole witness. Police invited him to take part in an open identity parade of arrested skinheads, which in the absence of witness protection in Russia, amounts almost to a death sentence. Kacharava’s killers have been arrested, except for the leader of the gang who, although his name is well known to the police, has gone into hiding.
The next calculated murder of an anti-racist was on 7 April this year when Lamsar Samba Sell, a Senegalese student, was shot in the neck by a nazi skinhead. Samba was actively involved in an NGO called African Unity and had helped organise intercultural festivals with Nashi. On his way home after attending an intercultural friendship evening at a discotheque, he and other African students were ambushed by a nazi gunman who had hidden in a doorway. When the nazi ran out into the street and screamed slogans, the students panicked and ran. A shot rang out and a man seen firing it escaped after throwing away a gun engraved with a swastika.
The police are still investigating but the prosecutor has declared the crime a murder of racial character which should be given priority. The reason for this urgency, compared with Kacharava’s case, is that Sell’s murder gained widespread international media coverage.
None of this has deterred the nazis who, on 16 April, added another murder to their grim tally when a group of six skinheads in Moscow stabbed to death a 19-year-old anti-fascist punk musician who was on his way to a concert with a friend. Alexander (Sasha) Ryuhin was stabbed through the heart and in the neck. His nazi attackers wore rubber gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. The police said they found anti-fascist stickers in Ryuhin’s pockets and his friends are convinced that his murder was planned. Information on the police investigation is limited but the fact is that the situation in Russia for anti-fascists is worsening every day.
The targeted murders of Girenko, Kacharava, Sell and Ryuhin taken together with the frequent racist crimes against African students, immigrants, Roma and other minorities show that the nazis have identified anti-fascist and anti-racist activists as enemies to be got rid of by all means including murder.
Faced with this threat, activists who live in St Petersburg, Moscow, Voronezh and anywhere else in Russia have to be able to count on their anti-fascist and anti-racist comrades throughout Europe to support them and to spread information about what is going on in Russia.
Nashi: Putin’s “anti-fascist youth”
Nashi, which was originally called “Those who march together”, is more or less a reincarnation of the Young Communist League established by President Putin to rally young Russians. The organisation’s name, which means “ours”, is intended to evoke a kind of exclusive identity and suggest that involvement in it is very progressive.
Nashi proclaims itself anti-fascist in line with the tasks Putin set out for it. The first was to fight Edouard Limonov’s National Bolshevik Party which Putin had declared an enemy of his regime. Nashi has also from time to time taken up the fight against drugs, especially among school students, which it can do because of its official character and its links with Putin’s government. These connections open all doors to Nashi and enable it to obtain funds even in war-torn Chechnya where Nashi has splendid premises in Grozny.
Despite its adoption of an anti-fascist guise, Nashi’s members do not think twice about protesting against human rights activists opposed to the actions of Putin’s government in Chechnya. In February, during the trial of a man who published an appeal against the war in Chechnya, Nashi was mobilised to express the regime’s disapproval of such activities. Incredibly, the anti-war activist was convicted for inciting racial hatred and given a two-year suspended sentence.
After Sell’s murder Nashi called for a gathering in his memory. This provoked a discussion among anti-fascists in St Petersburg about whether to take part in view of Nashi’s support for the anti-war campaigner’s conviction. In the end, about 2,000 members of Nashi, aged 18 to 19, attended but there was little real emotion despite all the candles, flowers, Nashi T-shirts and the black and white anoraks worn for the occasion. Nashi’s slogan was “Putin help us”, a slogan that presents Putin as a kind of long-awaited saviour … a typical characteristic of all cults of the personality.