Seth Bernstein is an Assistant professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow where he specializes in the history of Soviet politics, culture and society. He’s the author of Raised Under Stalin: Young Communists and the Defense of Socialism published by Cornell University Press and the English translator of Alexander Vatlin’s Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
Queen, “Flash,” Flash Gordon, 1980.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
By Vlad Tupikin
Translated by Thomas Campbell
Last Wednesday, the case of the murder of antifascist Alexander Riukhin (who was nine days away from his twentieth birthday when he was killed) was remitted to the courts for trial. On April 16, 2006, while on his way to a hardcore punk concert (hardcore is popular amongst Moscow’s young antifascists) on the outskirts of Moscow, he was stabbed to death. Several skinheads attacked Sasha and his friend Yegor. There was no struggle to speak of—only a murder.
Three of the attackers were detained, and Nazi paraphernalia and literature were found in their homes. The other three assailants are still at large. Everything then, it would seem, is clear? Don’t make snap judgments. The three assailants in custody—Vasily Reutsky and Andrei Antsiferov, members of Slavic Union; and Alexander Shitov, a member of the Format 18 gang—will be tried for premeditated group hooliganism (Article 213 Part 2 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code), premeditated non-grievous bodily harm (Article 115), and assault (Article 116). The murder itself is being treated as a separate case. Only Alexander Parinov, Nikita Tikhonov (who are still at large), and a third, unidentified, attacker, are under suspicion for that particular crime.
Lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who is representing the victim’s mother, Tatyana Riukhin, told a Regnum correspondent, “Every effort is being made to play down the threat to public safety posed by the actions of Reutsky, Antsiferov, and Shitov. There is this applicable albeit rather cynical rule of thumb: you got a corpse, you got a murder case. So it seems odd to me that the exception to this rule is the case of an antifascist murdered by radical right-wing activists.”
It is likewise odd that no one has yet been brought to trial for the murder of another twenty-year-old antifascist, Petersburger Timur Kacharava. It was also right-wingers who stabbed him to death. On November 13, 2005, a group of them attacked Kacharava and his friend Maxim outside the Bukvoyed chain bookstore on Ligovsky Prospect, in downtown Petersburg. The crime scene is a busy, crowded place: tourist buses headed for Finland depart from the spot, and the Moscow Train Station is down the street. There was no struggle. The assailants swooped down on the young men and inflicted several blows. One of these blows—a knife to the neck—proved fatal for Timur.
The young men who took part in this well-publicized crime have been in custody since December 2005. In their official statements, Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko and Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov commented on the fascist nature of the crime and the need to combat xenophobia in Russia’s northern capital. The investigation has been dragging on, however, and the word among Petersburg’s antifascists is that the authorities will attempt to scrap this case as well, charging those under arrest with hooliganism and letting them off with suspended sentences (or no sentences at all).
Finally, one more story, fresh from the presses. On December 22, 2006, a homemade bomb went off in the stairwell of a residential building in Liublino, a southwestern Moscow suburb. A swastika had been drawn on the wall next to where the bomb was discovered. A can containing the explosives was concealed behind a heating radiator; apparently, the bomb was set off by wires that connected it to a placard bearing an offensive nationalist message: “In apartment no. [X] there are nigg. . . .”The bomb (or rather, the placard) was found on the afternoon of the twenty-second by twenty-year-old Tigran as he was exiting the building. Tigran, who happens to live in the very apartment identified on the placard, was on the point of grabbing it when he noticed the wires. While he didn’t manage to get a good look at the bomb, he did have the presence of mind to run to the police. They sent a team over, followed by the bomb squad. The device went off as the police were attempting to defuse it.
The press have treated the incident as yet another nationalist attack on Moscow’s non-Slavic residents. One more Armenian kid (or so they say) nearly fell victim to right-wing radicals: a routine tale in today’s Moscow, however horrible this might seem. Just as routinely, the prosecutor’s office opened a hooliganism investigation—not an attempted murder investigation. And Tigran was questioned as a witness to a crime, not as a crime victim!
This case isn’t so simple, however. Tigran is the Moscow-born son of Muscovite parents. (The press has been circulating the absurd and false report that he and his family have lived in Moscow for only ten years.) And Tigran isn’t a mere “Caucasian youth.” He is a Moscow antifascist and a former coworker of the website Antifa.ru. And he’s a fan of hardcore punk music like his murdered age-mates Timur Kacharava and Alexander Riukhin.
Everything points to the conclusion that Tigran was slated to become the third in a series of murdered young antifascists. His photograph had been posted on Nazi websites and he had received a number of death threats. Swastikas and the message “Tigran, say hello to Timur” were painted on the fence of a construction site across the street from his building. Several times, he was attacked at concerts or met at his front door by young men who appeared to be “boneheads.” (“Boneheads”—also known, in Russian, as “bonies”—is the name that antifascists give to Nazi skinheads so as not to confuse them with antifascist skinheads, who also exist.) Not the shy, retiring type, Tigran emerged victorious from these skirmishes.
And then there was the bomb.
While the prosecutor’s office tries to ignore the case’s political aspect and opens an investigation into rather minor offences, the Federal Security Service (FSB) does see the connection between Tigran’s case and politics. As the police were taking his testimony down at the precinct, FSB officers paid his mother a house call. (Warped by the force of the bomb blast, the front door of their building couldn’t be closed.) Taking advantage of her emotional shock, they confiscated some of his things without encountering any resistance from her. According to Tigran, they took buttons featuring crossed-out swastikas, sew-on jacket patches, and—most important of all—his computer.
Tigran even got a receipt from FSB officers stating they’d confiscated the computer. As final exams loom, he has lost access to all his course notes and files. He’ll have to think of something to tell the professors at his institute.
I want to make it particularly clear that, as far as I know, neither Timur Kacharava nor Alexander Riukhin was a member of any antifascist organization. They simply held antifascist views and were the sort of guys who practiced what they preached. Timur played in an antifascist hardcore band and, on Sundays, he helped the Petersburg branch of Food Not Bombs hand out hot meals to homeless people. (We should recall that the homeless—or, as they’re known by the old Soviet police acronym, bomzhy—are also objects of hatred for young Nazis, along with non-Slavs and members of such youth subcultures as punks and rappers.)
When I asked him whether he’d been in fights with Nazis, Tigran answered in the affirmative. “What else can you do if they attack? Let yourself get beat up?”
“It was the Nazis themselves who turned us into antifascists,” the former Antifa.ru coworker continues. “We’re all members of one subculture or another, one group or another. These groups often encountered fascist violence; they often were victims of attacks. At some point you lose your self-respect unless you answer blow for blow. Especially when the police and the state mainly do almost nothing to stop the street-level fascist threat.”
“They sometimes sling the accusation at us young antifascists,” Tigran continues, “that the Nazis would have calmed down long ago were it not for us. They say we’re like an irritating red flag for them. According to the people who blame us, Nazi street violence would have tapered off were it not for us. It’s all exactly the other way around. For a long time there were no antifa. They finally emerged because Nazi violence was showing no signs of going away; on the contrary, it just kept on expanding. Besides, it’s also common knowledge that at first the Nazis attacked people with non-Slavic complexions and rank-and-file youth subculture kids who were weaker. The antifa showed up later in reaction, as a response on the part of alternative antifascist youth.”
“Look,” says Tigran, “when the fascists attack, their goal is to cripple or kill their victims: they use knives or even firearms. When they fight the fascists, the antifa, on the contrary, don’t make it their goal to physically eliminate them or inflict serious injuries. The fascists just need to understand that they aren’t here forever; they’re not immortal themselves. They need to experience in person what the value of a human life is, the value of every individual. Maybe if they get thumped a couple times by some regular guys, the small fry, the underage Nazis—the teenagers who shave their heads just because it’s cool, because they want to be feared—will figure out that there’s nothing that cool about being a fascist. Maybe a few of them will even quit.”
Tigran believes, however, that, since they’re a violent street movement, you can’t stop the Nazis as a whole by fighting them. That is just a holding action, the means the youth subcultures use to defend themselves against the Nazis. “If the authorities won’t put them in prison, the Nazi idiots will sense their own impunity and start doing God knows what. On their closed-access Internet chat sites they’ve long been discussing organizing terrorist strikes at markets and even in government buildings. But they haven’t decided yet whether to pin the blame on immigrants or take responsibility themselves.”
“How do you know this?” I ask Tigran.
“Our antifa hackers cracked these sites,” he replies. He claims that these same sites post instructions for the manufacture and use of homemade explosive devices, like the one that went off in his own stairwell.
“How are you doing overall after what’s happened?” I ask.
“I’m okay. Friends helped us fix the front door, they collected money. Now I need money for a good lawyer: I’ve got to drum that up. So I have plenty to do. It’s just that I always have this feeling that they’re about to blow up my front door.”
Isn’t Tigran afraid that unwelcome guests will descend on him again?
“They’ve already shown up—the night after the blast, when the front door was still hanging open. At four in the morning the intercom rang. The voice was young and rude: he said he was delivering a telegram. Then there was movement out on the stairs. Someone with his face hidden in a scarf and a hood dashed past our door, first on his way upstairs, and then again on his way down. Our cat got spooked and I looked through the peephole: ‘guests.’ I hollered at my sister to call the cops again and I dashed out into the stairwell myself, to try and chase them down. But you can’t run very fast in slippers: I didn’t catch them. And the police didn’t, either, although they did come running fairly quickly with their machine guns. Apparently they were staked out somewhere nearby.”
This whole phantasmagoria is really happening now, as Moscow prepares to greet the New Year. Personally, I’m finding it harder and harder to drive it from the threshold of my perception, to pretend that it’s all a matter of hot young blood, the desire to mix it up a bit, to rumble with the other gang. Knives have long ago become part of the game. And now it’s come to bombs.
It is completely obvious that the problem calls for intervention not only from the police, but also from politicians and educators. Is the officially sponsored Nashi (Our People) initiative, whose members have declared themselves a democratic antifascist movement, enough? Obviously not. Politicians who don’t want to farm the issue of antifascism out to the Kremlin and its political operatives should think hard about how to react meaningfully to the new alignment of forces.
Fascism and xenophobia aren’t simply the latest election campaign trump cards in the government’s stacked deck. They are social realities. Those who missed the point of the (November 4) Russian March shouldn’t miss the meaning of Nazi street terror. Apparently, though, our opposition politicians, who are chauffeured to the venues of the latest conference or joint demo with the nationalists (“moderate” nationalists, or so they imagine), don’t really notice what’s happening out on the streets. Nor do they notice that the Nazis have long been trying to run them.
The mass media quite often don’t pay attention to this fact, either. In the editorial offices of one respectable publication I was recently informed that a press release about the Sasha Riukhin murder case from “some Antifa.ru or other” wasn’t sufficient cause for them to react in print. “Especially since they’re definitely not registered,” the editor told me as he looked me sternly in the eye. I don’t know whether they’re registered or not. I do know that you don’t need to be registered to arm yourself with a knife or make a bomb. And the Nazis know this, too.
Vlad Tupikin frequently writes on anti-fascism, Russian anarchism and the anti-globalization movement in Russia.Post Views: 65
By Sean — 10 years ago
Dima Bilan’s victory at Eurovision is bound to bring more interest in Russian music. But where is a English speaker to go? I recommend directing your browser to Far from Moscow, a new blog by UCLA Slavic Professor David MacFadyen. MacFadyen has written several books on Russian popular television, music, film and culture. Far from Moscow is a more publicly accessible extension of that work, and promises to keep fans in tune with the latest twists and turns, releases, up and coming artists, and goings on in the popular and underground Russian music scenes. I recommend anyone interested in Russian tunes to follow the site closely. I plan to.Post Views: 47
By Sean — 6 years ago
Some of you may know that I’ve started writing op-eds on Russia for Al-Jazeera English. Here’s an snippet of my latest on the Russian elections:
In mid-November, the Russian site Slon.ru noted that political brands have a life cycle of five stages – “rise”, “peak”, “stabilisation”, “fall”, and “political death”. As brands, Russia’s political tandem, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, and the ruling party United Russia, are no less immune to this cycle. Their popularity peaked in 2008-2009, was stable throughout 2010, and began to fall rapidly in the second half of 2011. In this sense Russia’s ruling elite are little different than, say, a pop song or a breakfast cereal. The more you consume them, the more disgusting they become, until their mere mention evokes the dry heaves.
As returns from Sunday’s polls show, more and more of the Russian electorate are getting nauseous with the political establishment, and Putin in particular. Technically, Sunday’s elections were about determining the Russian Duma (parliament) for the next five years. But, in reality, they were a popularity vote for Putin: the man, the politician, and the system he created. And if there is any doubt that “Putinism” is on a downward swing, just take a look at Sunday’s polls compared to the last election in 2007. In 2007, United Russia received 64.3 per cent of the vote, giving it a supermajority of 315 seats. On Sunday, United Russia got 49.5 per cent and is slated to get 238 seats. That’s a drop of 14 per cent and a loss of 77 seats. One should also note that United Russia got walloped in regional parliaments. In three regions, Krasnoyarsk, Primorye, and Sverdlovsk, the Party of Power didn’t even break 38 per cent. Considering that this is the first election since 2003 that United Russia’s power shrank, this election is a turning point.
The whole article is here.Post Views: 41