My latest for Russia Magazine, “Did Vladislav Surkov Help Fund Neo-Nazis?“:
It’s long been rumored that Vladislav Surkov funded and directed football hooligans and Russian nationalists to attack Russian oppositionists. But there has been little direct proof to pin on the Grey Cardinal of the Presidential Administration (PA). It was all just rumors, albeit believable ones. The truth, however, might be coming out. Since last May, the security services have been collecting information on Surkov’s connections with right-wing groups, particularly in the formation and funding of the neo-Nazi group Russkii obraz. The significance of this possible connection is big. Russkii obraz is where Ilya Goryachev got his start in the neo-Nazi business. Goryachev is currently on trial for masterminding several murders as the leader of the Military Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN) between 2007 and 2010. Goryachev was extradited from Serbia last November to stand trial in Russia. BORN’s kill list includes Federal Judge Eduard Chuvashov, antifascist activists Ivan Khutoskii and Ilya Dzhaparidze, Thai boxing world champion Muslim Abdullaev, the lawyer Stanislav Markelov, and Novaya gazeta journalist Anastasia Baburova. If Goryachev’s alleged links to the Kremlin implicates in several murders. And Goryachev’s connections to the Kremlin are coming from an unlikely source: Nikita Tikhonov, a former compatriot of Goryachev and co-founder of BORN. Tikhonov is serving a life sentence along with Yevgenia Khasis, who’s serving eighteen years, for Markelov’s and Baburova’s murder in 2011. Tikhonov is providing testimony in Goryachev’s upcoming trial, and some of the transcripts point to a link between neo-Nazis and the PA. Is Tikhonov testimony true? Is there a deeper meaning behind outing Surkov and his allies’ connections to neo-Nazis?
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Sergei Mironov, the leader of Just Russia, calls it “Socialism 3.0”. An interesting choice of words considering that this year marks the 90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Anniversaries tend to function as both remembrance and rebirth, and the talk of “socialism” at Just Russia’s party congress might certainly be a rebirth of sorts. Even if the revival of “socialism” in Russia might simply be political verbiage rather than possessing any real material content.
Be that as it may, what is clear is that talk of “socialism” is a way for Just Russia to position themselves politically as Russia’s left wing alternative to the Communist Party. To see this all one has to do is peek into Mironov’s historical positioning of Just Russia in the “history” of socialism. In his 30 minute speech to congress delegates he spoke of how the Russian Revolution ushered in Socialism 1.0. This version was something called “war socialism”. This was later countered with Socialism 2.0, a western intervention, presumably to quell the attractiveness of version 1.0 among its populations, that was more “humanitarian.” Both of these, however, “proved to be unsustainable and inviable.” Now Mironov and his party are going top all those with “Socialism 3.0”. Not only will this socialism be the most humanitarian to date, it will do so by recognizing that the “socialist idea is supported by not only economics, but also cultural endeavors of our people. We are for a dignified and secure life for Russians.” Judging from this rhetoric, I fail to see what the upgrade features 3.0 portend to offer.
It doesn’t take a keen observer to notice how all of this sounds familiar. So much that Svetlana Goriacheva, former Communist Party member and now State Duma deputy for Just Russia, made a point to emphasize that Just Russia’s platform is different from the Communist Party’s.
But Just Russia can split hairs over this “socialism” and that “socialism” all it wants. The truth of the matter is that the party, which is nothing more than a Kremlin creation, is there to gradually whittle away at the Communist Party’s electorate. After all, Kremlin doesn’t call it “managed democracy” for nothing, and while many seek to dismiss the notion as simply ideological hot air, there is something very real in the concept.
What is “managed democracy”? Its meaning is right there in its name. It means that in the eyes of Team Putin, the Russian State will erect the building blocks for a stable democratic system that many Western states enjoy, but took decades to develop. As a great power swimming in a sea of “democratic states” Russia can’t afford to waste time taming the groundswell of democracy from below, as say the United States did to its many labor and civil rights struggles of the 20th century, by subsuming little “d” democracy back into the hegemonic machine of big “D” democracy. Such efforts require tolerating the chaotic and sometimes unpredictable nature of social movements long enough for them to fizzle out and reside themselves to work within the system rather than against it. The Russian elite is clearly not ready, or at least confident enough in their power, to give a little in the short run for grander riches in both power and money in the long run. Since the democratic lie can’t be formed organically, it must be manufactured from above.
In this sense, then, the architects of Russian democracy are working from a political position akin to Alexander Gershenkron’s ideas about the benefits of economic backwardness. Here the Russian state is privy to all the bells and whistles that most “mature” democratic states possess and use so effectively to keep their populations gleefully bathing in their own repression. Mass media, the internet, political PR firms, consultants, advertising, pundits, spokespeople are all available in Russia to package and repackage democracy as a slick, smooth, and shiny object, all consumable in one bite, or at least in one sound bite. If postmodern life is a characterized by a litany of single servings, then there is nothing to suggest that “single serving democracy” can’t be one of the choices available at the smörgåsbord of affective chimeras that constitute the modern political subject. With this in mind, if “democratic backwardness” is truly an advantage, then the Russian elite’s ability manipulate democracy’s most advanced technologies to overcome that backwardness might prove to be nothing less than revolutionary.
This is where the Just Russia’s “Socialism 3.0,” Nashi’s DMD militias, the fiction of the “specter of colored revolution,” Zubkov’s nomination, “Operation Successor,” the demonization of Berezovsky, Litvinenko, Other Russia (as if they have any power), the curtailment of NGOs, the Public Chamber, and many, many other forms of “democratic management” all enter the picture. All of these little pawns are put into motion with the hope that democracy will function in Russia like it does elsewhere else–a predictable, well oiled machine where the people are made to believe that they do the choosing, when in reality the range of choices is no more diverse than one between Coke and Pepsi.
This is by no means to suggest that Russia is any less democratic than their Western counterparts. It’s that the mechanisms for realizing democracy in Russia are much more visible, harder, and violent. With that in mind, as Mironov announces “Socialism 3.0” as part of global history of socialism, one can’t help wonder what political upgrades “managed democracy” looks to bequeath upon the world.Post Views: 539
By Sean — 11 years ago
Russian youth’s embrace of Nazism doesn’t just happen in Russia. It’s also happens where one might not initially expect: Israel. Haaretz reports that Israel’s Interior Ministry arrested eight members, all aged 16 to 21, of a Nazi gang in Petah Tikva, a suburb outside of Tel Aviv. The arrests are the result of a year long investigation into street attacks and vandalism of the suburb’s Great Synagogue. The group, who is responsible for attacks on religious Jews, immigrants, homosexuals, homeless, and drug addicts, which they filmed, was found in possession of Nazi literature and posters, five kilos of explosives, a pistol, and an M-16. The M-16 was acquired when one of the youths was drafted into the IDF. He has since fled Israel back to Russia, leaving the rifle with his comrades. The Israelis plan to seek his extradition. Six of the eight have confessed their crimes to police. One of the two holding out is the gang’s leader, Eli Boanitov, who told police, “I won’t ever give up, I was a Nazi and I will stay a Nazi, until we kill them all I will not rest.”
Reports on the story are quick to deny the perpetrators’ “Jewishness.” Haaretz states that all eight youths “have distant ties to Judaism and nonetheless immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union under the Law of Return.” Y-Net states that all but one are “are non-Jewish immigrants” from Russia. The Jerusalem Post also emphasized that the youths were “immigrants” and not bona fide Jews. Such assertions have led Israeli politicans to call for a tightening of the definition of the Law of Return. Some are considering to revoke the youths of their Israeli citizenship. Parliamentarian Effi Eitam, a member of the right wing National Religious Party, said that the Law of Return has allowed Israel to become “a haven for people who hate Israel, hate Jews, and exploit the Law of Return to act on this hatred.” Another deputy, Eli Yishai, the ultra-Orthodox Minister of Trade and Industry told reporters, “We have to rid ourselves of this Satan who lives in the heart of Israel.” This is despite statements from Prime Minister Olmert that the incident shouldn’t be used to “criminalize an entire population nor make generalizations.” Instead, he said, “Israel, as a society, failed in educating the youths discovered to be neo-Nazis.” Other commentators were quick to stress that the incidents were isolated and not indicative of a wider trend.
While this may be true, the uproar such an isolated incident has caused signifies the youths’ apostasy. And the fact that the gang’s leader, Eli Buanitov is in fact a Jew makes his sin all the more significant. Eli Buanitov told police “I won’t have kids. My grandfather is half yid, so that this piece of trash doesn’t have ancestors with even the smallest percent of Jewish blood.” In interview with Israel’s Channel 10, Buanitov’s mother denied that her son was a Nazi and that “he is simply a boy and maybe he didn’t fully understand what [Nazism] is and maybe for him it was like a game.” She also emphasized that her son was indeed Jewish. “He was born in a Jewish family and was raised in a Jewish family. And he knows a lot about the war.” In response to a question about whether her mother was a Holocaust survivor, she replied, “Yes. When he was young he heard a lot of stories about it. And he knows very well how terrible it was. And how many Jews were killed.” As far as his Nazi tattoos, Mrs. Buatinova explained that they read in Yiddish, “God is with us.” In addition to his mother’s statements, Buatinov’s lawyer attempted to boost his client’s patriotic credentials. He stressed that the Buatinov family immigrated eight years ago, his client even has a brother serving in IDF combat units, that Eli attended a yeshiva high school for a twelfth grade, and has been working in a “security office in a very sensitive position” for the last year.
What is interesting about this case is not whether the youths indeed committed the crimes or if they sincerly embraced neo-Nazism as an ideology. What is at issue is whether the perpetrators are Jewish or not. The fact almost all of the youths are Russian immigrants with dubious Jewish connections allows many Israelis to rest easy. They can reason: Neo-Nazism is not some homegrown phenomenon but a disease injected into the body politic by the infiltration of some outside Other. But Buatinov’s existence threatens to rock the conceptual foundation of Jewishness itself. The idea of a neo-Nazi Jew is such an anathama that Israel has no law against it. If a Jew can also be a neo-Nazi, and worse become one in Israel, then what does that say about the conceptual coherency of Jewishness itself? The fact that Israeli society could breed its very negation seems to call into question the stability of its justification for existence. Put simply, the gang’s existence posits the question: in a post-Holocaust world, can a Jew be a Nazi?
The question, it seems, is too horrifying to ask, let alone answer. And this is why the gang’s non-Jewishness and antisemitism is being emphasized and not the fact that non-Jewish immigrants were also their victims. After all, Israeli racism against immigrants, especially Asians, Africans, and Russians, is common. The idea that Nazism could be embraced as an expression of that racism toward reveals the fact that two absolute contradictions–Jew and Nazi–are perhaps not so absolutely contradictory after all.
But these questions are likely to be ignored. If reader responses are any indication, targeting Israel’s Russian immigrant population as the breeding ground for wayward youth seems to be the comfortable route. Somehow, however, I doubt explaining racism with racism will do much to alleviate the problem. It will only shroud it further with nationalist fetishisms that will only inflame calls to exact the Russian cancer from Israeli’s otherwise healthy body politic.
Maya Haber provided all Hebrew translations.Post Views: 1,095