Erika Monahan is an Associate professor in History at the University of New Mexico. She specializes in commerce, corruption, and empire in early modern Eurasia. She’s the author of The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Russia published by Cornell University Press.
Tom Waits, “All the World is Green,” Blood Money, 2002.
You Might also like
By Sean — 9 years ago
I’m normally not a big fan of the Guardian‘s Luke Harding, but I think he deserves kudos for his latest article, “Putin’s Worst Nightmare.” Harding opens with the chilling and brutal murder of Karen Abramian, who was stabbed 56 times by two skinheads named Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, both 17, as he returned from visiting his parents.
Abramian’s murder was one in the string of 20 murders committed by the racist duo in a nine month period in 2006-2007. They also racked up about 16 attacks in their stabbing spree. Most importantly, as Harding stresses, the two youths “were proud” of their killings. After all, they are part of a “holy war” to rid Russia of racial others. “As they saw it,” Harding writes, “Abramian’s violent death was part of a national liberation movement – an ambitious, quasi-mystical struggle to get rid of Russia’s foreigners, in which they played the role of hero-warriors.” And if they mistook a few dark skinned Russians as gastarbeiters then so be it. This is what happened when the two fell upon S. Azimov in April 2007. Ryno and Skachevsky stabbed him 56 times, cutting off his ear as a race war relic. The race war, after all, is messy business.
To say that racism and ethnic violence is a growing problem in Russia is a no brainer. The statistics point to a steady rise in deaths at the hands of neo-Nazis and Russian nationalists. According to SOVA, there were 50 in 2004, 47 in 2005, 64 in 2006, 86 in 2007, and 96 in 2008. There were 12 murders in January 2009 alone. The fascists are already above their past average. And as Harding narrates there are no shortage of gruesome stories.
True most Russians condemn the use of violence against their racial others. But is also true that racist and anti-immigrant sentiment is mainstream. “More than 50% support the idea that ethnic Russians should have privileges over other ethnic groups,” Alexander Verkhovsky of the SOVA Center tells Harding. “More than 50% believe that ethnic minorities should be limited or even expelled from their region.” Skinhead violence therefore is merely the praxis of these views. For a frequent update on these acts, see Moscow Through Brown Eyes.
Experts estimate that there are approximately 50,000 skinheads in Russia. According to a recent MVD report there are about 302 informal youth groups, of the Left and the Right, “with signs of extremist views and beliefs.” These attract young people to participate in mass disorder, riots, and the murder of people of other faiths and nationalities for money, but frequently for uncertain purposes and slogans.”
One may hope that Medvedev’s recent comments at the Collegium of the Ministry of Internal Affairs will light a fire under Russian police organs in combating the Russian Right. After all, he put combating extremism at center stage. He said, “The specter of extremist threats are various, but they are of one essence: to destabilize the social and political situation in the country.” However, Medvedev’s comments were not simply in regard to the rise of racist attacks. The real context is the economic crisis. “In the atmosphere of the twofold drop in the labor market for foreign workers there is a possibility of not only the illegal use of workers’ power, but also the aggravation of the crime rate as a whole. I think that organs of the MVD need to take this issue under its direct control.” Medvedev’s suggestion? The creation of a special subdivision within the MVD to fight extremism. But the targets of this subdivision won’t be the Russian right as a whole (though I sure some of them will). According to documents obtained by Gazeta.ru, the MVD will mainly focus on the “participants of various protests,” “the social activists of oppositionists,” “the participants in anti-government actions,” and other disturbances connected to the global financial crisis.
Given recent events–the request that universities expel students who participate in unsanctioned protests, authorities putting pressure on the parents of National Bolshevik members, and now Nashi’s infiltration of opposition youth groups–there little surprise if police actions against Russian liberals and leftists heats up even more.
For the Russian right, however, while individual cases of violence are prosecuted and uncovered, there seems to be little systematic targeting of their activities by the authorities. Just the opposite it seems. So much so that Russian nationalists and fascists seem quite comfortable offering their services to the government. In Novgorod, activists of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) have offered their services to the police by forming militias to secure public order. DPNI has also declared that it intends to arm its members with air guns to fight growing crime in connection with the economic crisis. Attacks against immigrants are often punished lightly, if at all, rarely getting stiff penalties associated with extremist acts. Instead, their violence is often labeled mere “hooliganism.”
While authorities have met DPNI’s offers with skepticism, if not bewilderment, the real test will be if they sanction the “Russian March” planned for 1 March. DPNI and the Slavic Union plan to commemorate the fallen soldiers of 6th Company, 104th Regiment of the Pskov Airborne Division. On 1 March 2000, 84 of that Regiment’s 90 soldiers were killed in Argunskii Revine in Chechnya. Both organizations say that they will refrain from displaying nationalist slogans. They are hardly needed since the nationalist undercurrent of the march is clear. Dark-skinned enemies without and by extension within killed Russians. Moscow’s mayor’s office will give its yea or nay to the demonstration sometime this week.Post Views: 764
By Sean — 9 years ago
Yesterday, December 1, was 75 years since the assassination of Sergei Kirov, the first secretary of the Leningrad Party Organization, and Stalin ally. It was on the night of December 1, 1934 that a certain Leonid Nikolaev, a disgruntled party worker, shot Kirov in the secretary’s third floor office. Nikolaev was immediately caught and interrogated under Stalin’s personal supervision. He was executed shortly thereafter.
Rumors have been circling for years as to what Nikolaev’s motives were. Some have suggest that Kirov was having an affair with Nikolaev’s wife. Others have suggested that he had a personal or work beef with Kirov. These questions remain mostly unanswered. Partly it is because they are unanswerable. But also because the majority of historians believe that Nikolaev did not act alone. For them, Stalin was the main culprit and wanted to get rid of Kirov because of his popularity. Since Kirov has been held up as a “moderate” and even “opponent” to Stalin. Nikolaev, therefore, was merely a patsy in a more sinister plot on the part of the vozhd to justify the use of terror against his enemies, real or imagined.
The idea that Stalin had ordered Kirov’s murder was not solely concocted by historians. According to NKVD reports, it was also one of the most widespread rumors at the time. But it wasn’t the only one circulating around. As Matthew Lenoe noted in an article on the historiography of the murder in the Journal of Modern History, rumors ranged from Leningrad NKVD chief F. D. Medved or his number two Mikhail Chudov personally committing or ordering Kirov’s assassination, to German, Finnish, Polish, or Turkish secret agents carrying out the plot, to speculation that a worker angered by the recent cuts in bread rations did Kirov in. Others thought that the killing was part of a larger plot of murder Maxim Gorky, Lazar Kaganovich, and the German Communist leader Ernst Thaelmann. But the idea that Stalin was behind it all swirled and swirled from mouth to ear, into exiled socialist commentary, on to the pages of defectors’ and so-called confidants’ tell-all memoirs, until it reached scholarly dictum through its reproduction ad nauseum by historians.
A minority of historians, most interestingly Oleg Khlevniuk and Alla Kirilina, who are no Stalin apologists and based their research on new archival evidence, have argued that the Stalin as culprit is “almost entirely myth,” according to Lenoe. The debate continues to rage, however, and will probably go on forever. But as Lenoe notes, ” In the end it does not matter for our overall understanding of Soviet history whether [Stalin] plotted Kirov’s assassination or not. There are far more important questions that need answering in the field.”
Indeed. Whether Stalin actually ordered the hit on Kirov doesn’t erase the fact that regime’s response to the assassination was a blind fit of violence that led to the arrests and execution of hundreds, if not thousands, in the weeks following, culminating in the eventual arrest, trial, and execution of Grigorii Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, the so-called “Moscow Center.” The lives of hundreds of thousands of others followed. There is also no doubt that Stalin used the Kirov’s assassination to his political advantage to eliminate his political opponents. We don’t need to pin the Kirov murder on him to recognize that.
Perhaps, the biggest lesson of the Kirov murder was not its use by Stalin from 1936-38 to justify terror. The lesson is in the quick adoption of “On Amending the Present Union-Republic Codes of Criminal Procedure” or the so-called Kirov Law on December 1, 1934, that gave terror legal justification. The law was as follows:
To amend the present Union Republic codes of criminal procedure with regard to investigation and trial of cases of terrorist organizations and terrorist acts against the functionaries of Soviet power:
- Investigation in these cases shall be concluded in not more than ten days.
- The indictment shall be handed to the accused 24 hours before the trial.
- The cases shall be tried without the parties present.
- There shall be no cassational review of the judgments or acceptance of petitions for clemency.
- The sentence of the supreme punishment shall be executed immediately upon rendering judgment.
This law is ominous in its brevity. It is this law that was the first legal step to wage terror. What the law giveth, the law taketh away. So in the end it is not Kirov’s assassination that should be remembered but how such events can provide the justification for extraordinary measures to be legally enacted. It is a reminder that the “state of exception” is always enacted by the sovereign in an attempt to preserve the “public good.”Post Views: 2,116
By Sean — 6 years ago
The fall out from the Pussy Riot scandal continues unabated. But the activities are less from Riot’s supporters, and more from their detractors. Indeed, it seems that Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” in Christ Our Savior Cathedral has stirred a hornet’s nest, and now all the little bees are angrily buzzing about, thrusting their tiny stingers into side of the so-called “enemies of the faith.” When I noted some of the activities of Orthodox activists in my last post, I assumed that their antics were more flashes in the pan. Now it’s clear that I grossly underestimated the fragility of the sensibilities of a minority of Orthodox followers. Perhaps it’s because I never thought that the religious fanaticism that I often witness in the US, let alone that among the ultra-Orthodox in Israel and elements in the Muslim world, would find expression in Russia.
It just goes to show that a stable post-Soviet identity remains elusive, and the virtually ideologically hollow multiethnic and multiconfessional model offered by the Russian government has yet to find traction. Thus, a radical adherence to Orthodoxy seems to fill that vacuum for some, and like good converts, their anxieties about the purity of their own faith is transferred on to the Orthodox Church as a whole, making anything that appears to threaten its sanctity an evildoer. The global crisis of secularism has found its Slavic voice.
How else to explain bringing a lawsuit against the Russian fashion designer Artem Lebedev for writing “god” in lowercase letters? Actually, Lebedev wrote “F*ck god,” but in justifying their lawsuit, Orthodox activists say that they were offended by the disrespect the lowercase type denotes.
Or the fact that a group of Orthodox activists have prevented the performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in Rostov by charging that the musical offends their religious sentiments. That’s right Jesus Christ Superstar. Funny, the musical has been running in Russia for 20 years, and now suddenly its offensive. The bees are buzzing indeed.
At the moment there is no law to hold Lebedev or the Rostov Philharmonic responsible for offending the faithful. But that might soon change. The Russian Duma is planning on turning the Russian codex back before 1917 by passing what essentially is a blasphemy law. The proposed law, which has support across party lines, will make “publicly insulting the religious beliefs and feelings of citizens” punishable up to a 300,000 ruble fine, 200 hours of community service, or a max of three years in prison, and “the desecration of objects and articles of religious worship and places of religious rites and ceremonies” liable to a fine between 100,000 to 500,000 rubles, 400 hours of service, and up to five years in the slammer.
Now, Michael Bohm’s idea that Russia is becoming Iran and must choose between becoming “anti-Western and theocratic or liberal-democratic” is quite presumptuous, not to mention downright silly. But that’s the kind of hyperbole that his editorializing is known for. Nevertheless, the upsurge in concern about the sanctity of Russian Orthodoxy does suggest that something is amiss. And that something, I would argue, is that the Russian state has yet to offer its citizenry an ideology to bind the nation. The outlandish maneuvers on the part of Orthodox activists and the politicians that seek to capitalize on them are expressions of this ideological lack. The militant turn to Orthodoxy, however, is hardly a cure. In fact, such gestures in a society that is lukewarm about religion in general are likely to perpetuate the symptoms.
Unsurprisingly, the scandal in Rostov over preventing the performance of Jesus Christ Superstar has lit Runet ablaze. Here’s a run down of some responses courtesy of BesTToday. More interesting, however, is that the Russian Orthodox Church has weighed in on the issue. Daniil Azizov, a representative from the Rostov diocese told Interfax:
“We were quite surprised by the group of people who call themselves believers and wish that their opinions coincide with those of all Orthodox believers. But this is not so. It is only the personal opinion of 18-20 people who do not reflect neither the views of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Rostov diocese, or that of our parishioners. . . Twenty-years ago, when the Bible or the dioceses weren’t in wide usage, people found out about Jesus Christ through the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s a wonderful opera. There is nothing in it that should offend religious believers. . . If I had the free time, I would go see this rock opera myself.”
So there you have it. The message from the Russian Orthodox church is “Rock on Jesus, you superstar.”Post Views: 800