Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Russian "Right"

My friend Mark at Norwegianity quoted this article regarding the latest Russian atrocity.Trying to distinguish skin-head provocations from government sanctioned activities can be difficult. The traditional need for authoritarian government in Russia now resembles to a large degree America's desire for security. A good source for info regarding contemporary extremist Russia can be found here. A revealing article gives what I think is the best analysis of current Russian politics extreme and other:



In the spring of 2007, radical violence continued to grow. Over the three spring months, xenophobic and neo-Nazi attacks affected at least 137 people, killing 18. [1] This 14% growth rate vs. the same period last year (at least 120 attacked, 15 killed in the spring of 2006) is somewhat lower than the average (we usually observe 25-30% higher rates of violence for each subsequent year), but there are no reasons yet to report improvement.

Spring has always been a period of increased skinhead activity, due to a number of dates celebrated by Russian neo-Nazis, particularly (but not only) April 20, Hitler’s birthday. Even though law enforcement agencies traditionally seek to suppress skinhead activity on the eve of Hitler's birthday each year, their efforts are often insufficient and cannot stem the violence. Instead, authorities tend to deny the scope of hate crime. Comparing SOVA’s spring 2006 report[2] and today’s figures, the number of known victims has increased from 87 to 120, i.e. almost a 50% increase! We can hardly expect this year to be any different, especially given the surprising “decrease” of officially reported skinhead attacks in May. Before 5 May, we documented 10 or 11 new victims each week, but we know of only 13 victims attacked between 6 and 31 May. [3] We find this hard to believe, given particularly that May in Moscow was marked by a series of large-scale skinhead actions usually associated with violent incidents (commonly shortly before or after, but not during the rally). In addition, 18 May is the anniversary of the death of Dmitry Borovikov - the former leader of St. Petersburg’s most aggressive skinhead group. Last year in Moscow, at least five racist attacks marked the 40 day anniversary of his death, and we cannot believe that things were any different this spring. In the lead-up to this anniversary, right-wing radical websites themselves reported preparations for attacks.

Apparently, two reasons why we have seen fewer incidents of specifically skinhead attacks in May are either that assaults were combined with robbery[4] or because the reporting of these crimes never found its way into newspapers. [5] The latter scenario is particularly dangerous, because underreporting distorts the already vague knowledge of the scope of racist and neo-Nazi violence in Russia. Moreover, the ultra-right takes advantage of this lack of accurate reporting. Russian public opinion perceives skinheads as dangerous and powerful, [6] so rumors and panic spread fast when there are no accurate reports of such crimes, let alone reports of their prosecution and punishment.

Shortly before 20 April 2007, at least three cities in Russia – Belgorod, Ryazan and Izhevsk - were struck by panic amidst rumors of a forthcoming surge of skinheads coming in from other cities to engage in mass fighting and other offences (the neo-Nazis themselves were behind many such rumors). In fact, similar rumors were reported in previous years, but never before have they produced such mass hysteria. Parents did not allow their children to go to school and teachers endorsed absenteeism, while the police were overwhelmed by the number of anxious calls. As a result, the local media, law enforcement authorities, and the local government were forced to address the situation. [7]

A high-profile crime in the spring of 2007 was the death of 17-year-old skater Stanislav Korepanov, fatally wounded by local skinheads. It was this murder that triggered these rumors of “a skinhead invasion.” For some reason, a local independent newspaper – Dyen - was blamed for spreading all the rumors, even though the paper only provided consistent coverage of the events and insisted all the while that skinheads were behind the killing.

More often than ever before, members of the left-wing and various youth subcultures reported experiencing skinhead violence – almost half of all victims we know about (61 of 136) belonged to this category. However, even though some skinheads indeed target the ‘Antifa’ and “informal” youth in particular, the real reason behind such heightened reporting is that the victims are active, online, and involved in social networks, increasing the probability that such crimes will be covered in the media.

Over the three spring months, we documented at least 20 incidents of vandalism against places of worship, cemeteries and memorials, due to apparently nationalist motives. As in the past, the most common targets were installations which belonged to the Jewish community (7 attacks), Protestant Christians (6 attacks), and “ideological” sites, such as the World War II memorial in Kazan and others (4 attacks).

A high-profile case of religious vandalism was reported in Saratov Oblast on 5 and 6 May. Over the span of 24 hours, vandals attacked a cemetery in the village of Rybushka and an Adventist prayer house in Engels, and made an attempt to blow up a synagogue in Saratov. Another notable case of “ideological” vandalism occurred in Kemerovo, where assailants attacked a local Communist Party office in May, painted swastikas on the walls, destroyed furniture and equipment, and even shot off firearms in the office.

Activities of Organized Right-Wing Groups

The spring of 2007 was also marked by increased public activity by organized right-wing radical groups - which clearly is connected with the forthcoming elections.

Public Events

The Russian ultra-right were able to organize a substantial number of large-scale public events in the spring. Rallies, pickets and marches, while they did not reach a national scale (unlike the 2006 Russian March or the action in support of political prisoners on 28 January 2007) were nevertheless high-profile events.

What strikes observers is not the frequency or attendance of right-wing rallies and marches, but instead the authorities’ exaggerated tolerance of such incidents. The question is not about banning rallies and marches – we have stated on many occasions that a preventive ban would be unlawful. That being said, right-wing radicals have increasingly given the police every reason to intervene lawfully.

On 1 May, an ultra-right coalition headed by the Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) led the ‘1st of May March’ outside VDNKh Metro Station in Moscow - their first officially permitted public event since 4 November 2005. Neither the xenophobic slogans, nor the obscenities which, as many witnesses report, they chanted loudly as they marched, nor even the Nazi salutes attracted police attention. Likewise, police failed to pay attention to the 26 May rally staged by neo-Nazis under the slogan “Liberalism leads to degradation, National-Socialism means a healthy nation" - featuring fairly explicit incitement to violence ("Russia will be Russian or unpopulated... Good hunting, wolves"). Rallies held to mark Hitler’s birthday featured 200 ultra-right activists of the National-Socialist Society (NSO) and similar groups raising their arms in a Nazi salutation outside the Presidential Administration Offices in Staraya Square, while their “competitors” DPNI and Slavic Union (SS) did the same in Pushkin Square.

At the same time, the political opposition had its events banned or suppressed with excessive cruelty – for example, Marches of the Dissenters in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The obvious difference in the treatment of peaceful oppositional marches and provocative neo-Nazi gatherings showed that notwithstanding numerous declarations, Russian authorities are not willing to control unlawful ultra-right manifestations. This inaction helps to confirm a popular perception (however true it may be) that these groups enjoy high-level political support.

The same assumption was confirmed by other incidents, such as the attack against another failed Gay Pride march in Moscow on 27 May. As opposed to last year, preparation for this year’s event was not as provocative, and the venue of the Gay Pride march – or, rather, a picket against homophobia - was known in advance, certainly helpful for protecting the participants (even though the protection was far from sufficient). However, skinhead attackers were certainly aware of the numerous homophobic statements made by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and State Duma members from across the political spectrum (some not only urged the authorities to ban Gay Pride, but explicitly justified homophobic violence[8]). Attackers interpreted these signals as tacit approval of violence by the police, and they were proved right in the end. According to witnesses, police often allowed violent homophobic individuals to beat victims before arresting the attackers.

Provocation of Mass Public Disturbances

Over the period analyzed in this report, right-wing radicals have skillfully applied their prior experience of provoking mass public disturbances. Once having discovered the following working model, the ultra-right now applies it whenever they can.

First, right-wing activists mobilize after every major conflict which involves serious injuries or death and people of different ethnicities. The conflict is then refigured as an interethnic conflict and evidence of “outrageous behavior by non-Russians who seek to exterminate ethnic Russians." The local community is flooded by right-wing radical activists (particularly DPNI members) from neighboring cities, and even from Moscow. Provocative, discriminatory leaflets (anti-Caucasus, anti-immigrant, etc.) are widely distributed throughout the area. Usually, right-wing activists then convene a "popular gathering” which doesn’t require official permission, as opposed to a meeting or a rally. In case of a death, they time the "popular gathering" to coincide with the funeral ceremony, when propganda can be constructed on the strong emotions of loss and grief. DPNI or other right-wing web forums are used the whole time to coordinate activities. During the “popular gathering,” a pre-written resolution is adopted by the masses, followed by riots and violent clashes with police.

We should note, however, that this action has not been fully implemented since the events in Kondopoga last year, because police and local governments have become aware of its working and been successful in preventing the resultant violence.

For example, such preventive actions occurred in Krasnoarmeysk, Saratov Oblast, when radicals attempted to provoke a riot following a fight between local Azeri and ethnic Russian entrepreneurs - two traditionally antagonistic groups. An ethnic Russian involved in the fighting was killed. The ultra-right immediately thereafter arrived in Krasnoarmeysk and disseminated their “anti-Caucasian” leaflets. However before the day of the funeral, more police forces were called into the city and the most active propagandists were arrested (later to be identified as members of the Popular Unity Party led by Baburin).

At the end of May, a similar scenario began to unfold in Stavropol after a row of mass fighting between Caucasian and ethnic Russian youths. However, we won’t go into too much detail here, because the key events took place in June (outside the scope of this report). We mention it here only to highlight the efficiency of municipal services in preventing a conflict from developing into "another Kondopoga."

Another reason why the incident in Saratov Oblast is remarkable: upon suppressing the riot, local authorities stopped there and did nothing to prevent future incidents. Indeed, the authorities did not even attempt to charge anyone with inciting riots, and the only “punishment” faced by the Popular Union activists was to be expelled from the area. This response – or, rather, lack of response – reaffirms the impunity of right-wing radicals and encourages them to seek even more ingenious ways to get round the tactical barriers created by administrations and law enforcement agencies. Moreover, every time the authorities agree to some of the discriminatory demands put forward by a "popular gathering,” they contribute to instability and legitimize discriminatory practices.

Coalitions and Splits

In our winter-2007 report we noted increased party building efforts in the anticipation of the pivotal 2007/2008 election season. Of course, as elections near, the internal party-building process unravels, amidst splits and scandals surrounding the fight for leadership.

At the end of March, Sergey Baburin’s Narodnaya Volya (Popular Will) Party held its 7th congress, adopting a resolution to rename the party as the Popular Union[9] and to strengthen it by merging with “13 kindred patriotic organizations” (the Union of Orthodox Gonfalon Carriers, L. Simonovich’s Union of Orthodox Fraternities, N. Kuryanovich’s St. Sergius’ Union of Russian People, Igor Artyomov’s Russian All-National Union (RONS), and others). The Popular Union declared its intention to explore and cultivate “the field of Russian nationalism” - allegedly the only space yet unoccupied on the Russian political spectrum (apparently, they mean by formally registered political parties). The new party adopted a slogan – “Long Live Russia!” - and a manifesto, entitled The Unification Act of Russia’s National and Popular Patriotic Forces which mentions the “nation-forming role of the [ethic] Russian people who have built a great power based on Orthodox Christian values.”

On May 6, 2007, the Great Russia Party held its founding congress, electing an official leader – Andrei Savelyev, a State Duma member of Rogozin’s Rodina party known for his ultra-right views. The new party ostensibly copied its founding documents and program from those of the Fair Russia Party, but virtually all of the new party's initiators are open about their party being explicitly ultra-right. At the same time, little is known about its membership. It was reported that the Central Council secretary is Sergei Pykhtin (D. Rogozin’s and A. Savelyev’s associate in the Congress of Russian Communities), and the Secretary of the Central Council Presidium is ex-member of the Moscow City Duma Yuri Popov known for his discriminatory draft laws. However, member of the Organizing Committee D. Rogozin has not joined the new party on the grounds that his formal involvement might be a barrier to its official registration. Similarly, it is unknown whether another OC member, A. Belov, has formally joined the party. [10]

As new coalitions emerge, older nationalist coalitions are being increasingly fragmented by squabbles and quarrels.

In May, the split in the Union of Russian People (SRN) was formalized. The group was originally established in 2005 to bring together a broad spectrum of Orthodox and Monarchist nationalists, some of them more radical than others. As expected, the death of SRN leader Vyacheslav Klykov was immediately followed by internal conflicts. Although the Second Congress in November 2006 avoided undergoing a formal split, very soon after, radicals led by Konstantin Dushenov (St. Petersburg), Mikhail Nazarov (Moscow) and Alexander Turik (Irkutsk) refused to accept the new leader, General Ivashov, dismissing his election as a “provocation staged by security agents” and "a takeover.” A shadow third SRN congress was convened in Irkutsk in May to formalize the split of the radical arm from General Ivashov’s “moderate” SRN.

Similarly, the National Bolshevik Front has split in two. Back in early 2007, activists of the Moscow NBF branch led by Ivan Strukov participated in events held by DPNI and associated groups on behalf of NBF (displaying the party symbols). On May 12, 2007, in Moscow, they held a so-called Second Congress of the National Bolshevik Front[11]. The congress decided to rename the group (into the Russian National Bolshevik Front), elected an Executive Committee (Ivan Strukov, Roman Golovkin, Roman Kisselyov, Yakov Gorbunov), and adopted new program documents emphasizing the group’s ultra-right, racist outlook (not accidentally, Ivan Strukov called the 12 May event “a congress of the National-Socialist Front” in his blog). An announcement came on the next day that the “congress” was illegitimate, and Strukov's associates were separatists ousted from NBF. Interestingly enough, this formal announcement was made by the Eurasian Youth Union (ESM) which is associated with the former members of Limonov’s party, rather than by NBF’s formal leaders (Alexei Golubovich and Maxim Zhurkin).

The "Russian March” Organizing Committee (OC) – which Andrei Savelyev had planned to use as a basis for his Great Russia Party - was also torn apart by quarrels. Three groups left the OC – the Russian Unifying Movement (ROD), the Russian Order, and Revenge. The remaining OC members are DPNI, Pamyat National Patriotic Front, the Slav Union, the Russian All-National Union (RONS), the National Imperial Party of Russia (NDPR), M. Nazarov’s Moscow SRN branch, N. Kuryanovich’s St. Sergius’ SRN, and the mentioned NBF arm led by I. Strukov.

There was also a final split between DPNI and the neo-Nazi NSO (Dmitry Rumyantsev) and Format-18 (Maxim “Tesak” Martsinkevich) groups. Apparently, the split was caused by a struggle for leadership and by suspicions that DPNI leader Belov might be an agent-provocateur (these suspicions were reconfirmed in February 2007 after DPNI announced a rally in Stavropol to protest against the killing of local Cossack leader Andrei Khanin, but never showed up at the rally). The conflict culminated in violence - on 7 March 2007, during a right-wing radical gathering, Rumyantsev and Belov both accused each other of being agent-provocateurs. Film cameras caught Rumyantsev hitting Belov rather violently, all the while being observed by the public (incidentally, physical violence has been reported in regions as well as political rivalries escalate: for example, in early May in Stavropol, RONS activists physically attacked a leader, or “high priest,” of local right-wing Pagans). NSO has been reported partnering up with the Rus' Party established by RNE veterans. The Rus’ Party is not well-known, because they have not organized any real public events, while still filing for official registration. However, in March they were denied this registration and proceeded to organize neo-Nazi rallies on 21 April and 26 May in Moscow.

Nationalism as an Electoral Resource

Right-wing radicals are not the only ones who are looking forward to exploiting nationalist sentiments in the forthcoming elections. Most political parties have displayed this inclination in the spring of 2007 - including some which are not normally considered nationalist.

In particular, addressing the Central Committee plenary session on 24 March, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov declared an intention “to raise the [ethnic] Russian issue in a broad aspect.” He also reminded the audience that the Communist Party “placed [this issue] on the agenda back in 1991” and has consistently returned to it ever since. [12] Zyuganov also said that the Communist Party “must not allow anyone - from United Russia to the most reactionary forces – to freeride on the Russian issue.” The Communist leader urged his party to advocate for the [ethnic] Russian culture, to develop the concept of “[ethnic] Russian socialism” and to take up more challenges in the future, such as “breakthrough to the Baltic Sea, bringing together the Russian lands, and reaching the Black Sea,” etc.

In April, Oleg Paschenko of the Fair Russia Party - known in Krasnodar Krai for getting away with his anti-Semitism remarks - was elected to the local parliament in spite of numerous attempts to sue him for incitement to ethnic hatred. [13] His election endured both a scandal, and the fact that Fair Russia leader Sergey Mironov assured the public that the party would deny support to this candidate. A month before, another “Fair Russian” – Sergey Andreyev of St. Petersburg – attempted to play on anti-Georgian sentiments by accusing his political opponent, figure skater Anton Sikharulidze of United Russia Party, of having falsified the voting results with the help of “young Georgians.”

Likewise, the party in power did not stay away from "the field of Russian nationalism." On May 16, 2007, the Russian Project website was finally launched, announced by the United Russia back in February. If anyone had any doubts as to how explicitly ethno-nationalist the project would be, these should immediately disappear just by looking at the website. Moreover, while some people had expressed concerns that by picking up “the Russian issue,” the United Russia Party could promote ethno-xenophobic sentiments without actively engaging in them, it is now clear that the most odious right-wing radical ideas and resources find themselves legitimized under the UR aegis. In particular, the UR website takes its news feed from the so-called Russian Network (their banners are displayed at the bottom of the home page). The Russian Network includes, alongside mainstream publications such as Moscow News and RBC, Konstantin Dushenov’s Rus Pravoslavnaya (Orthodox Russia), a paper officially positioned as “anti-Semitic, ‘Black Hundred’-inspired newspaper of Russian nationalists (Dushenov currently faces criminal charges under art. 282 of the Criminal Code); right-wing radical paper Russian Spetsnaz; Zolotoi Lev (Golden Lion) magazine whose editorial board is chaired by Andrei Savelyev and Sergey Pykhtin, leaders of the recently established Great Russia Party – the magazine publishes explicitly racist articles; the webpage of the Russian Doctrine containing discriminatory statements with regard to non-Russian ethnicities and non-Orthodox believers and adopted by the Great Russia Party leaders as their program document; websites of the Eurasian Youth Union and Eurasia associated with Alexander Dugin - currently playing the role of a respectable expert, but better known as an ideologist and promoter of proto-fascist, fascist and “new right” ideas in Russia; and other, equally odious resources[14]."

Sounds like American authoritarianism with a Russian accent: hate foreigners, gays, and other religions.

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