While economists debate whether the economic crisis has bottomed out yet and celebrities throw gaudy evening bashes and ordinary citizens count their shrinking incomes, there is a quiet but grim war taking place on the streets. Bands of fascists and anti-fascists are pitched in a brutal struggle that is rarely mentioned in public or in the mass media.
For some months now, fascist gangs have been attacking foreigners, minorities and immigrant workers, killing several people every month. Even members of anti-fascist organizations are counted among the murder victims. The anti-fascists are fighting back as their movement becomes increasingly large. It is worth noting that not a single murder has been attributed to the anti-fascist youth: Although they are also becoming more violent, there are limits to what they will do.
Meanwhile, ultraright radicals have gained unexpected allies among the authorities. As proof, the case against anti-fascist Alexei Olesinov, accused of hooliganism, has been needlessly dragging on for months. The case does not look very convincing. The "victim" never appeared in court, but the authorities continue to hold Olesinov in pretrial detention. In fact, he fell ill as a result of being incarcerated in a cold, damp cell with heavy smokers suffering from tuberculosis, and at the last court hearing Olesinov required emergency medical attention before the proceedings could continue.
Law enforcement authorities have shown little willingness to solve the murders of anti-fascists such as Alexander Rukhin, Stanislav Korepanov and many others. Lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who had represented a number of politically left-leaning defendants, and who had won favorable court rulings, was killed in January in Moscow.
At best, the authorities label both the radical aggressors and those who defend themselves as hooligans. An incident in which a bomb was placed under the door of an Armenian family was listed as "property damage," even though a policeman was injured while diffusing the device. Authorities turn a blind eye to "pranks" such as the posting of Nazi symbols, minor public disturbances organized by hate groups and the shouting of insults at minorities. Regarding the fascist literature that can be purchased at practically every book kiosk in Moscow, the tolerance shown by authorities is simply touching. In contrast to Germany, where punishment is guaranteed for authors and distributors of similar publications, in today’s Russia, Nazi propaganda faces almost no limitations.
What’s more, authorities put up almost no resistance to Nazi rallies, but radical anti-fascists regularly encounter delays and bans. The latest such incident took place recently at the Plan B club in Moscow, where a concert was planned with the U.S. group Strike Anywhere, famous for its radical leftist views. Police cordoned off the club and conducted a search. More than 500 people, many of whom had simply come to hear the music, had to stand out in the cold to wait for the search to end.
For the sake of objectivity, it should be acknowledged that in recent months law enforcement agencies have stepped up their activity against neo-Nazi groups. Several prominent cases were solved, although in one bizarre incident, a suspect under arrest was able to elude his guards and escape during a re-enactment of the crime.
The deeper the economic crisis becomes, the more the authorities try to suppress any public disturbances by the uncontrollable elements of society. The question is: Is Russian society capable of determining who actually represents a threat to the public weal, and who does not?
Boris Kagarlitsky, a fellow of the Transnational Institute, is a Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, Moscow. His latest book is Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (2008)
The Moscow Times, 2 April 2009