Antifascists in Russia: Brutal, dangerous fight against neo-Nazis

According to world’s human right organizations, Russia today is not a good place to live. Recently enacted anti-gay law that bans “the distribution of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors,” increased the number of attacks against gay people. Russian society is very conservative. According to results of survey by All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, about 90 percent of citizens support that discriminatory law. There are also many hate crimes against illegal immigrants, especially Caucasians.

“Unfortunately, today, Russians are mostly right wingers and under the enormous influence of the Orthodox Church,” members of Moscow antifascist hardcore band “What we feel” explained. „Our society looks like the Roman empire. There are patricians – rich people who sell oil, free-born citizens and slaves – illegal immigrants who live in very bad conditions and have the lowest-paying jobs. Among 20 million people in Moscow, about 5 million are illegal immigrants. Officially, they do not exist. They could be killed and no one would be charged for murder, because our laws don’t recognize them. At the same time, every year Mercedes-Benz sells more luxury models in Moscow than in whole Germany. So, there is no middle class in Russia. But, unfortunately, people are satisfied. In western countries President Putin is denounced as a dictator, but the fact is that people really vote for him, Russians consider him a good leader. There are extreme right wingers and ex-neo-Nazis in Russian government, secret service and police, but people consider it normal.”

A lot of human rights and other non-governmental organizations are banned in Russia, after adoption of anti-extremism law 2009, which does not permit organizations financed from abroad. Ironically, the law that was one of the government’s measures against fascist groups, targets also antifascist groups and other organizations that fight against far-right wing. According to members of “What we feel,” who are antifascist activists as well as musicians, in the last few years about 60 leaders of neo-Nazi gangs have been arrested in Russia, after anti-extremism law has been enacted. But government’s reaction to neo-Nazi violence was a little bit late. Until 2009, neo-Nazi gangs have already killed about 200 people – illegal immigrants, antifascist activists, gays, but also some ordinary people who happened to be collateral damage.

“Since 1999, neo-Nazis regularly attacked Caucasian immigrants, gays, Roma people and visitors at punk concerts in Moscow, but government didn’t take that problem seriously and long time ignored the fact that there are neo-Nazis in Russia. Our country defeated fascists in Second World War, so no one could accept the fact that there were fascists in Russia in our time. The only ones who confronted them were antifascists, mostly young people from Moscow hardcore and punk scene. Ten years ago, situation was horrible. Neo-Nazis brutally attacked people in the street, music clubs, at punk concerts. We were also included in that street war, because there were always some fights in our gigs, too. It was impossible to be neutral, because they attacked people at concerts, students who were not antifascist activists, just music fans. In April 2006, they stubbed to death 19-year-old Alexander Ryuhin, a student who was coming to our gig. He was not an activist, just a thin guy with glasses.”

In Saint Petersburg, just few months before Ryuhin's murder, 20-year-old antifascist Timur Kacharava was killed. In 2009, Stanislav Markelov, lawyer and antifascist, was shot to death. In the same year, 26-year-old Ivan Khutorskoy, one of the best street-fighters who organized security at antifascist concerts and other events, was also shot to death in Moscow. Some time after, two men, icon-painters in the church, were arrested and charged for 52 murders. Their victims were mostly immigrants, but also some Russians. There were a lot of other crimes, but the state didn’t react for almost a decade. In the meantime, antifascist activists did everything to bring the government’s attention to hate crimes. Thankfully to their persistence, the state finally accepted the fact that there is a serious problem with neo-Nazis in Russia.

“When government finally decided to fight against fascists, they did a good job. They arrested about 60 leaders of neo-Nazi gangs and sentenced them to 20, 30 years in prison. They destroyed the structure of fascist groups. But they still exist. Officially there are 10,000-15,000 neo-Nazis in Moscow, but unofficially, 30,000-40,000. We managed to banish them from our gigs, so Russian punk and HC scene is now clean from neo-Nazis.”

According to “What we feel” band, there are about 3,000 antifascist activists in Moscow and they are mostly related to punk and HC music scene and mostly in their twenties. Men make up about 70 percent of that population. Women are not numerous, because Russian antifascists are often faced with brutal street fights. These groups are also targeted by the law against extremism and by taking part in fights against neo-Nazis they risk to be considered as terrorists and sentenced to prison. But the fight against fascism in Russia is not nearly over.

Bojana Janjusevic is based in Novi Sad, Vojvodina, Serbia, and is a Reporter for Allvoices.