Russia and Fascism: When the thief cries "Stop thief!"
One of the main pretexts for Russia's annexation of Crimea and the protests by ethnic Russians in the east and south of Ukraine is the fact that Ukrainian Fascists and ultra-nationalists contributed to the new government in Kiev seizing power. While this is true to a certain degree, it is also true that Nazism and xenophobia are spreading among ethnic Russians in the east and south of Ukraine as well.
An exceptionally aggressive, overt form of Nazism is also dangerously thriving in Russia itself. Violence breeds hatred, which leads to more violence.
This is the vicious circle that is closing around both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The chaos and euphoria of revolution gives the advantage to adventurers and aggressive mercenaries who want to fight, fire guns at one another, and play hero.
People who want to live in peace and quiet are those who pay the price for this dangerously exacerbated, explosive situation. As is usually the rule in similar conditions, the first to pay that price are the members of ethnic and religious minorities.
Pogroms against Romani people Jews, Roma, and other national minorities in the east and south of Ukriane are in an unenviable situation. The Ukrainian authorities do not have the situation under control, and both Russian and Ukrainian armed paramilitary groups are attempting to take advantage of the anarchy, groups with one thing in common despite their mutual hatred and rivalry: They are extorting "tolls" from people at improvised checkpoints, looting shops, mugging and robbing anyone they dislike for whatever reason.
Last week Romani people living in seven buildings on the outskirts of the small town of Slavyansk, not far from Donetsk, became the victims of a raid by one of these militias. "They drove up in several cars and they had automatic weapons and pistols. They began shooting at the windows and they shot the locks off the doors, burst inside and started beating everyone - children, the elderly, men and women," Natalia Vorokuta, a member of a Romani women's cultural outreach group, has confirmed to Romea.cz.
"They had to stand with their faces to the wall while the men threatened them and yelled that they had to immediately give them everything they have: Arms, drugs, gold and money. They threw everything they looted and stole into the vans and drove off," Natalia Vorokuta said, adding that the pogrom had an obviously racial subtext.
"Yes, we are afraid, terribly afraid. Everyone says they want to come again and either drive all the Roma out or kill us. What for? Please, tell me, what did we ever do to anyone?" local Romani resident Spartak Byeletski asked on Donetsk television.
"We are afraid to go out on the streets because the news is spreading that they have already killed several Romani people just because they were Roma," Byeletski said. "Please, leave us and our families alone."
Panic now reigns in the local Romani community in Slavyansk. People are leaving en masse to live with relatives in other parts of the country, fearing ethnic cleansing, displacement and murder.
Some men who have decided to remain are forming militia divisions to protect their families and homes. Reports that Romani militias are forming are coming from as far away as Odessa on the Black Sea coast.
Fascists all around them
The situation is complicated by the fact that both Russian independence fighters and armed units of the Right Sector fighting for the integrity of Ukraine are out of control in the region. Organized groups of Russian radicals from the Fascist organizations "Russian National Unity" and "Slavic Union" are also joining armed ethnic Russians in large numbers, traveling to the east and south of Ukraine to fight.
The press service of the ultra-nationalist Russian National Unity (RNE) group has issued a statement claiming that on the basis of an order given by RNE leader Alexander Barkash, several RNE members were send to "inspect the situation" in the east and south of Ukraine. On the basis of the information received from its spies, RNE has come to the conclusion that Russian citizens engaged in protests against the government in Kiev are falling victim to extortion and physical assault by Ukrainian nationalists and the Ukrainian secret services.
"In this context we are considering organizing support groups of well-armed Russian volunteers who will come to the aid of the Russian population of western Ukraine," the RNE statement said. RNE has also published "instructions for volunteers who are going to protect Russians in Ukraine" on its website.
The instructions recommend such people cross the border in groups of less than three and that they take the bus or the train individually. At the border controls they are to claim to the Ukrainian officers that "they are going to Kiev, to Maidan, to join their Slavic brothers and help them end communism in their independent country. After arriving in Ukraine they are to remain in communication with the contact to whom they were assigned and are not to take action on their own initiative."
In addition to professional soldiers with experience of the wars in Chechnya now fighting for either side, there are also adventurers and vagabonds without any military discipline or experience. People are often more afraid of them than they are of the soldiers.
"Ruslan Mikeda, a volunteer guarding the barricade in front of an occupied police station, believes the pogrom in Slavyansk is completely in order," a reporter on the scene wrote for the online news server Worldcrunch. "People are coming to us and complaining about Gypsies. They want us to put things in order, to cleanse the town of the gypsies," said Mikeda, a former construction worker who has been out of a job for a year and a half.
Mikeda traveled to Kiev and joined the Right Sector because he wanted to acquire a weapon. He had no luck getting one there and claims to have come to the conclusion that the Kiev revolution is being managed by Jews.
He finally managed to get a weapon by joining the other side, a militia fighting against Kiev and for a free Republic of Donetsk. According to the author of the Worldcrunch report, aggressive anti-Semitism and xenophobia against Romani people were strongly evident from interviews with that militia and from the seditious signs on the barricades and on the walls of buildings there.
It seems that Fascism and nationalism are on the rise in both Russia and Ukraine. While information about fascisizing radicals in Ukraine has turned up rather often in the Czech media's reports about the events of February and March in Kiev, not many people in the Czech Republic know about the racially motivated murders and violence in Russia.
The number of victims and the public acceptance of racist ideas in Russia have recently attained a truly horrifying dimension. Dark-skinned foreigners, Romani people, day laborers on construction sites, greengrocers from the Caucasus and its adjacent regions, anyone from Moldova or the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia, as well as anarchists, gays, atheists, long-haired hippies, punk rock musicians and basically anyone who expresses the opinion that he or she doesn't agree with Nazi salutes, slogans, attacks and Fascist maneuvers, all now have justified reasons to fear for their security on the streets of Russian cities.
Hand in hand with this deteriorating social situation, Russian Orthodox and Slavic Fascism are gaining ever more widespread support in society. More and more impoverished and unemployed people believe that those to blame for the current economic crisis, facilitated and intensified by the conflict with Ukraine, are not the Orthodox or the Russians, but everyone else.
There is no discussion of these issues - the arguments are being made with fists, gas pistols, hobnail boots, knives and knuckledusters. Mass battles at marketplaces, most of which are owned by ethnic Kyrgiz or Tadjiks, are provoked by large groups of Fascists every day.
This must also be ascribed to the open xenophobia of the Russian police, who, under the pretext of the war on terror, harass members of these ethnicities and do not intervene against Russian nationalists when they commit violence against them. "As soon as the conflict with Ukraine began, it became hell to go to school or to a club in the evening," says Igor Rigulin, a rock guitarist and student at a university in Moscow whose father is Russian and mother is Armenian.
"Every time I get on the metro, go to the club, or walk through the city center, I am stopped by cops about five times a day who take their time asking me where I'm going, and why, searching my pockets and making racist remarks. I just had a date with my girlfriend and they stopped us three times in a row during our walk. Once they pushed us up against a wall and searched all of our pockets, my backpack and her purse," Rigulin said.
The most dangerous people for those who are not of "Slavic appearance", however, are the small groups of clerical fascists and Fascists who set out after dark to "cleanse the streets" of the cities. The so-called martial "fives" of stout skinheads dressed in black or in camouflage with high lace-up boots and the radical football fans whose faces are covered with masks are to blame for more than 1 000 premeditated murders over the past 10 years, including 200 foreign students.
Video footage made available to Romea.cz shows actions by these radical Russian nationalists called "metro clean-ups" during which they assault and brutally beat random passengers who are either dark-skinned or "not of Slavic appearance." The last such murder occurred several days ago on 18 April at the Ulitsa Podbelskogo metro station in Moscow.
Makhmadkarim Dzhalilov, a 32-year-old citizen of Tadjikistan, fell victim to the Fascists there. Passers-by found him lying in the street with his throat slit.
Dzhalilov's father witnessed a group of Fascist skinheads assaulting his son in front of their home as he was on his way to the grocery store. Makhmadkarim is survived by his wife and three young children.
The Association of Young Tadjiks in Russia announced that his death was the second case of a racist murder in the past three days. "While
the Russian Government and President loudly criticize the growing influence of ultra-nationalists in Ukraine, they turn a blind eye to the sprees of violence committed by Fascists directly in the heart of Russia, in Moscow. Instead, they keep criticizing rising crime rates among immigrants," said Izzat Amon, chair of the association.
In April 2013 a 22-year-old man in Kostroma was convicted of having brutally beaten up a taxi driver because of his dark skin. The driver, who was born in Russia of Ingush parents, had been called to a local club; as soon as the youth determined he wasn't a "real Russian", he began to racially insult him and punched him several times.
On 20-21 April of this year, local Fascists set fire to the headquarters of the district prosecutor's office in Chelyabinsk by throwing six Molotov cocktails at it; they also painted Nazi swastikas on the walls of the building. The attack was in response to the recent convictions of organized groups responsible for several racially-motivated assaults and murders.
This past March two schoolboys aged 15 and 17 in the 8th and 9th grades were tried in Moscow for brutally murdering a citizen of Central
Asian origin in Izmaylovsky Park in Moscow in September 2013. The boys waylaid their victim and beat him to death using a baseball bat
and by kicking him; the man died on the spot.
Galina Kozhevnikova, director of the Sova NGO, has confirmed that during the first three months of this year at least eight racially-motivated murders have occurred in Russia, as well as more than 29 serious injuries caused by small groups of neo-Nazis attacking citizens. She emphasized that in reality the number of those injured and killed may be many times higher because the courts and police only categorize a small percentage of such cases as "extremist".
Factories for Nazism
The recent trials of three organized neo-Nazi groups have sparked significant attention in Russia, as the groups were organized along the lines of Fascist killing machinery. Each group is responsible for dozens of racially-motivated murders, for planning acts of terrorism, and for the revenge murders of judges, police officers and prosecutors.
A Moscow court began hearings on 9 April in the case of the BORN right-wing extremist organization (the Battle Organization of Russian Nationalists). The official statutes of the organization state its main activity as performing (felonious) expeditions to "cleanse the streets of the enemies of the Slavs".
The group has systematically murdered more than 10 dark-skinned citizens, three members of the anti-fascist movement, and a judge at the
Moscow Municipal Court, Eduard Chuvashov. In addition, members of one of their ambushes brought down a police officer and seriously injured him.
At the end of March a military court in Moscow sentenced another organized group of 13 neo-Nazis to between 10 years and life in prison. Its members were convicted of a total of 27 racially-motivated murders and the attempted murder of a police officer.
In St. Petersburg the trial ended just a few days ago of a group of neo-Nazis called the NS/WP (National Socialists/White Power). Nine of their members were convicted of the racially-motivated murders of several dozen people and of injuring more than 100 others.
Five NS/WP members were sentenced to life and the rest to anywhere between 10 and 20 years of forced labor in a maximum-security prison colony. The NS/WP ambushed its victims at bus and train stations and at metro stations in St. Petersburg.
The group particularly targeted persons of Caucasian and Central Asian origin, but if they were short on funds they would also brutally rob ethnic Russians as well. Police arrested them when they were preparing to blow up the Zagorska power plant.
"They regularly murdered one or two people a week in an organized, systematic way for several years," says Alexandr Kolodkin, a police expert on extremism. In his view the arrest of these three groups should not be viewed as proof of the start of some kind of offensive against neo-Nazi organizations, but as proof of the increase in racially-motivated violence in the country.
During their trials, the Russian Nazis make it clear that they are highly self-confident and that they are convinced they are on the right side. They give the Nazi salute before the court, curse at the judges and the journalists present, and threaten bloody revenge for their colleagues.
One Nation - One God
One paradox (which has a logical explanation in the Russian context) is the engagement of the Russian Orthodox Church and hundreds of its affiliated organizations in sparking this anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic sentiment and the aggressive, brutal advocacy of that sentiment "with fire and sword". On the one hand, Russian Orthodox clerical fascists espouse love of country and family, living in truth, and fighting on the side of good against evil, while on the other hand they actively contribute toward creating an atmosphere of enmity and the search for the enemy, sparking hatred and mistrust toward people of other convictions, lifestyles and religious faiths.
Fanatical believers draped with heavy crucifixes and waving icons of the Mother of God over their heads have brutally assaulted gays and lesbians, punk rockers, and scantily-clad girls, calling for the overthrow of the Jewish elite and pogroms against Muslims. One of the most dangerous of these organizations, the Slavic Union, merely pretends to belong to the Orthodox Church while calling for the further practice of such xenophobia.
The rituals of this paramilitary religious organization are reminiscent of a phantasmagoria from Vladimir Sorokin's novel Day of the Oprichnik, but the bemused smiles of any ignorant viewers of their antics would soon freeze on their lips. The new members of this aggressive sect are inducted during services reminiscent of Germanic or pagan celebrations in the presence of their spiritual leader, Monk Bohumil II, whom the members call Vladyka.
The civilian name of this cult leader is Vladimir Golyakov, and he officially presents himself as an Orthodox priest. The Slavic Union has its own uniforms with the letters "SS" (Slovanský svaz) on its badges and a flag with a slightly altered motif of a swastika, the so-called Svarga, against a red background.
Members of the Slavic Union include former Army officers with experience in wartime conflicts. "Russia today is just an unnatural shred of Holy Slavonic Russia. Belarus, Little Russia [the west of today's Ukraine], the countries where the Lechs live [Poland], the Slovaks, the Czechs, the Serbs, the Croats - we will take back all of this Slavic territory and nothing will stop us," Vladyka says on camera in the Russian documentary film "Russian Nationalists of Petersburg".
The Slavic Union has branches all over Russia and hangs recruitment posters in bus and railway stations calling on people to join the organization with slogans such as "We have fed the Caucasus enough", "Russia for the Russians", and "One God, One Nation". Its main argument is that anyone who is neither Orthodox nor Russian has no business being in Russia.
Members of the sect, which was established in 2008, instruct their followers in special training camps where, in addition to ideology and prayer, they learn specific methods of hand-to-hand fighting, how to shoot machine guns and sub-machine guns, and how to handle explosives. Today the spreading of such hatred of all difference and minorities, of Russian Fascism, and of xenophobia is being abetted by several immediate factors.
The first factor is the calculating, mercantile behavior of the Orthodox Church, which attracts new sheep to its ranks by disseminating such sentiment, thereby shoring up its position as the main and the only ideologue of state power, not unlike the position it held during the regime of the Tsar, which was replaced after the 1917 Revolution by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for many long decades. The second factor is that President Putin and his closest ideological companions are betting on so-called "regulated nationalism", a term that was introduced a few years ago by the Kremlin's main ideologue, Alexandr Surkov, who then feverishly began to bring it to life.
Putin himself has repeatedly made it abundantly clear in his speeches that his partners - "responsible" Russian politicians - must be Russian patriots willing to sacrifice their lives for the country (and for Putin). For the Kremlin today it is more advantageous to tolerate nationalists and xenophobes as long as they are loyal to the Government and the President.
The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine is bearing extraordinary witness to this extreme nationalism, as anyone who opposes the current regime is summarily labeled an enemy of the people and a traitor to Russia. There is also a third important factor, and that is the economic crisis, which is causing unimaginable social problems in Russia, along with a continually-growing unemployment rate.
In such a situation it is easy to point to the universal culprit, which in this case is immigrants and anyone of non-Russian ethnicity. However, before I end this article, I would like to note that it is not my intention to further intensify the Russophobia that is now spreading in Czech society - and that is paradoxically governed by principles similar to that of such ethnic hatred in Russia itself.
Most people living in Russia still believe Fascism and Nazism are the greatest of evils, and they still strongly condemn violence and this hunt for a collective scapegoat. The war Russia waged against Fascist Germany, and the people's respect for their forebears who fell in that war, are still living concepts in Russian cultural memory.
Turning our backs on the Russians and tarring them all with the same brush is the worst thing we could do. The only chance for us (and for everyone else) is to judge people as individuals, based on their specific deeds and words, and to distinguish between the politicians (and others) responsible for this current state of affairs and those who are their victims - it is only through dialogue with those Russians who reject hatred, racism and xenophobia that we have a chance of meaningfully stopping the Fascist plague that is coming at both us and them from all sides.
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