September 17, 2007

Solidarity with anti-fascists in Russia

“International support is vital and valued” explains St Petersburg anti-fascist activist Bruno Garmson

It is not easy being an anti-fascist in Russia at the moment. We are under constant attack from racists and fascists and we receive little or no protection from the authorities. Several of our activists have been murdered in recent years and even when the attackers are caught they often walk free with suspended sentences.

The rapid decline of Russia’s fledgling democracy, marked by gross violations of human rights during the government’s Chechen campaigns, the granting by parliament of unprecedented powers to the secret service, the abolition of elected executives (governors, mayors etc), the introduction of censorship and political show-trials and murders have changed the political atmosphere. This has enabled nazis and their extreme-rightist allies to stage campaigns as well as using nationalism as an alibi to commit murders, many of which go unpunished.

Outside Russia, this is not always easy to grasp.

In the heroic stories about the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 against the Nazis that flicker almost nightly on Russian television screens, it is nowadays hard to find any other motives described than “defending the motherland”.

Unfortunately, there are few eyewitnesses left who can describe the genuine anti-fascist enthusiasm they felt for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War or spell out the common conviction, held during the Second World War, that the Nazis intended to enslave and exterminate Russian citizens as subhumans and explain how, therefore, the anti-fascist struggle was above all a battle of humanity against fascist barbarism.

Today’s Russian nazis use official nationalist myths about the war both as proof of Russia’s superiority and as an example of how the Stalin regime misled the whole Russian people, sacrificing millions of soldiers and civilians against Hitler’s anti-Bolshevik crusade to “liberate” the Russians. Ignorance about Soviet history, lack of a proper analysis of the theory and practice of fascism and the reduction of the term “anti-fascism” to mean simply a nationalistic fight against the enemies of Russia make it difficult to oppose such obvious lies.

Real anti-fascism, challenging nationalism and facing down nazism, is a risky course of action. Such “dissident” behaviour is viewed as “suspicious opposition” to the policies of President Vladimir Putin and the state. Any person displaying such behaviour is regarded as an “extremist”, like the nazis. Openly opposing fascism means being targeted by the violent gangs of nazis who patrol the streets of Russia’s cities looking for victims to attack in broad daylight.

Young anti-fascists have started to fight back. The courageous stance of young Russian anti-fascists against the growing street violence by nazi gangs is often the subject of court proceedings, which have proved inconsistent. The outcome of trials of nazi killers tends to depend on what charges are brought by the public prosecutors: almost always hooliganism (violently disrupting public order) or being involved in hooliganism.

There is no real pressure from the Kremlin or Duma (parliament) on public prosecutors to use hate crime charges and there is a widespread practice of negotiation between judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers to achieve cooperation in trials. Finally and crucially, there is a lack of pressure from anti-fascists who, because there is no deeply rooted democratic culture, rarely get involved with investigations or court proceedings.

Here in St Petersburg, anti-fascists have actively helped the public prosecutors as expert witnesses since the early 1990s and have run some successful campaigns. The nazis reacted by murdering Nikolai Girenko in 2004, then the most visible anti-fascist specialist supporting the public prosecutors in cases against fascists.

Now a younger generation of anti-fascists is emerging to oppose the nazis in the courts and on the streets. Their battles are essential – the alternative is capitulation – but expensive. It costs a great deal of money to participate in court proceedings even when the lawyers act pro bono. In the case against the murderers of Timur Kacharava, anti-fascist funding enabled his family and friends to help put away his killers.

In Russia, there are no big trade unions, labour movements or long-standing anti-racist structures with democratic anti-fascist traditions that we can turn to for help. As a result, we depend on ourselves and the anti-fascist movement internationally.

Support from our brothers, sisters, comrades and friends abroad is ever more vital and valued.


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