The Zeskind Fortnight No. 6
In Russia, Violence by National Socialists
By Leonard Zeskind
A one-night spree of racist and anti-Semitic violence in St. Petersburg last December 1 left four people badly injured, including a woman employed as a journalist by the Republic of Tyva, one of twenty-plus smaller republics encompassed within the Russian Federation. That same night a young man of Uzbek descent was stabbed multiple times and then left dead on the street. Just days before that, in the Volga River city of Samara, a gang of thirty neo-Nazi skinheads attacked a group of young people returning home from a punk rock concert. Three of the victims were sent to the hospital.
There is significant evidence that this type of violence in Russia is rapidly accelerating. A report on events in 2005 by Amnesty International UK cited 366 such assaults, including twenty eight murders. In 2007, between January 1 and November 30, the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis in Moscow counted 546 violent assaults by racists and neo-Nazis. Thirty four people were murdered in the Russian capital alone. SOVA’s findings were reported in Searchlight magazine, which has been regularly covering the situation.
Unfortunately, violence is just one side of ultra-nationalist developments in 21st century Russia. And in one of the oddest of post-Cold War turnabouts, white nationalists in the United States are making common practical cause with their like-minded comrades in Russia.
The current state of affairs has its roots in the period immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the loss of territories such as the Ukraine, the Baltic states and those in the Caucasus region that had been under Russian control since the Tsars. One of the first signs of an ultra-nationalist revival was the June 1991 presidential election when Vladimir Zhirinovsky received over six million votes. In the December 1993 parliamentary elections, Zhirinovsky’s misnamed Liberal Democratic Party received twenty-four percent of the vote. Although his platform was unabashedly revanchist and contained national socialist elements as well, much of the commentary at the time considered this vote a one-off protest of deteriorating economic conditions and social instability. But Zhirinovsky proved to be a savvy politician for the long-term. He built relationships with racist and anti-Semitic leaders in Germany, and elsewhere (including the United States). And in the December 2007 presidential elections, his Liberal Democrats came in third (with 9.5 %), behind Putin’s United Russia (63%) and the Communist Party (with 11.5%).
Zhirinovsky is only the most visible tip of a growing movement of monarchists, ultra-Orthodox priests, national socialists, national Bolsheviks, skinheads, paramilitarists and others. Dozens of different organizations pull together at times, only to then split apart in fits of ideological distemper. Some of these permutations have been documented in a 2007 report by the SOVA Center entitled, “The Sowing Season in the Field of Russian Nationalism.” Among the ironies found in these pages is the fact that street marches with stylized swastikas and Hitler birthday commemorations occur in the same country where World War Two and the fight against Hitler’s armies were once referred to as the Great Patriotic War. Most disturbing of all, the overall impact of these political groupings—in addition to the murder and mayhem they leave behind—has been to drive domestic and foreign policies towards Great Russian chauvinism.
It has also created a market for white nationalist products made in America.
Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the efforts were extremely small. A National Socialist sect headquartered in Nebraska helped support a similarly-minded publication in Russia (Our March). James K. Warner in Louisiana, whose career extended back to Rockwell’s American Nazi Party and David Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, visited Russia four times in the early 1990s, setting up sales from his considerable list of anti-Semitic publications. Warner also sponsored an American speaking tour for Vladimir Bonderenko, who informed a semi-public gathering in Atlanta that he did not trust Zhirinovsky, but preferred Alexander Barkashov, who was then a figure in Pamyat.
In 1994, Ernst Zundel, a German national resident in Canada who specialized in selling Holocaust denial publications, traveled with a large entourage to Russia. He met with Zhirinovsky at his dacha, and then went on to consult with others in the more hard-core national socialist end of the spectrum. David Duke followed suit, meeting with Zhirinovsky in 1995, and speaking at a 2002 “anti-Zionist” conference in Moscow. Duke also maintained an apartment in Moscow, and a Russian translation of his tome, My Awakening, sold on the street outside the Duma. Now the Stormfront website run by Don Black in Florida, another veteran of Klan and neo-Nazi outfits, has a special page set aside for Russians. A couple of the posts have been in the Cyrillic alphabet, indicating that Russian-speakers are communicating with each other using this American web page. Other posts are mundane and immature, however. Can I get photo of the “1st SS Russian National Brigade,” asks “Knoxville.” Check this out, writes back “Stierliz,” pointing to a site with pictures of Nazi military personnel.
In response to these developments, researchers, writers and activists in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, loosely connected through a network called “Antifa-Net,” have developed a campaign of “Solidarity with Anti-fascists in Russia.” (In the spirit of full disclosure, I write articles regularly for both Searchlight and the Anti-Fa Net.) In France and Germany, activists have published reports on the violence. In Austria, they handed out leaflets when Putin visited Vienna. In the Netherlands, they picketed the Russian embassy in The Hague. In Poland, they raised support through their Football Against Racism in Europe fund. In the UK, Searchlight magazine published a special inset on the campaign, in addition to its regular reporting. http://www.searchlightmagazine.com/index.php?link=RussiaSolidarity
And from northern England, the North Staffs Miners Wives Action Group and the National Women Against Pit Closures recently produced one of the most meaningful of statements: “We wish you well in your struggle against fascism, anti-Semitism and racism…We the people in the coal mining community have a tradition of solidarity against fascism, whether against the nazi BNP in the UK or against fascism anywhere else.”
The Zeskind Fortnight could not have said it any better.