In memoriam Nastya and Stas

Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov were gunned down in a neo-Nazi contract killing a year ago. In this moving tale Andrei Loshak tells us why he and his friend, who also suffered neo-Nazi violence, will be going on the Moscow march in their memory
Andrei Loshak
18 January 2010

On 19 January I’m taking part in a march for the first time in my life (although the mayor’s office has taken the decision to downgrade it to a picket). If I ever attended events like this in the past, it was as a reporter. I may have sympathized with the protestors, or been disgusted by them but, whatever the circumstances, there was always a distance between us and for various reasons I had no desire to bridge it. This time there’s no distance. You’re walking (or, in the official version, standing) in a crowd of people you don’t know: for some reason they’re not staying at home on this cold weekday evening, you feel their elbows and their shoulders and think that the world is not as heartless as it usually seems.

When “dissenters” are beaten up you would, of course, like to intervene and stop the injustice, because hitting unarmed elderly people is at the very least a despicable thing to do. But you don’t feel any compulsion to stand under the banners of their leaders. I could never believe in Kasyanov’s oily eyes. I don’t even believe in Khodorkovsky, although I sympathize with him terribly. I don’t believe in him, because he once played a cheap trick on a friend of mine in business and I can’t believe in him now as the future saviour, however much I may sometimes want to. For me, if an imprisoned oligarch is to be considered the conscience of the era, then only with major reservations.

But there are things about which I have no reservations. Absolute truths which require no proof. Among them is Nazism. This is 100% evil, racially pure, with no foreign elements added in. Anyone who approaches this topic from the position of relativism is deeply suspicious. Doubting was acceptable until 1933. After 12 years of Nazism, there can be no question of any reservations.

I have a friend called Alem. He was born in Moscow 27 years ago. He went to an ordinary school on the outskirts of the city, and only his slightly darker skin marked him out from the other boys. Alem is of mixed race. His mother is Russian, his father is Ethiopian. The result was a marvel: tall, with thick dreadlocks, fine facial features and a sunny African smile. Alem was a real skateboarding virtuoso, and an unquestioned authority in this field. In April 2004 he was jumped by Neo-Nazis in the metro. There were two of them. They were well-dressed young guys in white sneakers and jeans. They were “in casual”, as those on the edge of the football world like to say. They weren’t some sweaty Nazi skinhead thugs. When the train came in, the guys knocked Alem to the ground and for 30 seconds they stamped his head into the granite of the platform. Then they ran (or even walked) into the closing doors of the train, before anyone could notice. Everything was very done very precisely.

Alem spent five weeks in a coma. He had skull and brain damage and two brain hemorrhages. But he survived, and for almost six years now he has been learning to walk and speak again. Inside he hasn’t changed at all. He’s just as cheerful as ever. He calls his wheelchair a board, covering it in skateboard stickers, only now the famous slogan skateboarding is not a crime looks somewhat ominous. Sometimes he and I go to concerts of his favourite groups: Slipknot, Korn and Cypress Hill. At one concert he leaned over to me and said: “The audience probably thinks I’m really into the music, but it’s just my tremor, ha ha!” This is a typical example of Alem’s sarcasm in the style of his favourite TV show “House M.D.”

Externally he has also changed little. He wears the same kind of clothes and smiles just as infectiously, but he had to get rid of his dreads. Over the last six years they have thinned out considerably and there is no one to plait them any more since his girlfriend left him. He is very strong: from morning to night he walks from one corner of the room to another with a walking frame, he does exercises, works on developing his diction, and all in the one-room apartment where he lives with his mother and brother. I don’t remember ever hearing him complain.

Alem is a living condemnation of the Neo-Nazis. They usually kill their victims, but he miraculously survived, and is now a glaring piece of evidence, indisputable proof of the reality of their evil-doings. In any other country he would have become a symbol of the battle with Neo-Nazism – only in Russia is it different, there nobody cares. Alem requires constant expensive therapy – the state has never provided any money for this, despite the dozens of letters written by his brother. The criminals, of course, have also never been found.

I sometimes try to imagine them. They’ve probably long since forgotten the incident. It was six years ago, after all. They’ve also changed, settled down. They’ve got children and developed beer bellies. Perhaps they’ve even decorated their swastikas with Celtic patterns – so that they can go to the beach when they are abroad. They aren’t kids any more, and for them traditional values are the most important: home, family and work. Just like other people. Perhaps they sometimes give the Nazi salute for fun at football matches, or over a beer, if they’re in like-minded company, they remember their former heroic deeds. Perhaps they remember how they crippled a “monkey” at Borovitskaya metro station, and lower their voices so that the children can’t hear.

My dream is for these Ubermenschen to stop feeling that they are respected heads of families. I want them to shake with fear and be forced into a deep, stinking underground existence. Instead of going to multiplexes and Ashan supermarkets at the weekends, they should have rented apartments, fake passports and live in terror that someone could come for them any second. They should understand that Valhalla has been cancelled. There’s going to be an eternal Nuremberg trial, which will start in this world and continue in the next.

On 19 January last year, they killed Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov. Nastya and Stas were devoted to their cause. A white person needs to have deserved death at the hands of a Neo-Nazi – however blasphemous this may sound. People are killed who fight long and fearlessly against evil, trying to make its existence intolerable. Neo-Nazis normally lie in wait for them with knives and pistols. They kill so that others who are rather less bold and dedicated can continue to sit in their rooms, getting what little joy they can from their private lives and not poking their noses into matters that don’t concern them.

On the 19 January Alem and I are going on the march in memory of Nastya and Stas, despite the attempts by the mayor’s office to hobble the meeting. Or rather, I will walk there, and Alem will ride next to me on his “board”. Being apolitical in our society is considered good form. But this is nothing to do with politics. It’s purely a question of ethics. Good or evil? Fascism or anti-fascism? Unfortunately, the convenient option of neutrality is not available. Whose side will you be on?

Andrei Loshak is a Moscow-based TV journalist. In 2003 he was awarded TEFI, Russia’s most prestigious television award, in the category best TV reporter.

This article originally appeared on www.openspace.ru

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