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Immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys

Late Putinism – immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys; in 2013, Russia has had no shortage of vigilante groups willing and able to take the law into their own hands.

2013 was a disappointing year for democrats in Russia. The protest movement that had had so many hopes pinned on it in December 2011, had ceased to exist as a serious force by its second anniversary.

2013 was a disappointing year for democrats in Russia. The protest movement that had had so many hopes pinned on it in December 2011, had ceased to exist as a serious force by its second anniversary.

The ebbing protest tide left behind far less wash than expected. True, Mr. Navalny had grown in stature throughout his Kremlin-orchestrated trial; and his Kremlin-permitted mayoral run had turned him from an activist into a politician. But with the long years now opening up until the next parliamentary election in 2016 , Navalny no longer seems able to influence events, only to wait.

Celebrity protesters

Those around Navalny on the political stage in December 2011 were no longer there in 2013

Depressingly, those around Navalny on the political stage in December 2011 were no longer there in 2013. Oleg Kashin, for example: the ‘voice of a generation’ was now in Geneva morosely attending EU think-tank conferences where the ‘experts’ were only interested in the vaguest platitudes about Russia, expressed solely for their strategy reports.

Or Leonid Parfyonov: the most eloquent speaker of the early anti-Putin protests was nowhere to be seen; politically that is, for he was now concentrating on his TV work. Not to mention Ksenia Sobchak: the scandalous-cool of the opposition having dimmed, her intense interest in it had fast diminished.  

Protests in frequency and number are down. In the circles that spawned them, depression, alcohol consumption and talk of emigration is up. The last quarter of 2013 saw such a recession in activism that the authorities felt comfortable enough to release Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who, like a true hero, applied for, and been granted, a visa to Switzerland.

In Moscow, celebrity resistance then, is dwindling. But it would be a dangerous mistake to think that resistance, activism and street politics is dying; quite the reverse.

The rise of the vigilantes

Russia is witnessing the rise of the vigilantes. This is, of course, not the same as democratic activism, but the anger is coming from a similar place; that is the complete failure of a corrupt police force to fight corruption, sexual abuse and illegal migration across Russia.

The vigilantes in Moscow in 2013 were nationalists, with a grievance

The vigilantes in Moscow in 2013 were nationalists, with a grievance. The capital is a housing catastrophe. a booming city importing huge quantities of migrants – millions of ethnic Russians coming in from the hinterland, and immigrants travelling from Central Asia and the Caucasus. The crunch in housing stock means that new arrivals from places like Tambov find themselves cramped in the same dilapidated neighbourhoods as those from Tashkent.

This is only the first fuse of ethnic tension. Russian society is notoriously atomised. This means that when an ethnic Russian thug finds himself fighting in a market with Caucasians or Central Asians over a drugs patch or a woman, he only has two or three friends – rarely more than one brother – to call to his defence. Russia’s immigrants, however, come mostly from some of the most clannish parts of the world; and can quickly call on massive ‘reinforcements.’ This is why nationalist and vigilante groups have become so prevalent.

Skinhead gangs have been around for years, but nationalist vigilantes started operating in Moscow only in 2010. The difference being that they have begun using Russian law, not hysterical racism, as a basis for their intimidation campaign.

‘Bright Rus’ and the ‘Shield of Moscow’


These young men are immigrant hunting. Such nationalist vigilante groups have been operating in Moscow only since 2010 . Video: youtube.com

Two groups in particular led the charge: named ‘Bright Rus’ and the ‘Shield of Moscow.’ they make nightly raids on the basements of high-rise apartment blocks across the capital, to chase out Central Asians illegally housed there by corrupt officials.

Not only were these groups intensely popular with locals – how else could they reclaim their basements – but they played a role in inciting the race riots that struck the poor Moscow suburb of Biryulyovo, in October 2013. This outbreak of rioting and ethnic clashes was called a ‘pogrom’ by the Russian media. More than 1,200 immigrants were detained, after thousands of ethnic Russians rioted and clashed with police. It is unlikely to be the last the mega-city will see.

‘Slasher’

These were not the only vigilantes to make Russian prime time TV in 2013. This was also the year of Maksim Martsinkevich, better known by his nationalist moniker –  ‘Slasher.’


Maksim Martsinkevich, aka 'Slasher, is the founder of ‘Occupy Paedophilia’, a group which made a business out of entrapping 'paedophiles' and posting videos of them being humiliated and beaten online. Photo: VKontakte.com

This one-time neo-Nazi thug gained national fame with his ‘Occupy Paedophilia’ group, which entrapped men into scenes of horrific humiliation and beatings that were then posted online. Martsinkevich marketed these entrapments online, so that the curious could pay to join the ‘Paedophile Safari.’ The events proved so popular he raised the price to $30 a ticket. 

‘Slasher’ secured airtime with Ren-TV. His growing popularity and concomitant increasing violence finally got to the point where even Russian officials felt the need to charge him with extremism, in December 2013. He has now fled Russia, for Thailand, yet more than 5,500 have signed an online petition protesting his innocence.

The vast majority of his supporters, however, are not fascists

This man is an out and proud homophobe, who, before he pours urine on the heads of the ‘paedophiles,’ likes to draw Stars of David on his victims; and he makes no secret of his sympathy for Nazi ideology. The vast majority of his supporters, however, are not fascists; Martsinkevich has tapped into genuine public anger at the way in which a few bribes to the police can close down investigations into well-connected perpetrators of sexual abuse.

The Kremlin ‘Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces’


The 'Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces' - MAS - is a Moscow-based vigilante group that hunts down and punishes drug dealers. In this video a suspected drug dealer is assaulted, painted and feathered, and then tied to a pole with duct tape. Video: youtube.com

Martsinkevich is only one end of the vigilante spectrum. There are also the Kremlin’s own vigilantes, the ‘Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces.’ This is an offshoot of the Kremlin-supported youth group ‘Young Russia.’ Known by its Russian acronym of MAS, the Moscow vigilante group has been hunting down street pushers and dealers.

The thrill for the public comes from the online videos that MAS posts online – savage beatings, dousing dealers in paint, smashing up their cars, even tarring and feathering. These clips are shocking, but MAS videos have met with widespread public approval, and admiring TV coverage. MAS claims to have around two dozen Moscow activists, and to have conducted over three hundred raids this year alone.

‘The City Without Drugs’

The most successful vigilante group of 2013, however, does not operate in Moscow, but in the Urals. ‘The City Without Drugs’ is led by the charismatic and complex politician Yevgeny Roizman; and for over ten years his vigilante group has battled drug pushers and heroin addicts in the Ekaterinburg area.

Today, the group operates five ‘centres’ resembling private detention camps, in the countryside; and claims to have ‘cured’ 6,500 junkies, and helped detain 3,500 dealers. It has also spread, with affiliates operating in Moscow, Ufa, Angarsk, Perm and Nizhny-Tagil.

The group is wildly popular in the Urals… Its critics say that they have tortured dealers on the graves of deceased addicts

The group is wildly popular in the Urals. Locals see it as the only organisation tackling the drugs plague, without asking for bribes. Its critics say that they have tortured dealers on the graves of deceased addicts, and that the centres are violent and abusive. One inmate died in 2012; and Roizman’s men have frequently faced trial for suspicious deaths.

Roizman claims that his centres are not as crude as they once were – addicts are no longer handcuffed to beds.

Roizman claims that his centres are not as crude as they once were – addicts are no longer handcuffed to beds…, but the ‘City Without Drugs’ continues to administer a medically unsound ‘cold turkey’ treatment, which leaves addicts in excruciating pain.

Roizman has operated not only as a vigilante, but also as a canny political animal. He has served in the Duma, and operated under the protection of Mikhail Prokhorov, the Kremlin-friendly oligarch.


'The City Without Drugs', led by politician Yevgeny Roizman, adopts a 'cold tukey' approach to the treatment of drug users and dealers. In the past the group has been criticised for its inhumane treatment of 'patients' but it is wildly popular among locals in the Urals. Photo: VKontakte.com

Roizman began 2013 on the wrong side of the local authorities, with court cases targeting his family, but ended it skillfully by winning the mayoral election in Ekaterinburg, taking almost a third of the vote. In support of his plans to run the city his way, he then sought tacit endorsement from Vyacheslav Volodin, the Kremlin’s eminence grise behind its domestic policy, The Kremlin now refers to Roizman as a model for cooperation with the opposition.

The Mayor’s role is mostly ceremonial in Ekaterinburg, but Roizman has successfully demonstrated his popularity; and even his capability to be a national politician. His raw charisma and Urals credibility hints that, should the vigilante wave grow in the years to come, he could be a serious contender for a government role post-Putin. 

Immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys; this is why Russia in 2013 has been the year of the vigilantes

Late Putinism

Immigrant hunters, paedophile safaris and drug addict cowboys; this is why Russia in 2013 has been the year of the vigilantes, not the celebrity protesters better known in the West. Tapping into public outrage against police failings, mixed with nationalist rhetoric and online publicity, the vigilantes are an ominous new feature of late Putinism; and one likely to grow stronger still in 2014.

 


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