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Russia's beleaguered anti-fascists

About the author
Vlad Tupikin is a Russian freelance journalist

On Tuesday 4 August 2009 the St. Petersburg City Court examined the appeal in the case of Alexei Bychin, a young anti-fascist arrested in the summer of last year. According to witnesses, the trial lasted around three minutes and upheld Bychin's sentence: five years in a maximum security prison. From three to five, as people say in jest. But this time the story isn't funny at all.

At the beginning of the white nights season in the middle of June 2008, a group of young punk rockers were walking around in the centre of Petersburg. Among them was Alexei Bychin, who had the ironic punk nickname Tolsty (Fatty), because he is thin and small (50 kg, 165 cm). There were girls in the group too.

Not far from the department store Gostiny Dvor, Bychin and the girls encountered two tough guys who decided to pick on them, and in a very peculiar way: they raised their right arms and shouted "Heil Hitler!"  These two guys had picked up on signs that the group were anti-fascists. It's not very difficult - punks in Moscow and Petersburg are practically all anti-fascists nowadays, and not just in these cities. A slanging match ensued. Soon, words became actions.  The skinheads made a ‘rose' (you knock out the bottom of a bottle and get a real weapon, quite a dangerous one) and hit Bychin. It was one scrawny kid against two big guys (the tradition in Russian society is that girls don't take part in street fights).  Bychin took out a knife and stabbed one of them. The nazi sympathizers were not morally prepared for the knife and fled. The girls sighed with relief.

About a month later the police picked up a punk friend of Bychin's. He was handcuffed to a radiator in an uncomfortable position and held there for many hours until he broke down and grassed on Bychin. He rang and asked Bychin to come and meet him.  Not expecting to be framed, Bychin turned up and was immediately arrested. The Petersburg police displayed such zeal in this rather trivial case for the understandable reason that the injured man was a colleague, a trainee in the Special Police Force (OMON). The journalist Tatyana Likhanova has unearthed the fact that he is also a former neo-nazi, who was in an extremist political group before he joined the army. A former neo-nazi or a current one, given the "joke" with which Bychin's night incident started?

The question arises: is Bychin paranoid? Why did he grab his knife? No, Alexei's not paranoid, his mental state is quite healthy, as the forensic medical assessment established. They also found a knife wound on his arm that was received at the time of the fight near Gostiny Dvor.  But Bychin didn't go to hospital to get his wound treated and the former (?) neo-nazi did. Alexei must have remembered previous encounters between neo-nazis and anti-fascists, while he was being attacked. One in Petersburg ended very badly indeed. In the autumn of 2005 a 20-year-old punk musician and student at the philosophy faculty of St. Petersburg State University Timur Kacharava, was killed by neo-nazis. The killers shouted "Anti-antifa!"

In January 2007, Ivan Yelin, a young anti-fascist, was attacked: he had 21 knife wounds, but miraculously he survived.  He managed to make a telephone call and the doctors arrived on time.

If we go further afield, we can continue the list: on 16 April 2006 anti-fascist Alexander Ryukhin was killed on the outskirts of Moscow. He was almost 20 (just a few days short of his birthday), and was going to a concert with a friend. Six neo-nazi killers armed with knives attacked them shouting "Anti-fa! Lets get 'em!"  His friend Yegor who was walking next to him managed to run away. The killers caught up with Alexander, and stabbed him in the head and the heart. We note in passing that the investigating officer tried to charge three of the (six) killers who had been caught at the scene of the crime with public order offences.  It was only the efforts of the lawyer Stanislav Markelov, now deceased, that ensured they were given a real prison sentence.  But only three of them - the other three are still are out there somewhere.

In July 2007 at night on the outskirts of Angarsk neo-nazis attacked a small environmental antinuclear camp, where there were anarchists and anti-fascists. The outcome: seven injured, one killed - Ilya Borodaenko from Nakhodka.   The attackers were arrested at the scene of the crime, but released on parole less than a year later. There hasn't been a trial yet.  Under the currently fashionable "juvenile justice", consideration is given to the fact that the poor neo-nazi killers were under 18 at the time of the crime, or at least one of them was.

In the spring of 2008 Alexei Krylov was stabbed to death in the centre of Moscow, not far from the Russian presidential administration building. Like Ryukhin, he was going to an anti-fascist punk concert. There were around 15 attackers, and the girl who was with Krylov was also stabbed several times, but she was saved by her backpack, which was cut in several places, and also because she was able to evade some of the blows. Alexei Bychin, without a doubt, knew about all these incidents, as he is part of the same environment as those who were killed. He clearly simply didn't want to be the next person on the list of victims. But he fell victim to the corporate solidarity of the Petersburg police, who twisted the investigation in such a way that the two neo-nazi thugs became the innocent victims. The result was a sentence of five years in a maximum security prison.

However, the story of street confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists doesn't end there. In October 2008 Fyodor Filatov, the leader of the anti-racist skinhead group MTS was stabbed to death in the stairwell of his own building. MTS stands for Moscow Trojan Skinheads.  It's worth emphasising once again that not all skinheads in Russia (and the world) are racists and neo-nazis and that the history of the skinhead movement in England began in 1969 with multi-racial groups of young workers.  It was only 10 years later, with the beginning of the economic recession and the growth of unemployment, that they began to be recruited by the National Front.  Fyodor was also not a racist or neo-nazi; on the contrary, he was an anti-fascist. His four killers have yet to be found. But the secret police were diligent in their pursuit of the anti-fascists: less than a month after Filatov's murder, his best friend, anti-fascist Alexei Olesinov, a former student of the Moscow State University philosophy faculty, was arrested at home.

On a trumped up charge of fighting with the security guards at the club Kult, he was sent down for a year.  There were no injuries in the fight, though it wasn't even a fight, more of a scuffle, to club property or the security guards, which is incidentally what they themselves stated at the investigation and at the trial.  Stanislav Markelov agreed to represent Fyodor Filatov's relatives in court. He became Olesinov's defence lawyer, but for understandable reasons (his death on 19 January 2009 from a shot to the head in broad daylight, not far from the Kremlin) he did not appear in court. Olesinov was defended in the final stages by lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin.

I am only listing the anti-fascist victims of neo-nazi terror, not the victims of retaliation attacks. This is for a good reason. Despite the established stereotype that "neo-nazis and anti-fascists are one and the same thing", Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian anti-fascists, young men and women of direct action, do not engage in murder.  They may rough their enemies up, but they don't kill. In this sense the murder of the Ukrainian neo-nazi Maxim Chaika in Odessa was the tragic result of neo-nazi actions.  15 neo-nazis attacked 5 anti-fascists, who naturally got out their knives. There were no international conspiracies, no intrigues by Russia or any external forces acting against Ukraine, as President Yushchenko unworthily tried to prove during his election campaign. The war between neo-nazis and their enemies goes on all over the world. Now it has affected Ukraine as well.

In fact, and this is also quite well known, anti-fascists are not the only, or even the main, victims of neo-nazi killings. The main victims are foreigners, immigrants from other Soviet republics, gypsies, representatives of other non-Slavic (I almost said "non-Aryan") peoples of Russia.  The champions of racial and national homogeneity spare no one. Among episodes laid at the door of the Voevodin-Borovikov gang, whose members have been on trial for six months in Petersburg, there are also murders and attempted murders of children. According to press reports (see for example the article by Natalya Shkurenok in "Vremya Novostei" last week), Voevodin is not ashamed to preach neo-nazism to the jury, and sympathizers of the accused appear at hearings with swastika tattoos on their arms and legs (as it's summer, they can wear shorts to show the Nazi symbol to the people of Petersburg, including survivors of the blockade). During the hearings several members of the gang have brought up episodes that are nothing to do with the case, or accomplices who don't figure in the case files. The judge usually interrupts the eloquence of the accused to say that these details are unnecessary.

Forgive me for a note of pathos: isn't this a farce?

At the beginning of August, the jury in the case of the Voevodin gang went on holiday (Borovikov, the son of a high-ranking Petersburg policeman, who was the second man in the criminal organisation was killed when under arrest in 2006).

Also at the beginning of August in the court of appeal the trial of Bychin took place, which is where I began this article. I don't know where the judges at this hearing were in a hurry to get to - on holiday or to the toilet - but they spoke so unclearly and so quickly that Alexei Bychin's lawyer Olga Tseitlina didn't even catch their surnames. The hearing, I repeat, lasted about three minutes. Bychin's sentence - five years in a maximum security prison - remained in force. For exceeding the limits of justifiable self-defence. At the same time, the accomplices in the murder of Timur Kacharava, with one exception, received laughable prison sentences of one and half, two and two and a half years... Of course, Tseitlina will appeal the sentence (as soon as she receives a copy of the verdict in the post and finds out the names of the judges). But the persistence of the law-enforcement systems in cases where the police esprit de corps has been piqued (in this case the esprit of an OMON trainee who raised his arm in a nazi salute) is also well known.

The day before the trial there was a protest demonstration in support of Alexei Bychin on the embankment of St Peterburg's Griboyedov Canal.  The dummy of a cop hanging from the railings was a clear indication of how young antifascists feel that their government and its legal system play along with the neo-nazis.  They will continue to feel this until there is some change in the courts


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