Anna Rudnitskaya: Petersburg’s Antifa

It is hard to believe that the war against fascism is once again being fought on the streets of Russia’s cities. This war is waged by young people who for some reason don’t like the sound of the slogan, “Beat the blacks [i.e., people from the Caucasus region and Central Asia]!” No one coordinates them, and they are in no hurry to emerge from the shadows. The antifascists are not asked to appear on TV, the Kremlin doesn’t give them medals, and they don’t go on state-sponsored trips to the famous [Nashi] summer camp on Lake Seliger. Generally, the powers that be and talking heads prefer not to mention them. Why? Is it because their struggle runs against the grain of the public mood, which has become more and more aggressive towards foreigners and non-Russians? Or is it because it is frightening to acknowledge the antifascists as a real force? For that would mean admitting that the evil they are fighting is already within us.

The words “skinhead” and “fascist” took root in the Russian language long ago. But we know almost nothing about the people known as antifa. Are they an incarnation of goodness, which (as we were taught in Soviet times) has to have fists to defend itself? Are they just street hooligans who enjoy fighting? Or are they a well-organized, deeply clandestine combat unit? No one knew much of anything about them before [their enemies] began to murder them.

The first murder to become nationwide news was that of the Petersburg professor Nikolai Girenko. This famous antifascist was shot in his own apartment. A year later, also in Petersburg, twenty-year-old Timur Kacharava perished: seven teenagers armed with knives attacked him after a [Food Not Bombs] action. Less than a year later, Moscow student Alexander Riukhin was killed as he made his way to a punk-rock concert. And this spring, Alexei Krylov was stabbed to death in downtown Moscow.

RASH

In Petersburg, everyone with whom I talked about the antifascists sooner or later mentioned the name Rash [pronounced “rush”] That was all they said: “If he decides to talk to you, then he’ll tell you his own story.” I managed to learn only a few things about him. Rash’s real name is Oleg Smirnov. In May, Smirnov was sentenced for organizing a group fight: in the fall of 2006, around thirty antifascists took on fifty some people at a Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) rally. Among Petersburg antifascists, Smirnov is a cult-like figure. Sixteen-year-olds and thirtysomething women spoke of him with equal respect.

He really did tell me everything else. Continue reading “Anna Rudnitskaya: Petersburg’s Antifa”

Alexei Penzin on Symbolic Capital

The expression “symbolic capital” is all the rage in Russia. It is perhaps the only term in Pierre Bourdieu’s entire social theory that has found its way into everyday usage. A Google search returns something like a million and a half links to the term in various languages.

Not long ago I had occasion to ponder the usage of the concept. The Chto Delat group and the Forward Socialist Movement carried out a collective action against the plans of Gleb Pavlovsky’s Foundation for Effective Politics to invite French leftist philosopher to Russia. Badiou heeded the arguments of his Moscow comrades and refused to come to the Russian capital at the bidding of this pro-Kremlin organization. Afterwards, the Internet was filled with accusations that Chto Delat and Forward had simply wanted to cause a fuss and raise some “symbolic capital” in the process.

This take totally nullified the intentions, political motives, and internal debates of the people who took part in this action. Everything was reduced to an instrument for raising that elusive substance known as symbolic capital (fame, reputation). The activists were told that they hadn’t done anything special. You’re just like us, their critics said; you’re out to get what everyone else is after, only you use different means and work in a different area. Continue reading “Alexei Penzin on Symbolic Capital”

The Destruction of Submariners Garden

The current regime presents itself, at home and abroad, as having brought “stability” and prosperity to Russia. Russians, the storyline goes, are enjoying the fruits of their new consumerist society, and thus social conflict, much less outright resistance to the powers that be, is insignificant: Russians are buying into this new “de-ideologized” ideology because it allows them to buy a better life. Closer to the ground, however, the picture looks different. In fact, all over Russia, workers are struggling to create independent trade unions and improve the conditions of their work; antifascists are battling to stop the scourge of neo-Nazi attacks on the country’s minorities and foreign residents; and human rights activists, oppositionists, and just ordinary folk are working to make the country’s commitment to democracy and law meaningful (to mention only a few, obvious examples). Because the regime has a near-total lock on the media, most of these conflicts are kept out of the public view, or presented to the public in a distorting mirror. And, it has to be said, the numbers of resisters nationwide are such that it would be wrong to say that society at large is gripped by a revolutionary mood.

In Petersburg, the most significant front in this “quiet” or “cold” civil war in the past few years has been the conflict surrounding the rampant architectural redevelopment of the city. The attention of observers both foreign and domestic has been focused on mega-projects (such as the planned 400-meter skyscraper that will serve as the centerpiece of Gazprom’s Okhta Center, just across the Neva River from downtown Petersburg), the demolition of the city’s grand, plentiful “architectural heritage,” and the creative, nonviolent resistance mounted by such groups as Living City. Less attention is paid to efforts to prevent infill construction, which has become a particular plague in the city’s “non-classical” outlying neighborhoods, most of which were built during the post-Stalin, pre-perestroika period. Continue reading “The Destruction of Submariners Garden”