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.
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”