Why We Take to the Streets Every Year on January 19
January 19, 2016
Why do I go to the antifascist demonstration every year on January 19 and call on you to do the same? There are several obvious reasons, but of one of them is deeply personal, and I do not mention it often.
I am not a religious person, but in a sense you might say this is my way of praying to God.
Seven years ago, on the night before January 19, many activists, like today, were sitting in chat room, only they were not on Facebook but on Gmail, although real activists should avoid both Gmail and Facebook, but I will save that conversation for another time.
Seven years ago they were sitting in chat rooms, and so was I. Two events of importance to the Moscow anarchist and antifa community had been scheduled for January 19. The most important was a counter picket against pro-Kremlin youth protesting the arrival of migrants at Moscow’s Kazan Station. To put it more simply, the pro-Kremlin youth were going to frighten newly arrived migrants by citing the severity of Russian laws and their rigorous application, and strongly suggest to the migrants that they were a priori uncultured mugs who wanted to roast a sheep carcass at the drop of a hat, while we anarchists and antifascists believed these accusations were at least latently racist and at most wretched in so many ways that it is a pain to list them all. So we decided to respond to their frightening leaflets with our own welcoming anti-picket.
The second important event on January 19, 2009, was a press conference called by lawyer Stanislav Markelov at the Independent Press Center in downtown Moscow. We paid attention to nearly every public appearance by Stas Markelov, because . . . Because, if you remember, in Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel Beetle in the Anthill, when the KGB-like COMCON-2 ask the Golovan Embassy (the Golovans are a race of intelligent dog-like creatures) about the character codenamed Beetle, the embassy sends this definitive response: “The Golovan people know the Beetle in the Anthill.”
The same thing could have been said about Stas: “The antifa know Stas Markelov.” Was it any wonder. Markelov knew the antifa, loved the antifa, was a friend of the antifa, defended the antifa in court, promoted the antifa, and tried to raise the way the antifa thought and acted to a higher level. (See, for example, his article “Red Book of the Antifa.”) But when the time came, the antifa were unable to save Stas Markelov, just as the Golovans could not protect the Beetle in the Anthill.
Although earlier they had protected him. They had guarded him at pressers before, and had actually prevented an armed attack on Markelov in autumn 2008.
Personally for me, a person whose occupational hazard was calluses from gripping a ballpoint pen and banding on a keyboard, there was not much of a choice on January 19, 2009, although I wavered. It was clear there would be some kind of action at Kazan Station, that it should be described, and so it was better to witness it with my own eyes. It was clear that Stas was holding a routine presser on the Colonel Budanov case (Colonel Yuri Budanov was a Russian military officer who had murdered a young Chechen woman), although it had been occasioned by the extreme circumstances of Budanov’s sudden release from custody. Obviously, I had to go where the action would be, especially since reportage was my favorite genre. But what was there to report about a presser? That a colleague had scratched his ear at some point?
And yet, I hesitated, because I had not seen Stas in a long time, and every encounter with him was a joy. He radiated optimism, cheerfulness, and invincible confidence in the future, something that I, a historical optimist but everyday skeptic, sorely lacked, and so sometimes I basked in Markelov’s rays. And the Budanov case was politically important: it had to be written about, too. Whatever, I thought. First, I would take in the action at Kazan Station, then file a story about the action at Kazan Station, and only then would I read the reports colleagues had filed about Stas’s presser, and if need be I would get Stas on the phone to clarify some details, and then I would write about it, too.
No sooner said than done. I went to watch the protest and counter protest at Kazan Station and, as it turned out, try and save a female anarchist activist from being abducted by the pro-Kremlin crowd. She was thin and light as a feather, and so they had grabbed her and raced off with her down the platform.
Basically, a good time was had by all. I then traveled to the nearest computer (at a girlfriend’s office) and sat down to type it all out. That was when I heard the news. A man had been shot and killed in broad daylight on Prechistenka in Moscow, near the Kremlin. A woman who was with him had also been shot.
A colleague had also spent half the night in a chat room persuading another anarchist journalist to go to Kazan Station the next day. But he was unable to persuade her, and she went to Stas Markelov’s press conference. Now everyone knows this journalist’s name, Anastasia Baburova.
But that was a personal digression.
Generally, of course, such crimes must not go unanswered. The answer is not to respond with deadly force. (None of us wants a civil war). The answer is the clearly expressed civic will to stop such crimes and prevent their repetition in the future. That is why there is a demonstration every year on January 19.
It is like our May first holiday, a holiday celebrated round the world in memory of murdered workers, workers who were murdered a long, long time ago, in 1886. But people still remember them.
May the memory of Stas and Nastya live forever!
Those who remember them know what to do. Today, January 19, we gather at Novopushkinsky Square in Moscow at 7 p.m, and then we march in demonstration down the boulevards to Kropotinskaya. And people will also be laying flowers at the murder site on Prechistenka. But there it is everyone for themselves, and the spirit of antifa for all.