Victoria Lomasko: The BORN Trial

for_prigovor
Defendants Isayev, Baklagin, Volkov, and Tikhomirov

BORN: A Graphic Reportage by Victoria Lomasko
How the most brutal nationalist gang in Russia was tried
Apri1 21, 2015
Meduza

On Tuesday, April 21, the Moscow Regional Court will render its verdict in the trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), one of the most violent nationalist gangs in Russia. They have a series of murders of immigrants and antifascists to their credit, as well as numerous attempted murders. In addition, BORN members murdered a federal judge, Eduard Chuvashov. A jury tried the members of the gang. In their verdict, the jury acquitted one of the defendants, Yuri Tikhomirov (who continues to serve a sentence, handed down earlier, for involvement in the murder of antifascist Ilya Dzhaparidze). The three other defendants—Mikhail Volkov, Vyacheslav Isayev, and Maxim Baklagin—were declared wholly or partially guilty, but deserving of leniency for most of the counts of the indictment. However, prosecutors have requested life sentences for Baklagin and Isayev, and twenty-five years in a maximum-security facility for Volkov. The final decision is now up to the judge.

Throughout the trial, artist Victoria Lomasko worked in the courtroom. Meduza presents her graphic reportage on the BORN trial. Meduza special correspondent Andrei Kozenko, who also followed the trial, has annotated the drawings.

01_10 dec
Isayev, Baklagin, Volkov, and Tikhomirov. December 10, 2014

Photography was strictly forbidden at the trial. It was Tikhomirov who petitioned the court to ban photography; he was the only of the four who completely denied involvement in the gang. The other defendants supported his claim. They said that Tikhomirov was “slow on the uptake,” and was of no use at all in serious matters, such as planning murders.

02_10 dec
Judge Alexander Kozlov. December 10, 2014

Moscow Regional Court Judge Alexander Kozlov presided over the trial. Overall, he was exceptionally tactful and pointedly polite.

“I understand nationalism and all that, but why did you have to kill?” he asked at one point.

Only one thing was forbidden in Kozlov’s courtroom: mentioning that the criminal case had obvious political overtones, that the ultra-rightists had been communicating with people from the presidential administration through a series of intermediaries, and that BORN itself was a project that could not have been conceived without their involvement. Kozlov ruthlessly barred all attempts to discuss this.

03_10 dec
Baklagin: “I came to the conclusion that the state weasels out when immigrants commit crimes.” December 10, 2014

 

Baklagin is a lawyer by training. He honestly testified that one of the murders was committed on a particular day, because on other days he had to be in court early in the morning. Baklagin was charged with six counts of murder, accessory to murder, and attempted murder. He said that he committed the crimes to restore the justice that was absent in the Russian state.

04_22 dec
Volkov: “I regarded my actions as self-defense in the broadest sense, as an attempt to put the thugs tormenting my people in their place.” December 22, 2014

 

Mikhail Volkov is a veteran football hooligan and member of the skinhead gang OB-88. He did hard time for a nationalist pogrom at the Tsaritsyno Market in 2002. Several times he was forced to explain he got neo-Nazi tattoos when he was “young and stupid,” but had later changed his views. Volkov was charged with one murder committed on his own and another murder committed with an accomplice. He himself said that his motives were about the same as those of Robin Hood.

05_22 dec
Goryachev: “I have never seen these people before. Until I was arrested I had never heard their names.” December 22, 2014

Ilya Goryachev’s testimony was billed as one of the key episodes in the whole trial, but it did not turn out that way. Educated as a historian, nationalist and spin-doctor Goryachev is regarded by investigators as the organizer of BORN. His case is being tried separately; it has only just been sent to trial. He served as a witness at the main BORN trial. He was expected to name the names of people close to the Kremlin who had in some way been involved in the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists. But Goryachev denied everything. He allegedly did not even know any of the defendants.

06_12 jan
Tikhomirov: “I do not consider myself guilty, and was not a member of BORN. FSB officers cajoled Isayev and Baklagin into testifying against me.” January 12, 2015

The testimony of the defendants was riddled with inconsistencies. Judge Kozlov occasionally accused them of trying to shield themselves and evade responsibility. One of their main arguments was that BORN did not exist. Volkov, in particular, insisted he had heard the acronym only after he had committed the crimes.

07_12 jan
Tikhomirov and his lawyer. January 12, 2015

Yuri Tikhomirov sat quietly and spoke the least of all. He had never heard of any such gang, had been involved in only one point of the indictment, and had received a ten-year sentence for that crime before the others had been charged. The jury believed him.

08_12 jan
The court views a video recording. January 12, 2015

A significant part of the evidence against the defendants consisted of photos and video. In particular, thanks to surveillance cameras, prosecutors were able to prove that Volkov had committed one of the murders.

09_11 feb
Prosecutor (addressing jurors): “The BORN members were not in the habit of verifying information. Unverified information served as grounds for murders.” February 11, 2015

Prosecutors repeatedly attacked the ideological aspect of the BORN case. The nationalists did not want Russia to become like France, which was “swamped with immigrants.” However, they themselves had never been to France. And yet they sought information about future victims on ultra-rightist websites and in the media.

10_11 feb
Prosecutor (standing behind BORN’s attorneys): “As you have seen yourselves, the gang had more than enough weapons.” February 11, 2015

The hearing during which the physical evidence—the weapons seized from the gang—was presented was like a trip to a theme park. The BORN members used sawed-off hunting rifles and pistols, manufactured in the early twentieth century. They came by these weapons, apparently, through people who illegally excavate battlegrounds.

11_11 feb
Donara Dzhaparidze, mother of a murdered antifascist (Yuri Tikhomirov is seated to the left): “I can’t go into the apartment: Ilyusha is not there.” February 11, 2015

The mother of antifascist Ilya Dzhaparidze left Moscow for Georgia after her son was murdered. She could not go back to the flat where she lived with her son. Few cursed the defendants as she did. The defendants only looked away.

12_16 feb
Isayev’s attorney: “Baklagin has correctly pointed out that the antifascists are just another gang, but with different ideas. They were involved in a turf war.” February 16, 2015

Another mitigating argument mustered by the defense was that contemporary antifascists are nothing like the ones we saw in Soviet films about World War Two. They are an aggressive subculture with whom the nationalists would fight, including on the streets. It sounded plausible, but still did not answer the question of why it had been necessary to commit murder.

13_16 feb
Volkov (his mother seated in the foreground): “What sort of bandit am I? I have a family, kiddies… I read them to sleep at night.” February 16, 2015

The defendants’ relatives rarely came to the hearings and never together. They sat with the reporters, glancing occasionally at the ultra-rightists as they gave testimony. They flatly refused to talk to the press.

14_16 feb
Baklagin: “When the war in Ukraine began, I immediately applied in writing to join a penal battalion.” February 16, 2015

Baklagin asked to be sent to fight in the Donbas: his blood would atone for what he had done. BORN is closely linked to Ukraine. Volkov had escaped there before being extradited back to Russia. One of the most violent members of BORN, former FSB officer Alexei Korshunov, had escaped to Zaporozhye and died when a grenade he was carrying exploded. Finally, another suspect is still in hiding in Ukraine. According to unconfirmed reports, he is even fighting against the separatists.

16_20 feb
Tikhomirov’s lawyer: “Khasis and Tikhonov called each other ‘bunny rabbit’ and ‘kitty cat.’” February 20, 2015

Nikita Tikhonov and his common-law wife Yevgenia Khasis gave the most detailed testimony against the BORN members, which visibly irritated the latter. Tikhonov is serving a life sentence for the murders of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Khasis is serving eighteen years as an accessory to the murders. On the sidelines, the lawyers did not rule out that Tikhonov was taking responsibility for more than what he had done so that he could stay in a Moscow remand prison—near the crime investigation scene—rather than in the transpolar prison for lifers with its incredibly poor living conditions. Khasis just wants to get out early.

18_30 mar
Judge Kozlov: “If you decide that Isayev, Baklagin or Volkov deserve leniency, the court cannot sentence them to life in prison.” March 30, 2015

It took a very long time to empanel the jury in the BORN trial. Ordinary residents of Moscow Region were not chomping at the bit to serve on the jury. The defendants themselves rejected several candidates for “looking like antifascists.” Nevertheless, a jury was seated and they produced a verdict in the trial. The defendants were found worthy of leniency. But not Baklagin and Isayev, who had shadowed Judge Chuvashov. (The late Korshunov was deeemd to be his killer.) The chance of a life sentence for them persists.

19_31 mar
Jury forewoman: “Has it been proven that Tikhomirov was a member of BORN? No, it has not been proven. Six jurors voted yea; six, nay.” March 31, 2015

Those who followed the trials called the jury’s verdict a little too soft on some counts. But be that as it may, only Tikhomirov was acquitted.

20_
The jurors

Court juries have this peculiarity: all parties to the trial focus the attention of jurors less on the legal aspects and try more to play on their emotions. No lawyers are empanelled, after all. Both the prosecutors and the defense asked the jury to be fair. It rendered its verdict. The judge will turn the verdict into specific sentences for the BORN trial defendants.

Editor’s Note. I thank Victoria Lomasko and Meduza for their permission to translate this article and reproduce Ms. Lomasko’s reportage here. All illustrations courtesy of and copyright Victoria Lomasko and Meduza.  Translated by the Russian Reader

An Apology for Fascism

Editor’s Note. Confused readers might imagine that the following (excerpted) screed from the hilariously named website The Saker (for the ornithologically challenged, the saker is a falcon used in falconry) is an apology for fascism. Actually, they’d be right.

* * * * *

“There are no separate Russia or Ukraine, but one Holy Rus” – Elder Iona of Odessa

The year 2014 saw an unprecedented surge of patriotism in contemporary Russia, which resulted in popularizing the notion of the Russian World. One reason for increased patriotic sentiment was Crimea’s return to the home port after the overwhelmingly positive vote by its majority-Russian residents in a referendum one year ago. The onset of the liberation war in Donbass from the West-backed Kiev regime was the other. This war truly delineated the stakes for the existence of the Russian World. The latter is not an ethnic, but a civilizational concept that encompasses shared culture, history, and language in the Eurasian space within a traditionalist framework. To a certain extent and despite the obvious ideological differences, the Russian Empire and the USSR embodied the same geopolitical entity. A particularly noteworthy aspect of the ongoing crisis in Donbass is the symbolism—religious and historic—that surpasses the commonly used, but outdated Left-Right political spectrum. In the Russian context, this also means overcoming the Red-White divide of the Communist Revolution. That this war pushed Russians to examine their country’s raison d’être is somewhat remarkable: for two decades its citizens did not have an official ideology, prohibited by the Constitution that is based on Western models. The emergence of a new way of thinking in Russia will become clearer once we refer to the meaning of religious insignia, wars—Russian Civil and Great Patriotic, as well as the question of ideology in the Postmodern world.

mandylion-combined

[…]

In fact, post-Liberal ideology is one of the factors that blinds many Westerners to the realities of the liberation war in Donbass. The current Western model of citizenship is an abstract one: it centers around a set of principles in which individuals are interchangeable—as long as they adopt “European values” or the “American way of life”—instead of the more traditional notions of rootedness in the landscape, cultural and linguistic ties, and ancestral bonds. Thus, those who subscribe to this abstraction have difficulties understanding how belonging to the same people (narod) overrides living in two different states—contemporary Russia and Ukraine—haphazardly formed at the time of the Soviet collapse, and why they seem so attached to their language, culture, religion, history, and land that they are willing to die for them. But even for those Russians that lean toward more traditionalist thought, it took this war—the war that was meant to separate—to ideologically and spiritually unite them with others like them across the border, to begin questioning who they really are, uncertain, but hopeful, forging the idea of the Russian World. Beyond Left and Right, Beyond Red and White.

—Nina Kouprianova, “Beyond Left and Right, Beyond Red and White: Framing the Liberation War in Donbass,” The Saker, March 18, 2015

You would be right in asking, Who the heck is Nina Kouprianova? What does it matter what she thinks? But what this guy thinks does matter and he seems quite on message with Ms. Kouprianova:

Putin also addressed Ukraine’s struggles, saying “extreme nationalism is always harmful and dangerous,” and implied that Ukrainian voters would hold the parliament and the Poroshenko Administration responsible the country’s current mess. “I, for one, have always thought of Russians and Ukrainians as a single people,” he added.

His intentions could not be plainer.

Thanks to Comrade NT for the heads-up on this depressing new website.

Ilya Kalinin: Petropatria

Smash & Vengerov & Bobina, feat. Matua & Averin & Kravets, “Oil”

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[…]

Extractive nationalism is a machine for turning the nation into a resource for the imaginary regeneration of empire (whose present prospects are, nevertheless, ever more real). Hence the demographic policies of the 2000s, the concept of the “Russian world” (now also equipped with the right to intervene militarily on behalf of compatriots abroad), and the precedent of territorial expansion. In this case, there is another, geopolitical aspect to the resource state’s demodernization: a return to the imperial idea, which ignores both the postmodernist model of globalization and the modernist model of the nation-state. (Although the new empire has been assembled under the quasi-national cover of the “Russian world,” the Russian language, and Russian culture, thus papering over the conflict between the national and the imperial.) The conversion of fossil fuels into one of the main instruments in the war for imperial influence is only the most brutal and aggressive version of the total resource-driven mentality we are discussing.

Thus, the logic of the resource state is deeper than Alexander Etkind writes.* It is not merely that the elite triggers demodernization, turning the populace into an object of paternalistic care based on the charitable redistribution of income derived from the sale of natural resources. It also has to do with the fact that the “modernization project,” the official agenda of the 2000s and 2010s, consists in transforming the populace itself into a natural resource, as it comes to be seen in terms of the same pragmatic struggle for limited resources.

“There is increasing competition for resources. And I want to assure you, dear colleagues, and emphasize that [it is a competition] not just for metals, oil, and gas, but primarily for human resources, for intelligence. Who shoots ahead, and who remains an outsider and inevitably loses their independence, will depend not only on economic potential, but first and foremost on the will of every nation, on its intrinsic energy; as Lev Gumilev said, on its passionarity.”**

We are confronted here with a typical example of translating the discourse of nation into the organicist language of energy resources. Victory in international competition is vouchsafed to those who realize that not only natural but also symbolic resources (“spiritual bonds”) are limited and also need to be placed under state control. If Russia’s economic potential is based on metals, oil, and gas, its human resource consists in the capacity for appropriating “intrinsic energy,” the “will of the nation.” Thus the Russian state’s superextractivity can be described not only as the economic exploitation of “natural resources […] almost without the populace’s involvement” (Etkind, p. 164) but also as the political exploitation of the populace, turned into raw material for the reproduction of the elite.

The values to which the elite appeals in its search for national identity—the historical past, Russian culture, the Russian language—are turned into the exact same sort of raw materials.*** Its ideological obsession with “spiritual principles,” “historical origins,” “tradition,” and “cultural foundations” is defined by the selfsame chthonic horizon of the earth’s depths as the mineral resources on which the elite’s material prosperity and political stability objectively depend. The dialectic of current Russian (de)modernization involves making Russia’s future dependent on intensively exploiting its past (represented as its natural or cultural heritage). A resource is a condensation of the past; it inhabits the present in concentrated form.

The constructed “national tradition” and de(modernization) are deployed in keeping with a simplified version of the Marxist dogma of base and superstructure. In our case, the base is occupied by resources (mineral resources fuel the economy, while the resources of national tradition drive ideology and cultural policy), while the superstructure emerges through modernizing technology for exploiting these same resources. That is why, in a resource state, modernization inevitably devolves into demodernization—a circular movement that over the longer term will increasingly deplete material resources and thus become more dependent on symbolic resources. Hence the increasingly strident attempts to put them under state control: as the final victory of the resource-driven mentality approaches, the struggle for resources has only exacerbated. Natural resources, public institutions, people, and values are converted into raw materials for strengthening the current political order’s stability.

In the end, extractive nationalism itself is a resource for the production of raw petropatriotism. The petropatria is a homeland for the petromacho in which everyone else has to live as well, that same populace for whom it is time to make their choice between their country and oil.

Source: Ilya Kalinin, “Petropatria. Rodina ili neft’” [Petropatria: homeland or oil], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 95 (3) (2014)

* Alexander Etkind, “Petromacho, ili Mekhanizmy demodernizatsii v resursnom gosudarstve” [Petromacho, or demodernization mechanisms in the resource state], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 88 (2) (2013): 156–167.

** President Putin’s Address to the Russian Federal Assembly, December 12, 2012.

*** Cf. Ilya Kalinin, “Boi za istoriiu: proshloe kak ogranichennyi resurs” [The history wars: the past as a limited resource], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 78 (4) (2011): 330–340; Ilya Kalinin, “Proshloe kak organichennyi resurs: istoricheskaia politika and ekonomika renty” [The past as a limited resource: historical policy and the rent economy], Neprikosnovennyi zapas 88 (2) (2013): 200–214; an expanded version of the article can be found on the website Polit.ru.

Editor’s Note. For another take on the topic of Russian history as a limited resource, see Vasily Zharkov, “Enslaved by History,”

Still image from the finale of video "Oil." Courtesy of YouTube
Still image from the finale of the video “Oil.” Courtesy of YouTube

The Psychic Governor

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Not is only Georgy Poltavchenko, Petersburg’s unelected governor, a capable administrator and a pious Orthodox Christian, he is also, as he revealed last week during a passionate speech delivered at a special powwow with law enforcement officials and “representatives of ethnic diasporas,” a psychic, a mind reader or remote viewer capable of hearing what migrant workers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are saying as they depart for the former capital of All the Russias (apparently, to wreak mayhem, judging by further remarks made the governor and others at the high-level confab):

“So your countrymen travel to our country, to our city, in particular. They travel from distant villages there and so on. And just as they’re about to board the plane or the train going to Russia, they say, ‘We’re going there because the Russians don’t know how to work! They’re all drunkards. They’re all loafers!’ But members of the nation to which I myself belong, the Russian people, over the course of a thousand years created an enormous state along with other peoples. And if those loafers and drunkards hadn’t built the Russian state, who knows what the people who come to our country thinking such thoughts would be doing nowadays. I want everyone to remember what I’m about to say: the Russian people are a people that I won’t permit anyone to walk all over!”*

* As quoted in: Maria Gordyakova, “Make yourselves at home, but don’t forget you’re just visiting,” Gorod 812, December 2, 2013, p. 12; the online version of the article (which has a different title) can be accessed here.

Photo © RIA Novosti and Sergey Subbotin

“The Anti-Capitalist Movement Is Stronger than Putin”

The anti-capitalist movement is stronger than Putin and no matter how many activists end up in jail, Putin can’t stop working class opposition growing daily more visible on the streets of Moscow and elsewhere.

—Stewart Home, “Open Letter about Alexei Gaskarov”

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avtonom.org

Moscow Anarchists Leave AntiCap

As we reported earlier, the march organizing committee had reached an agreement to ban the participation of nationalist organizations and the use of nationalist slogans. However, today, 15 September, anarchists who came to the march discovered a column from the nationalist group People’s Will carrying a banner that read, “Free, social, national.” Nationalists marching under black banners chanted slogans about “Russian socialism,” as well as anti-feminist and homophobic chants.

After chanting anti-fascist slogans and “Don’t disgrace the black flag” in response, the anarchists, along with members of the Left Socialist Action and Rainbow Association column, decided to leave the event before the start of the march. As they left, they shouted, “We came to AntiCap, / But all we found was crap!”

A number of anarchist and anti-fascist groups had earlier decided to boycott AntiCap because information had appeared on the social networks that nationalists would come to the protest.

The virtual merger of the leftist movement with nationalist groups that attempt to blend incompatible ideas in their propaganda and aesthetic is a trend that cannot help but disturb members of the anti-fascist movement. The mass protests in Russian in 2011–2012 have already led to the legalization of nationalist discourse within the civil protest movement, despite the opposition of anti-fascists. New ways of combating fascist infiltration of the non-systemic opposition to the current regime must be sought.

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Homophobes attack activists from the Rainbow Column at the Anti-Capitalism March in Moscow. September 15, 2013. Video by Dmitry Zykov