The expedition kicked off in February 2018 in three neighboring cities in Luhansk Region: Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, and Rubizhne. The aim was to find and digitize the family photo archives of local residents and compile a database.
“Family life (private life) and public life are bound up in photo archives. The boundary between them is not always visible, a consequence of the ideological structure of society and life in the twentieth century. These things helped us record and analyze culture, history, and the socio-political aspects of life in Luhansk Region,” said Lurie.
According to Lurie, the memory and post-memory of Donbas are not simply timely subjects. They are also painful subjects for many people in Ukraine and Russia.
“The issue of this region’s memory has been politicized. It has been overrun by speculations and rebuttals of these speculations. These are not merely different opinions. They are one of the ideological grounds of the conflict of Eastern Ukraine. The family archives of Donbas residents can lead us to an objective understanding of the people who have lived here,” Lurie argued.
The project’s plans for 2019 include a series of exhibitions and discussions in the cities involved in the project and elsewhere in Ukraine, museumification of the photo archive, and creation of an online database.
Vladislav Ryazantsev has been assaulted in Rostov-on-Don. Vlad and I covered the entire Sentsov-Kolchenko trial and Nadiya Savchenko’s Donetsk saga together. I arrived in Rostov the first time a couple of days before the Sentsov trial to get my bearings. The next day, I was joined by cameraman Nikita Tatarsky, and we shot a short report about how even the local opposition knew nothing about the trial that was going to take place in their city. Amongst the people we interviewed was Vlad.
Later on, he, a journalist from Mediazona, and I were often the only reporters at the hearings in Donetsk City Court. When people say that Ukrainian media did a great job of covering the Savchenko trial, I recall Vlad sitting alone in the courtroom with his laptop. Mediazona’s correspondent and I would be sitting just as alone in the room where the trial was broadcast. It wasn’t always like this, of course, but it happened.
I would be remiss not to mention the fact that the attack was literally preceded by threats from Chechnya made to the editor-in-chief of Caucasian Knot, for which Vlad wrote. Another Knot correspondent, Zhalaudi Geriev was sentenced in Chechnya to three years in prison for narcotics possession a day before he was scheduled to attend a conference in Moscow entitled “The Media and the Constitutional Court.” You get my drift? It’s not a fact that the attack was connected with the threats. Maybe the local Center “E” guys did their best: they are active in Rostov. Maybe it was pro-Russian militants and mercenaries, who have flooded through Rostov on their way to Donbass. Vlad had publicly taken a pro-Ukrainian stance, and he had a falling out with Sergei Udaltsov‘s leftists and his wife over this point. Maybe it was these leftists who got to him. Whatever the case, threats and aggression towards journalists, made by people who enjoy a special extrajudicial status, open the way to unchallenged violence by anyone whomsoever.
Alexei Gaskarov: Many People Ask Whether I Am Going to Take up Politics. But What Politics Are There Nowadays?
Olesya Gerasimenko Snob
November 1, 2016
Anti-fascist Alexei Gaskarov has been released from prison after serving three and a half years in prison for alleged involvement in the Bolotyana Square riot in Moscow in 2012. Snob asked Kommersant special correspondent Olesya Gerasimenko to meet with Gaskarov to discuss the Bolotnaya Square case, life and education in the penal colony, and the death of the protest movement.
“Why would they ask me about organizing a riot if they knew no one organized it?”
Was your trial fair?
I regret we agreed to be involved in it. Like Soviet political prisoners, we should have stood with our backs turned and kept our mouths shut, and not treated it as an attempt to get at the truth. I had illusions after Khimki. [In 2010, Gaskarov was arrested and charged with attacking the Khimki town hall during a protest in defense of Khimki Forest, but the court acquitted him. — Snob] Several videos showed clearly that the incidents involving me happened before the riot kicked off, according to police investigators themselves. In the end, I ticked off the evidence, the judge nodded her head, but there was no reaction. The entire trial looked as if the decision had already been made, the sentence written out, and let’s get this over as quickly as possible.
So did you push a policeman and pull a soldier out of the police cordon?
I never denied it from the get-go. A year had passed since the rally on Bolotnaya Square. I was working on an important project. I had a week to go, and it was uncool to have to go to jail. I had to go to work on the Sunday the cops came for me. I had gone to the shop to buy food for the cat, and the whole clown show was waiting outside my building: two jeeps and a van. Young dudes half dressed like boneheads stepped out of the van. I decided they were from BORN [a group of radical right-wing nationalists who carried out a series of murders and assaults — Snob]. I was pondering what moves to make, but they produced their IDs.
Did you feel relieved?
No, just the opposite. I could have run from BORN or done something else. So they detained me and kept mum about what the charges were for a long while. They made me lie face down in the van and the whole works. There were lots of things they could have detained me for. We had been defending the tenants of the Moscow Silk (Mosshyolk) dormitories from eviction and the Tsagov Forest in Zhukovsky from logging by developers. And shortly before my arrest, people who are now serving in the Azov Battalion attempted to assault my wife and me. I tussled with them, and it ended up on camera. So there were different possibilities. I was not thinking about Bolotnaya at all. When it finally became clear why I had been detained, I stared at them. It was total rubbish. I told them I agreed to admit what I had done. We had been walking amid the crowd, when a riot cop attacked this dude. A dogpile ensued, and people pulled them apart. I was accused of pulling a policeman’s leg. The evidence was a poor quality video and a forensic report that concluded it was not me. But I knew it was me. So I told them right away, Guys, let’s do this the right way. But they could not have cared less whether I admitted my guilt or not. It would have been a different story if I had confessed to violating Article 212 of the Criminal Code (organizing a riot) or testified against someone else.
Were you asked?
They didn’t even mention it. Why would they ask me about organizing a riot if they know no one had organized it, including from their own wiretaps? They kept the charges to the incident with the leg pulling. Then they found a second incident. A stampede started in front of the police line. People were falling on the ground, and I tugged one policeman by the shoulder to make room. The indictment said I had broken the police line so that everyone could get to the riot. But this line had been at the passage in the other direction.
Did you expect such a sentence?
They had already told me at the Investigative Committee they were going send me down. I said, Well, of course. Later, the Center “E” guys showed up and threatened me with ten years in prison, but I know that could not happen. The rules of the game are still followed, and punishment for a particular crime is usually consistent with ordinary practice.
How do you feel about the case of Udaltsov and his associates?
I have very negative feelings about it, of course. I ran into [Leonid] Razvozzhayev in the pre-trial detention facility, but I wasn’t really able to chat with him, because he was always in very bad shape. Udaltsov and his associates operated like real con men. Before May 6, 2012, they had no clue how the march would go, and there is no mention of sitdown strikes and rushing police lines in the wiretaps. But after everything had happened on Bolotnaya, they began acting in their meetings with Targamadze as if everything had gone according to their plans. Their initial excuse, that they had traveled to Georgia to talk about wine and mineral water, was pure idiocy. Naturally, it is not against the law to have meetings and discuss business. But there is a political ethic that does not let you behave this way. You go meet dudes from the government of another country, a country with whom [your country] recently had a conflict. You ask for money, and you take money. If these meetings had not taken place, the Kremlin would have failed to generate the image of the Bolotnaya Square case that it did. We should not have had to answer for things over which we had no control. The benefits to Udaltsov were personal, but everyone shared the risks.
So you received no money from Givi Targamadze?
Are you kidding? What money?
Who was the anonymous anarchist informer who testifed against you?
I didn’t even find out. I have had nothing to do with them for many years. The guys still have their little movement. Like Tolkien fans, they attend meetings and discuss for hours on end how they should make a revolution. They have been doing this for the last twenty years. It was of no interest to anyone. The FSB sent its people in. They went and had a look at it and said, Well okay, you have a cool club. When Center “E” was established, they went after them big time to push up their arrest stats. All anarchist meetings are open, anyone can come. So they are known to the authorities. The teenager from this scene who went to Bolotnaya and was involved in breaking through police lines was identified in this way. They put the squeeze on him: either we send you down or you tell us what we want to hear. I have no idea why this was necessary, because he just said I was a bad dude and the leader of the anti-fascists and anarchists. But nobody charged me with that.
“The rules of survival are simple: don’t do anyone harm”
Tell me about life in prison. Everyone is interested in that. You know, reveille at six, lights out at ten.
Yeah. As you understand, people who are drug addicts, people going through withdrawal, basically live at night. After lights out, they either smoke or brew chifir [a super strong tea brewed in Russian prisons]. You just set that aside. You have your routine, and basically it is good for you. No one limits the amount of exercise you do: there is a horizontal bar, parallel bars, and a few weights. You are either working or busy with your own things. I got into shape there like I never have before. The point is to come up with as many things to do as possible so you have no spare time at all.
What did you read?
The library there was okay, because everyone who does time gets books and then leaves them behind. They see who has been nominated for the Booker Prize and order their books. It’s not hard to find new releases in prison. I also subscribed to several pro-Kremlin publications, and I read lots of your articles, too. And I read The New Times and Novaya Gazeta. I wanted different viewpoints. Plus, there is a legal video link in there. It is limited to fifteen minutes a day, but in fact nobody keeps track of the time.
Who were your cellmates?
I spent half my sentence in a pre-trial detention facility. The dudes in there had been charged under Article 228 of the Criminal Code [purchase, storage, production, and sale of narcotics — Snob]. Their stories were horrible. One group of teenagers had gotten hash in the mail from Holland, and they had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Or there were the dudes who decided to cook amphetamine using a recipe they found on the Internet. They got nineteen years in prison. I was even ashamed to explain what my case was about, because I was surrounded by people facing over ten years in prison. When the trial began, we were kept in Butyrka Prison. They were thieves, crazies, teenagers, street kids, and Dagestanis in there. I also met defendants in the Rosoboronexport case, the APEC Summit case, and the Sochi Olympics case, and I went to the gym with Alexander Emelianenko.
The general population at the penal colony consisted of three hundred men. Eighty percent of them were local dudes from Tula Region who had attacked somebody while drunk, stolen things from dachas, and committed petty robberies. But what is the catch about the general population? That a homeless man who broke into someone else’s dacha to spend the winter got sent down to the penal colony, and his life there is better than on the outside, and he is in the same place as a big-shot businessman who has lost a billion rubles and used to go sailing on his yacht on the outside.
Does this lead to lots of conflicts?
There are lots of conflicts, but the instigator always takes the rap for a fight. That doesn’t mean there are no fights. They are criminals, after all, and they tend to take risks. But the rules of survival are simple: don’t do anyone harm. If you watch TV after lights out, turn down the sound. Don’t drag in dirt. It’s all basic.
Was it easy for you to understand them?
Yeah. In 2010, I was in a pre-trial detention facility with repeat offenders and learned the tricks. And during my early days in the penal colony I read Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn’s stories about the prison camps.
Like a set of rules?
Yes. The Center “E” officer who led the investigation in my case told me a lot and advised me what books to read. When I was on the inside, people asked my advice on how to behave.
When you got out you said the main thing had been to maintain contact with reality and your health. How did you maintain your health? Was the food there okay?
Due to the fact that support from the outside was good, I almost never ate in the cafeteria.
But what about hot meals?
There is a microwave there. The Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) now has taken the approach of not keeping you from improving your living conditions. They need to implement their strategy for improving conditions in the penal colonies, but their budget has been trimmed. When you arrive, everything is crappy. Water is dripping from the ceilings, and there is mold. But they don’t mind if you want to invest your own resources. You write everything up as humanitarian aid, and you get electric kettles and microwaves. We had a projector hanging in our cell for watching films.
Now everyone will want to roll back two years to read books and watch films on a projector.
We also purchased a bunch of armchairs from IKEA. So when the head office comes to make an inspection, they show them how cool everything is in their colony.
I think you wanted to get another degree in prison.
Unfortunately, it turned out the university with which the colony collaborates is just a degree mill that sells them for money. I did something else there. At work, I would often teach the basics of entrepreneurship and planning. There were people doing time in the colony with whom it was interesting to talk, bank chairmen and ministry officials. There was a space, an evening school. I brought around fifty people together and asked the wardens permission to run something like seminars. Everyone had to come up with his own project, and over eight months (my sentence was coming to an end) we would try and whip it into shape, with a business plan as the outcome. At first, they turned me down outright, saying I was in for the Bolotnaya Square case and would lead political discussions. But then there was a change in management at the penal colony, and they met us halfway. It was like a little piece of the outside world.
Generally, of course, the colony’s disciplinary and educational function has been tapped out. There are no resources. The majority of guys in there do not have the most basic skills. They cannot write a letter, but there is no one there at all to educate them. There is this option of watching films on the weekends. They show this rubbish, total nonsense. I went to the wardens and said, Let’s make a selection of good films; we can watch ordinary films in our cells. But they could not even decide to do that. They get their action plans from the head office, where the theorists work. They say, Let’s hold a sports day, even though athletic clothing is prohibited in the general population.
“They aren’t winning this game by turning to crackdowns”
While you were away, the Khimki Forest was cut down. The Moscow Silk tenants were evicted. Anti-fascists fell out over Ukraine. Many of the people who rallied on Bolotnaya have emigrated. When you all; were being arrested one by one, everyone said it would be the case of the century, that everyone would close ranks because of you and for your sake, but ultimately you have got out of prison, the Bolotnaya Square case is still underway, and there is no longer any interest in it. Maybe you went to prison for nothing?
What does that mean, “nothing”? I had no choice. It’s good that the anti-fascist thing is no longer on the front burner. Nowadays, there are no more clashes with neo-Nazis, who were killing people in the early 2000s. Back then, they really needed a counterweight. Our job was to point out the problem and make things decent on the streets. We succeeded in doing this. But the anti-fascist movement cannot defeat xenophobia in society.
What do you think about the split among anti-fascists, that one group went to Kiev, while the other went to Donbass? They were at each other’s throats.
I always assumed that very different people joined the anti-fascist movement, and that was fine. There were aspects that just did not make sense to me. For example, why were European leftists strutting their stuff in Donbass? It looks as if they were totally conned.
As for Bolotnaya, choosing to be involved in this movement was fraught with risks. If we draw an analogy with Ukraine (although many people don’t like to do this), I don’t think that if the events on Bolotnaya had gone further those people would have balked at shooting the crowd. A bunch of people were killed in Kiev, while here in Moscow we were supposed to be scared off by prison sentences. They randomly picked a group of people and put them in prison. The rationale is clear. Whoever you are, if you oppose the tsar, you will suffer. How can we respond to this? We have to debunk the myth that such crackdowns are effective.
But that is what happened. Everyone really was afraid of being hit once with a truncheon, to say nothing of prison. Many members of the opposition have said the fight against the regime is not a worth a centimeter of their personal comfort. You are practically the only who does not think this way. Don’t you feel lonely?
Most people haven’t been to prison, and they really imagine it is the end of world. If I go to prison, I can kiss my life goodbye, they think. I just dealt with it more or less normally. But this is how I see it. When the authorities crack down on dissent, people lower their level of activism. They lose the desire to invest themselves in something. Ultimately, the system falls apart, rather than becoming more stable, as the authorities imagine. The country becomes less competitive. In prison, I saw many people who were doing time for economic crimes, and they all said approximately the same thing. People who have satisfied their material needs develop political demands, and that is fine. Everyone wants to be involved in changing things. When this desire for change is blocked, they are blocking the segment of society that generates the most added value. They aren’t winning this game by turning to crackdowns. Especially because the system is not as terrible as it makes itself out to be.
But people need to remain minimally active. It is too bad that many people have chosen the passive way. I have just got out, and it really seems to me that a lot has changed, even in Moscow itself. Although, theoretically, I saw it all ten years ago, only in Europe. We can live this way a long time. Hence the complexity of the political arguments around Bolotnaya. Given the resources we have have, we could live better, but the way things are also suits lots of people. In this case, the system can survive for a long while. We should not get involved in direct confrontations. This was clear to me on Bolotnaya Square as well. We wanted to get the hell out of there, because it was obvious the sitdown strikes and so on were just what the authorities wanted. But there are other ways of doing things. We don’t have to limit ourselves to demonstrations and rallies.
There are the demands made at Bolotnaya—fair elections and the transfer of power—but there is the option of engaging in specific targeted campaigns in order to develop one’s ideas under the existing regime.
You mean the theory of small deeds?
Among other things. For example, I read that many Bolotnaya activists have gone into charity work. In fact, that is not so bad. What matters is maintaining the energy. Or there is the successful fight against corruption, all those publications that impact the system, whatever you say. Or there are people in the leftist milieu who think there should be progressive taxation: they can also advance their arguments. Or form an anti-war movement given all the conflicts underway.
In prison, I realized how strongly the regime affects people’s brains. There are people who show up there who are not inclined to heavy discussions. Real peasants. All the myths that exist are in their heads. But when you are around them, you don’t even have to argue. Even the most impenetrable guys would change their minds just as a result of conversation. So any work aimed at disseminating information and minimal education is vital.
What did you change their minds about?
A variety of things, including their overall attitude to the opposition. In the beginning, it was even convenient for me, like there were only drug addicts at Bolotnaya, that they all had gone there to score heroin, and everybody would leave me alone [after I would say that]. But over time people see what you read, what films you watch on the Culture channel, that you can help draft a court appeal, and they understand you are not an idiot and would not have gone to a protest rally for a dose of heroin. There were lots of conflicts over Ukraine, especially because there were many people doing time who had managed to fight in Donbas, come back to Russia, and get sent to prison.
Disorderly conduct, theft, and armed robbery. They were typical soldiers of fortune. We even managed to talk about this most difficult issue and iron out our differences.
Is Crimea ours?
I have a simple position on this issue. People went out on the Maidan because they did not like the current regime. I think what happened to Crimea was Putin’s attempt to punish them for this. The Ukrainian people made their choice, Putin didn’t like it, and [Russia] acted like the interventionists during the Russian Civil War. It is not a matter of what the inhabitants of Crimea wanted. It was an action directed against all the values we tried to defend on Bolotnaya.
So it’s not ours?
I consider it a real violation of international law. It was unethical and wrong. Clearly they did this to stick an example in everyone’s face: see what protests have done to the country. But I don’t have an opinion about what should happen next.
To return it or not?
Well yes. Because it is clear that most people who live there want to be part of Russia.
You went to prison in one country, but came out of prison in another country. What was it like finding out on the news about the historic events that were happening on the outside? Did you feel sorry you were observing them from afar? Or, on the contrary, was it easier?
To be honest, the latter. It was often difficult to make up my mind. For example, when refugees left Ukraine en masse, they would come work in the penal colony. You communicate with them and realize there is ideology, and then there are people’s stories, and it was hard to make up one’s mind. I actually thought it was cool this was going on in the background.
What is your work situation? What are you planning to do?
Of course, I would like to do the work I was educated to do, as a financial systems analyst, as it says in my diploma. My old job did not survive the crisis. I will have problems, of course. I have even asked acquaintances at several companies, but I was told no way, especially in offices that work on state commissions or state projects. So things are rough. I will have to start everything from scratch. But I am sure that the fourteen percent have some businesses. [Gaskarov has in mind VTsIOM’s polling data, showing that 86% of Russians support Putin — Snob.]
Earning money is my priority now. Many people have asked me whether I am going to take up politics. Everyone has so many expectations, but what politics are there nowadays? It is impossible to be involved in politics without having your own resources. Of course, I say you shouldn’t be afraid of prison, but it is a serious setback all the same: three and a half years. A lot of missed opportunities and a backlog of problems.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the heads-up
Since Putin couldn’t smash Aleppo with his pal Bashar Assad, he is now going to provoke all-out war with Ukraine. Or he is going to play at provoking all-out war. Either way, he is going to have some fun.
In 1939, the Finns likewise “provoked” Stalin into invading Finland. Meaning that Stalin pretended to be provoked, and then went in guns blazing, getting three hundred thousand Soviet soldiers killed or wounded in the process.
There are oodles of serious problems with the Russian economy, which Putin shows no interest in solving, because really solving them would involve the self-liquidation of the current elites. Although pumping up defense spending and, hence, the military-industrial complex, which is what he has been doing in the past few years, has been a temporary patch on some of those problems, of course.
It is funny and sad that Russians themselves don’t get tired of this merry-go-round, but they seem to be sinking ever deeper into various species of emigration, internal or actual, or what they themselves call a “second childhood.”
It is even funnier that Jill Stein, presidential candidate of the US Green Party, could believe she was doing the work of peace or “anti-imperialism” or whatever she thought she was doing when she dined with Putin in Moscow or that she could imagine the “crisis” in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine was caused by anything other than domestic Russian politics or, rather, the snowballing contradictions spinning off the tiny, eccentric orbit inhabited by the country’s president-for-life in all but name and his retinue of oligarchs and FSB veterans.
Anyone who thinks the Kremlin’s policies are a rational or predictable response to the “international situation” or the bad deal Russia allegedly got when the Soviet Union broke up is a complete fool or a bought-and-paid useful idiot. You can be traumatized by the “bad things” your parents did to you (unless they really were bad things) for only so long.
When, however, you have reached the ripe enough age of twenty-five, as the new Russia has this year, it is time to stop telling stories about your bad upbringing or how you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.
In other words, this is all about the dead end Putin and his pals from the FSB and the Ozero Dacha Co-op drove the country into when they decided they would run Russia like Tony Soprano and his crew ran whatever they were pretending to be running in the fictional TV New Jersey.
Putin has flagrantly and criminally misruled Russia for seventeen years as of August 9. That is one year less than Brezhnev reigned as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. But Putin, to all appearances, is fit as a cello, unlike Brezhnev was in 1981, the year before he died.
Ugh. Happy new year.
Thanks to Comrade MT for the felicitous line about the cello. Photo by the Russian Reader
Come on I will show you how I will change
When you give me something to slaughter
Shepherd boy (Hey!)
Everybody sing (Hey!)
Better act quick (Hey!)
Be my toy Come on have a bet We live on blood We are Sparta F.C.
The Russian National Football Hooligans Squad: The Russia They Represent in Marseille
Sergei Medvedev Forbes.ru
June 14, 2016
Russia has fought yet another small victorious war. On the eve of the national squad’s first match in Euro 2015, a couple dozen Russian fans routed the numerically superior forces of the English fans in the Old Port of Marseille. A day later, right after the match, they went berserk in the English sector at the stadium, beating up everyone in their path, including spectators with families and elderly people. The results were distressing. At least thirty-five people were injured, and a fifty-year-old English fan who was crowbarred over the head is at death’s door. As punishment, UEFA has provisionally suspended the Russian team until the end of Euro 2016 (if the violations are repeated, we will be completely disqualified from the championship) and fined the Russian Football Union 150,000 euros, including for the racist behavior of the Russian sector during the match against England. On June 14, French police detained fifty people from the Russian Union of Supporters, led by the notorious Alexander Shprygin (aka Kamancha) and held them for twenty-four hours. Russian fans made the top world news headlines (isn’t it what they wanted?), and Russia’s chances of losing the right to host the 2018 World Cup have seriously increased.
This shameful episode perhaps should not deserve such attention. Football hooliganism has long ago turned into a sanctuary of violence and a near equivalent of world war. Fans of all countries fight and run rampant, and massacres happen too, like the tragedy at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, which left thirty-nine people dead and led to all English clubs being banned from UEFA competitions for five years. And Marseille well remembers the English fans during the 1998 World Cup, who staged a donnybrook with fans from Tunisia and smashed up half the town.
But the difference lies elsewhere. While in England, supporters are unanimously condemned by society and politicians in the wake of such scandals, over the last few days the football hooligans have figured almost as national heroes in Russia. Dmitry Yegorov, a reporter for Soviet Sport, live tweeted the carnage, commenting it like a football match and admiring the organization and physical training of the Russians. Social media have been buzzing with approval for the supporter, who smacked the spineless English upside the head and stood up for Russia like the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae. A blog by sports journalist Andrei Malosolov entitled “Why the Victory of Russian Supporters in the Port of Marseille Is Cool!” has been especially popular.
What is even more curious, the Russian hooligans have enjoyed the backing of high-ranking officials. Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin commented on the reaction of the Marseille authorities on Twitter, calling the Russian fans “well-trained fighters.”
“A normal man, as he should be, surprises them,” he wrote. “They’re used to seeing ‘men’ at gay parades.”
LDPR State Duma deputy Igor Lebedev (whose aides include Shprygin aka Kamancha), a member of the Russian Football Union’s executive committee, wrote, “I don’t see anything terrible about fans fighting. On the contrary, our guys were great. Keep it up!”
“If [Russian sports minister Vitaly] Mutko had been with the fans in the stands, he would have fought too,” Lebedev suggested later, in an interview.
Here we have to acknowledge one unpleasant thing. The fans in Marseille supply a honest picture of official policy and conventional wisdom in post-Crimea Russia.
They are waging the same hybrid so popular in our propaganda, infiltrating well-trained fighters, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and disguised as “holidaymakers,” into France, using force selectively and purposefully, attacking in unexpected places. The web is now full of rumors the hooligans were really Russian military intelligence (GRU) special ops units, who had infiltrated the championship to intimidate Europeans, so pumped-up, organized, and sober did the Russian hooligans appear in the numerous videos, but we shall leave this hypothesis to fans of conspiracy theories. As I imagine it, a joint detachment of so-called ultras from different “firms” of fans, fighters experienced in street brawling, converged in Marseille, attacking beer-bellied English “Kuzmiches,” i.e., simple fans who had come not fight, but to cheer and show off, some accompanied by their families.
One Russian fan admitted as much in an interview that our guys had come to fight.
“It doesn’t matter what cities our fans are from and what teams they support. What matters is that we are from Russia and are going to fight against the English. They have always said they are the main football hooligans. We are here to show that English fans are girls.”
So even if the Russian assault was not really a planned military operation, such rumors do not come out of nowhere. First, Russia is not a novice at “hybrid” interventions in social movements in Europe. It has organized rallies and agitprop campaigns, worked skillfully through the media to fuel anti-immigrant sentiments, cooperated with right-wing radical and neofascist movements, and supported scandalous populists and European separatists. Just as in Soviet times the Comintern engaged in subversion in western countries, Russia has been worming its way into the cracks and fissures of European society. It has been trying to weaken the west from within, explaining it in terms of a total “information war.” Alarmed Europeans see the Russian ultras in this light.
Second, football supporters really are one of the combat units of the regime, which has an irresistible attraction to various groups of mummers who try and make a show of strength, such as Cossacks, bikers, and football supporters. Members of these stern fraternities are invited to drink tea with high officials. They are identified as exemplars of patriotism. They are awarded civil society development grants. And when push comes to shove, they are sent out on so-called Russian Marches and sicked on opposition rallies and individual dissidents. However, the football hooligans are as alien to the football tradition as the Surgeon’s latex bikers, with their Orthodox banners and Saint George’s ribbons, are to the rebellion and freedom of Easy Rider, and the paunchy “Cossacks,” with their glued-on topknots and cardboard medals, specialists in fighting gays and theater productions, are to the honor and glory of Russian Cossacks. They are all fakes in the era of Putin and Pelevin. When “the public” is a total simulation, protest countercultures turn into vehicles for dull officialdom and perfunctory patriotism, into tamed grant recipients.
Finally, the Russian fans (at least the ones who are photographed by reporters) are the readymade products of official propaganda, reproducing on their clothes and bodies all the typical corny kitsch of the era of Crimea and “getting up off our knees”: t-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “polite people” and “we don’t abandon our own,” budyonovkas and earflap caps twinkling with red stars, banners displaying toothy bears and Slavic Siegfrieds, kids in Armata tank t-shirts and, as the apotheosis of all this patriotic trash, a gigantic tricolor, covering half the Russian sector at the stadium, inscribed with the message “YOU’RE FUCKED.” Apparently, these people see this as the new Russia’s national idea.
This mayhem, however, kicked off long before Crimea. Russian fans have usually reserved the most boorish displays of great-power chauvinism and racism for trips abroad. In the Czech Republic, Russian hockey fans unfurled banners emblazoned with tanks and the promise to reprise 1968. In downtown Warsaw in 2012, football supporters staged a march in honor of Russia Day, nearly provoking a battle royal with Polish ultras. Fueled by beer and egged on by propaganda, Russian resentment shows itself to the hilt in the stands at football and hockey matches, taking symbolic revenge for the Soviet empire. Yeah, we forfeited a great power and never have learned how to play football, but we can smash chairs and smack Europeans in the kisser, “kick the shit” (otbutskat) out of them, as Vladimir Putin once put it, invoking a football supporter coinage. Ultimately, wasn’t it Putin who shared a bit of popular wisdom drawn from a tough childhood in Petersburg’s courtyards, i.e., you have to hit first?
The fans in Marseille did just that, and in this sense they are worthy ambassadors of Putin’s Russia.
As MP Lebedev would have it, they should be greeted at the airport as heroes, just as the bikers have been greeted when they return from their patriotic motorcycle rallies. They should be secretly awarded state honors, as the “polite people” were in their time for bringing Crimea back into the fold. And they should be elected to seats in the Public Chamber and State Duma. Football hooliganism is a matter of national importance in hybrid Russia.
The term “football hooliganism” (okolofutbol) quite precisely reflects the essence of events. Despite the adult budgets of its premier league teams and national squad, despite the purchase of international stars (a typical strategy of superficial modernization), Russia has remained an average performer in the world rankings, both in terms of its own national championship and the performances of its national team. Before the start of the Euro 2016, our country was ranked twenty-ninth in FIFA’s world ratings. But, at the same time, a fan movement based on the British model has very quickly and naturally put down roots in Russia. Books by Dougie Brimson, who has written authoritatively on England’s football fan culture, have achieved cult status among Russian supporters. Without becoming a world football power, Russia has succeeded brilliantly in hybrid football hooliganism, spewing its entrenched and publicly recognized culture of violence onto the international arena.
But Russia has been engaged in the same hybrid “football hooliganism” in Ukraine, where it has not been waging an open war, but delegating well-trained groups of fighters, and in Syria, where it arrived with its own agenda and has been bombing targets for reasons known only to it, and in Europe, where it has banked on populism, separatism, and breaking up the European Union.
Football hooliganism substitutes fair play, real work, and the painstaking cultivation of institutions with violent action and demonstrative bullying. This is not the first year the entire Russian state has been playing at football hooliganism. The hooligans in Marseille are merely its away side.
Sergei Medvedev is a journalist, historian, and faculty member at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader
Near the graves of the victims of revolutions and civil war there has appeared a tombstone in memory of the victims of a new fratricidal war, a war between Russia and Ukraine.
Set up by the Vesna Movement, the new Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is meant to remind people of the hundreds and thousands of our compatriots who have been sent by Putin to the war with Ukraine. They are lied about. It is said they are on leave or that they resigned from the service, but more and and more evidence points to the fact that Russian soldiers have been fighting in the Donbas, and have been coming back wounded or in coffins.
Their graves are concealed, they are not talked about, and their relatives, in return for promises of compensation, lie and say the soldiers died during training exercises. The graves do exist, however. There is this one mock grave on the Field of Mars, and lots of real graves all over Russia.
We are protesting against Putin’s recent decree, making the military’s losses during “peacetime” a state secret. This hypocritical and cowardly decision is of a piece with the Russian regime’s policy of befuddling soldiers with propaganda, sending them off to war, and then lying that they had never existed. And instead of peacetime we have an undeclared war with a fraternal people.
Vladimir Putin has often been credited with the phrase, “We don’t abandon our own guys.” But we have recorded the correct version of the phrase on our memorial: “We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.” He easily sacrifices both his own and other people’s soldiers to achieve his political objectives.
Putin is a war criminal whose place is in the dock at the Hague Tribunal. That is certainly where he will end up, unless the fate of other dictators who fought with their own people does not catch up with him first.
“An unknown soldier who died in the Donbas during ‘peacetime.’” // “‘We don’t abandon our own guys, but those weren’t in fact our guys.’ V. Putin.” Photo by David Frenkel