The far right in Russia
Nov 12th 2009 | MOSCOW
From The Economist print edition
Still an active presence, but one the authorities may not tolerate much longer
RUSSIAN fascists did not hide their elation when Stanislav Markelov, a human-rights lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, a young journalist, were shot dead in Moscow last January. Mr Markelov had been a vital link between anti-fascist activists, such as Ms Baburova, and the police. Yet the sense of impunity long enjoyed by Russia’s far right has been dented by the arrest of a man and a woman for the murders. The police even seem to have got the right people (and others are still being hunted).
Nikita Tikhonov, a 29-year-old ultra-nationalist who has admitted the murders, had been on the run since 2006, when a group of skinheads knifed to death a 19-year-old anti-fascist student. Mr Markelov, who represented the victim’s family, managed to get some of the attackers locked up. But Mr Tikhonov, the main suspect, escaped. He appears to be linked to Russian Mode, an ultra-nationalist group that advertises itself as “not a gang, a PR agency or a political party, but all those things together” and explains how to acquire weapons. He and his combative comrade were detained on November 4th, a new holiday of “national unity” that has been hijacked by ultra-nationalists as their day to march and shout racist slogans.
This year on November 4th, Russian Mode managed to organise a concert of its flagship rock group a few metres from Red Square. The proceeds from the concert went to support ultra-nationalists, such as Mr Tikhonov, who had already been arrested. The ultra-nationalist movement has become institutional in many Russian cities, says Galina Kozhevnikova of SOVA, an independent centre that monitors nationalism and xenophobia. Until recently some Russian security and law-enforcement agencies had been tolerant, if not actively protective, of such groups. This and the xenophobic rhetoric of many officials have given a sense of legitimacy to the ultra-nationalists, Ms Kozhevnikova argues.
Encouragingly, the arrest of Mr Tikhonov and his female comrade is no accident, but part of what seems to be a serious and co-ordinated crackdown on the neo-fascists in Moscow. The police have destroyed the most militant groups and conducted arrests on a mass scale. Part of the reason, according to Ms Kozhevnikova, is that ultra-nationalists have turned on the government and are now seen as a threat that could destabilise the country. In December 2008 one racist group beheaded a Tajik migrant worker near Moscow and then published a photo of his head with a message that bureaucrats who betray the interests of ethnic Russians and allow the flow of immigrants into the capital would be the next target. “The authorities thought they could control and manipulate nationalist groups; but they quickly get out of control,” Ms Kozhevnikova suggests.