RUSSIAN SKINHEADS: A SOCIAL PORTRAIT
Analysis of social motives behind the skinhead movement in Russia
NEO-LIBERAL REFORMS ARE THE MAIN FACTOR IN THE APPEARANCE OF A NEO- NAZI YOUTH MOVEMENT. IN RUSSIA, THEY GENERATED SOME ADDITIONAL SOCIAL PROCESSES THAT HAD A DIRECT EFFECT. THE CHANGES OF THE PAST DECADE HAVE HAD A DISASTROUS IMPACT ON FAMILIES.
Neo-liberal reforms are the major reason, and not in Russia alone. In Britain, the first country where a large-scale skinhead movement arose, it owed its appearance to Margaret Thatcher's neo- liberal reforms. In the United States, the skinhead movement blossomed forth from Reaganomics. The same happened in Germany, when a right- wing government set out to "dismantle the welfare state". Neo-liberal reforms led to the appearance of skinhead movements even in countries like Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, and Thailand.
Neo-liberal reforms in Russia generated some additional social processes that had a direct effect on appearance of the movement. In order to make ends meet, many Russians began working three or four jobs at once. Needless to say, they ceased to see their children at home - with a serious impact on family-raising.
All this occurred simultaneously with the process of total dehumanization of Russian society. Russian television over the last decade has raised a whole generation which is certain that violence is normal, and that problems should be solved through violence.
Data on social origins of skinhead movement is clearly insufficient, but what information is available indicates that skinheads are not from the "social bottom". As a rule, skinheads are children of the "Soviet middle class" whose living standards and social status have deteriorated over the decade of reforms. The "economic reforms" of the 1990s turned a lot of previously highly-paid employees - like engineers and academics - into petty traders, vendors, etc. These people encountered psychological trauma and social humiliation.
Dissatisfaction with life experienced by children in these families eventually transformed into nihilism, racism, and chauvinism.
There are some cities in Russia (Nizhny Novgorod, Krasnodar, Voronezh, Volgograd) where most skinheads are children from the families of small and medium-sized traders and street vendors, small and medium business owners, civil servants, and so on; i.e. children of the bourgeoisie. Sociologists say that children of Russian business owners are much more chauvinistic than children from other social strata. They probably think in terms of the family business already and view others as potential rivals.
Polish researchers did a poll in private schools in Russia in 1999, assuming that the future elite was being taught there, the elite the Poles would have to deal with sooner or later. About a fifth of Russian teenagers were found to be nationalists. As a rule, all these young people came from the families of vendors and business owners. This category deliberately emphasized a gap between itself and the majority of the private school students (about 60%, children from wealthy families openly demonstrating disdain of everything Russian and eager to move to the West).
The category called nationalist intended to keep living in Russia. Demonstrating loyalty to Russian traditions, they emphasized hatred of religions other than Orthodoxy; especially Islam. Over 80% of young men in this category described themselves as racists. All the young nationalist respondents planned to go into business, dreamed of becoming millionaires and owing companies. Like the pro-Western group, they denounced collectivism. Asked about their targets of hatred, these young men named communists, anarchists, and enemies of private property in general on the list - along with Negroes, Asians, and Jews. All nationalists advocated a harsh policy with regard to Chechnya.
The department for combating juvenile extremism set up in the Moscow police force after the Tsaritsyno riots had registered over 1,000 skinheads by May. It enabled specialists to draw certain conclusions about the social origins of approximately a fifth of Moscow's neo-Nazi skinheads.
Almost 35% live in single-parent families; and 90% of these families broke up in the 1990s, the period of economic upheavals.
The parents of 58% of the skinheads are street vendors or work in the restaurant business, and 22% have businesses of their own. Around 8% of the skinheads have mothers who are housewives. The fathers of 21% work in private security companies; the fathers of 6% are officers; and at least one of the parents is a civil servant in 12.8% of the families. One or both parents are manual workers in 4% of the families; or teachers, doctors, and so on in 3.2% of the families.
In other words, the classic portrait of a neo-Nazi teenager as a member of the bourgeoisie is true in Russia as well. It is clear, however, that foreigners cannot be blamed for the decade of economic deterioration in Russia. It follows that provoking racial and ethnic conflicts in Russia nowadays benefits the authorities, because they prevent dissatisfaction directed against the regime as such.
So we should not be surprised that skinheads from the People's National Party are being trained at the Moscow OMON base...
Kontinent No. 32 August 2002
Translated by A. Ignatkin