Alexander Tarasov

Leading Expert Traces Rise of Skinhead Movement


SOURCE: THE SKINHEADS ARE COMING. By Aleksandr Tarasov. Russky kuryer, June 18, 2004, pp. 1, 12-13. Condensed text:

About the Author. (By Georgy Tselms). -- For 10 years now, Aleksandr Tarasov has been researching a phenomenon that is new to Russia: skinheads, or "skins." Our country very likely has no greater expert on that topic. Tarasov's interest in youth movements that are not officially sponsored is no accident. In 1975, as a 17-year-old freshman in the philosophy department at Leningrad State University, he started an underground youth organization of the "new left" type. Its members dreamed of social justice; their idols were Camus, Sartre and Marcuse. The KGB saw the young fighters for justice as a danger to the Soviet system. They were all arrested. Then everything followed the usual course: jail, the Serbsky Institute [for psychiatric evaluation -- Trans.], then a special psychiatric hospital. After that, Tarasov worked as a watchman and continued his interest in the underground. He eventually managed to complete his university studies. And with the onset of the new era, Tarasov took a job at the independent Panorama Center, where he specialized in problems relating to political extremism. He has studied skinheads not just from the literature, but also through "direct observation": He has been in contact with them, attended their gatherings, etc. Today Tarasov is in possession of unique material that is absolutely indispensable to our law-enforcement agencies if they intend to combat the brownshirt plague in Russia. If they intend to.

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. . . The catastrophic economic slump beginning in 1991 left millions of people in Russia unemployed. In addition, the educational system broke down. In recent years, 400 to 450 schools closed annually for financial reasons, and a correspondingly large percentage of students at those schools were denied the possibility of continuing their education. As early as 1997 in Siberia, for example, between 7% and 11% of draftees were illiterate, according to official data from military registration and enlistment offices, and in the spring of 1999, every third lawbreaker of school age had not completed even an elementary education! Young people were reverting to a wild state en masse. Crime, alcoholism and drug abuse swept across the country, especially among the young.

Kids simply had no place to go. "Houses of culture" and the like had been bought up by "new Russians" and converted to night clubs, casinos and restaurants. Children's clubs had perished. Schoolkids were left to their own devices after school, and by and large, they became prey for criminal elements and drug traffickers. . . .

The younger generation became an ideal target for the absorption of all sorts of primitive ideologies based on violence and individualism -- both just plain criminal and politically criminal (xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic). Initially, Russian skinheads had no systematic ideology. They were gut-level racists, xenophobes, machos, militarists and anti-intellectuals. But the constant propaganda conducted in the skinhead community by extreme right-wing parties has caused the skins to become increasingly conscious fascists, anticommunists, Russian Orthodox fundamentalists and anti-Semites. . . .

Russism -- a rather exotic radical-right ideology -- has become widespread among skinheads. Despite its constantly underscored devotion to Russian Orthodoxy, Russism takes a rather indulgent view of Aryan paganism (in the spirit of national socialism), since "race comes before faith" and "blood unites, while religion separates." Russism builds a bridge from prerevolutionary Russian Orthodox monarchism to national socialism: According to the canons of Russism, there were two great Aryan heroes in the 20th century -- Nicholas II and Adolf Hitler. . . .

It is a noteworthy fact that in Russia, of the three main currents in the world skinhead movement -- Nazi skins, "Red skins" and "trads" -- only the first is widespread in Russia, whereas in many countries the majority of skinheads are in fact "trads" (i.e., "traditional skinheads," apolitical young people who adopt the skinhead subculture strictly because it's cool). . . .

In clothing, the skins copy their kindred spirits in the West. . . .

Our first skinheads were predominantly adolescents between the ages of 13 and 19 who were in public schools, vocational-technical schools or technical colleges, or were unemployed. But over time, the situation has changed. A skin's paraphernalia alone (the "right" boots, trousers, bomber jacket, insignia patches, "Celtic" tattoos, etc.) costs quite a lot of money -- roughly 15,000 rubles. Poor kids simply don't have that kind of money. Today's skinhead frequently owns both a handheld computer and a cell phone. The skinheads are united in small groups (three to 10 people) that are basically mini-gangs. Their average term of existence is a few years. But there are also larger and more structured groups. The first to appear in Moscow were Skinlegion and Blood & Honor (B & H) -- Russian Affiliate. B & H is an international organization of Nazi skins that has been officially banned in some countries as extremist or fascist. B & H -- Russian Affiliate and Skinlegion each had 200 to 250 members and were characterized by a certain level of discipline, a hierarchy, and a division of labor. In 1998 they were joined by a third large organization -- United Brigades 88. . . . Later on came the Hammerskin Nation group (Hammerskins), which considers itself a division of the international skinhead organization of the same name.

Skinhead gangs first arose in our major and most highly developed cities, where the social stratification that has developed in Russia in recent years is especially visible. Today, however, a "second wave" of skins has swept through small provincial towns as well.

No one did anything to fight the skins. While the OMON special police were "dealing with" people from the Caucasus, the skins, being weaker and more cowardly, chose as their victims people from Central Asia or the third world -- particularly "blacks" and "slant-eyes." A certain amount of variety could be seen from city to city. Historically, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod were the centers of the skinhead movement in Russia. In Moscow, the skins attacked mainly Africans and Indians; in St. Petersburg -- Africans, Nepalese and Chinese; and in Nizhny Novgorod -- people from Central Asia (primarily refugees from Tajikistan).

The police took a tolerant attitude toward the skins. . . . In that atmosphere of tolerance, the skinhead movement grew to its present, quite impressive size. The number of skinheads in Russia is now close to 50,000. There are currently somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 skinheads, according to various estimates, in Moscow and the nearby parts of Moscow Province; about 3,000 in St. Petersburg and vicinity; more than 2,500 in Nizhny Novgorod; more than 1,500 in Rostov-on-Don; over 1,000 each in Pskov, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg and Krasnodar; and several hundred each in Voronezh, Samara, Saratov, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Vladivostok, Ryazan and Petrozavodsk. It should be recalled that in 1992, there were about a dozen skins in Moscow and maybe five in St. Petersburg. All told, skinhead communities now exist in approximately 85 cities.

Many radical right-wing, nationalist parties and organizations regard skinheads as their ready reserve and "social base." In Moscow, the Russian National Socialist Party (RNSP; until 1998 the Russian National Union, or RNU) is considered to have pioneered work with skins.

In St. Petersburg, it's the Freedom Party (until 2000 the National Republican Party of Russia, NRPR) that works with skins. In the cities of the Volga region and in Krasnodar, it's Russian National Unity (RNU) and Russian Guards (a splinter group of RNU).

It's interesting that the majority of our ultrarightists began working with skins only after receiving instructions from their Western "colleagues." Beginning in 1997, representatives of neofascist groups visited Russia repeatedly from the US, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria and "shared their experience" in working with skinhead youth. . . . There are no visa restrictions to bar fascist emissaries.

In most cities in Russia, skinheads feel self-assured and unthreatened. The police and the authorities are clearly sympathetic toward them. Choi Yun Shik, president of the South Korean Student Association, who is studying in Moscow, and Gabriel Kotchofa, president of the Moscow Foreign Students Association, both assert that the Moscow police have refused hundreds of times to allow foreign students who have been victimized by skins to file criminal charges. Col. Mikhail Kirilin of the Federal Security Service's [FSB] public relations center and Vladimir Vershkov of the Chief Internal Affairs Administration's press service both told to a reporter from the Moscow Times that their agencies do not regard skins as constituting a danger. . . .

A certain amount of information has now accumulated to the effect that Nazi skins are being encouraged, organized and used by Russia's ruling circles for their own purposes. There was considerable evidence earlier that Nazi skins enjoyed the protection of regional authorities (Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories, Pskov Province) and especially of law-enforcement structures (Saratov, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Samara). But in 2002 it was determined that Nazi skins were training at a facility belonging to the Moscow OMON special police, and that OMON trainers were doing the teaching. Such training could not have taken place without the sanction of top officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. . . .

In late 2000, amid demonstrative inaction on the part of the authorities and silence on the part of the press, the skinheads progressed to more serious, mass organized actions -- to pogroms. The first such attack took place on Oct. 21, 2000, in Moscow, at a Vietnamese hostel near the Sokol subway station. Since the authorities and the media did their best to suppress all mention of the event, impunity inspired the skinheads to make their next move -- an attack on an Armenian school in Moscow (March 15, 2001). The police did not detain a single troublemaker, confining themselves to dispersing the skinheads. Despite protests from Moscow's Armenian community and from officials of the Republic of Armenia, the authorities did their utmost to hush up the incident.

The next stage was the organization of a pogrom at the Yasenevo market [see Current Digest, Vol. 53, No. 17, pp. 4-5.]. Since that attack was unprecedented in scale, it proved impossible to keep it quiet, and the incident was widely covered on TV and in the press.

. . . The next such attack, which began at a market near the Tsaritsyno subway station [see Current Digest, Vol. 53, No. 45, pp. 1-6], subsequently continued at several subway stations and in subway trains and ended at the Sevastopol Hotel, which houses a large number of refugees from Afghanistan. At least 300 skinheads took part in that pogrom, more than 80 people were injured, 22 were hospitalized, and four people (a Moscow Armenian, an Indian citizen, a citizen of Tajikistan and an Afghan refugee) were killed. The events touched off a major public outcry and were covered by all the media. The Moscow authorities were forced to create a special department within the Chief Internal Affairs Administration to combat extremism among young people. The FSB refused to provide the new department with data on skinheads, claiming that it had no information on that subject.

Despite the fact that 300 people had participated in the pogrom, only five ended up in court. Three rank-and-file participants (Rusakov, Polyakov and Trubin) were sentenced to three-year prison terms. Klimanov, who had purchased the rebar [used as weapons], got off with a suspended sentence. And finally, Mikhail Volkov, the middleman between those who ordered the violence and those who carried it out, got nine years. The trial did not determine who had done the ordering. Volkov was declared to have been the organizer. In January 2004, the Supreme Court reduced Volkov's sentence from nine years to five, concurring with the defense's claim that Volkov's guilt as organizer of the pogrom had not been proven.

The Yasenevo and Tsaritsyno pogroms set an example to be emulated. A whole string of others followed: on Prosveshcheniye Prospect in St. Petersburg, in [Moscow's] Old Arbat and in Kapotnya [also in Moscow] (at a Vietnamese hostel). All those arrested were released, and the police took to denying that ethnically motivated attacks were even occurring. I have listed only those that caused the greatest stir. Actually, a wave of ethnic violence swept across the entire country.

If at the beginning of the "second wave" (April 2002), the total number of skinheads in Russia was approximately 35,000 to 40,000, by the time it ends that number will probably be around 75,000 to 80,000 (after which the growth will stop). And since in Russia, unlike in the West, no youth subculture ever disappears (including those that have already faded out in the West, such as hippies and punks), one can predict with confidence that the skinhead movement has taken root among Russia's young people for a long time to come.