Saturday, December 12, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Right-Wing and Left-Wing Extremist Groups Similar in Tactics but Different in Organization, Moscow Journalist Finds

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 12 – “Fascists” and “anti-fascists” in Russia today use such similar tactics that many people see in them “not political opponents but two bands of ‘fighters,’” much in the same way that Germans in the early 1930s viewed clashes between Nazi groups led by Ernst Rohm and Communist ones under Ernst Thalmann, according to a Moscow journalist.
But both then and now, Ruslan Gorevoy writes in this week’s “Novaya versiya,” there were important ideological differences and even more important organizational ones, even if these were and are not always obvious to many of the uninitiated or even to all the immediate participants (
“The mass fights, shootouts, and murders of the more odious leaders of one or the other side,” Gorevoy says, “may make it appear to those not involved in the mysteries of the ideological conflict that what is going on is not a fight between political opponents but between two bands of street fighters.’
But “despite the similarities in external attributes,” he continues, “the differences” between the ten or so radical extremist groups on the right and the ten or so radical extremist groups on the left are to be found in the very different organizational arrangements of the two groups.
“Pro-fascist groups as a rule,” the “Novaya versiya” investigative reporter says, “do not have a centralized administration, act entirely on their own and do not maintain contact with others like themselves even inside [the Russian Federation], let alone with European or American Nazis.”
Indeed, he points out, “even at various joint actions of the ‘Russian March’ type, the extreme right groups come together on an individual basis, in petty groups” and their leaders” frequently are not acquainted one with the other,” a pattern that makes the extreme right more anomic and harder to control but also in many cases less of an organized threat.
The situation with regard to the extremists on the left is “entirely otherwise,” Gorevoy says, with “the majority” of such groups being “cells of one of the international structures of the extreme left,” be it the Youth Human Rights Movement … or the Network Against Racism and Intolerance.
These organizations, the journalist continues, are extremely well organized and even disciplined, they have “powerful legal centers which function under the wing of human rights organizations, and they are financed not only by Western NGO foundations but also by local businessmen of non-Slavic origin.”
On the one hand, he suggests, that gives these groups a greater ability to coordinate what they do, but on the other, it means that the Russian powers that be can take control of them more easily, either by going after the sources of their funding or by seizing those higher up the chain of command.
But those possibilities are affected by the reality that in many places in Russia now, the anti-fascists have “their own unorganized comrades in arms,” groups like the anti-fascists in St. Petersburg that lack clearly identified leaders and ties and thus have more in common with simple hooligans than with a political organization.
Such groupings come together on the basis of Internet forums, get acquainted that way and decide to engage in one or another “action.” In such cases, “to speak about any ideology is impossible for it is completely lacking,” Gorevoy says. Rather, “there is a desire to show one’s strength in the company others similarly inclined.”
Because of these differences in the groups on the left, the Russian powers that be have deployed different resources against them, the journalist continues. The FSB “looks after” the “well-organized” anti-fascists, while “ordinary militiamen” are responsible for dealing with “the undirected” ones.
There is another characteristic that extremist groups on the right and left share: a tendency to ascribe to “little known” or possibly “non-existent” groups responsibility for their actions, especially when they involve murders or other crimes that could entail serious punishments if the powers that be decided to bring them to trial.
And that tendency, Gorevoy says, raises a serious question: “Why do the law enforcement organs prefer to catch radicals from virtual organizations and are not too willing to punish the more well-known real leaders of the right- and left-wing militants” who are very much more on public view?
The reasons for that, he suggests, are entirely understandable. Those in the law enforcement agencies do not want to “overload themselves with work” or put themselves at risk. At the present time, he notes, “there are no special sections for the struggle with extremists in a single force structure,” and consequently, officials have other, more direct “responsibilities.”
An FSB officer who is responsible for “contacts with extremist organizations and their leaders” told Gorevoy on condition of anonymity that “the murder of an activist of a political organization, whether of the far-right or far-left trend always is a crime that attracts attention,” and consequently, those who carry it out are interested in deflecting attention from themselves.
But there is a bigger problem, Pavel Chikov, the head of the Agora Human Rights Organization, said. The powers that be do not have any criteria for evaluating what is going on in almost all cases and thus are not able to “distinguish [extremists] from ordinary hooliganism,” with which these groups often share many superficial characteristics.
In fact, Gorevoy concludes, “at present, neither society nor the law enforcement agencies have a single approach to the question of how ‘skinheads’ should be considered: political activists or simple hooligans who cover their base instincts with political slogans or one kind or another.” As a result, the legal system isn’t working, but these groups very much are.

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