Yesterday (January 26, 2009), Novaya Gazeta published a short compendium of joyous LiveJournal reactions to news of the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova on the part of Russia fascists and neo-Nazis. We simply don’t have the heart to reproduce even the slightest bit of that hate-fest on these pages. If you want to test your knowledge of sub-standard Russian hate speech, then you’re welcome to go here. Be warned: it is not for the faint of heart. The editors of Novaya Gazeta say as much in their brief introduction to the publication. The only point of their intervention, they write, is to make one thing perfectly clear to their readers: a war is on.
In a sidebar piece entitled “The Nazi Chronicles: December 2008−January 2009,” they show why this war is not just a matter of the “sensational” murders of Markelov and Baburova and similar infamous cases. Last year in Russia, no fewer than 87 people were murdered by Nazis, while 387 people were injured in neo-fascist attacks. In the past two months alone, at least 50 people have fallen victim to such attacks: 26 of them were killed; the other 24 were injured.
So now we know the reaction of the fascists to the latest episodes in this civil war, and we know the reaction of Novaya Gazeta. But what about the rest of Russia?
In a footnote to the Nazi hate-fest piece, Novaya Gazeta makes a point of quoting a Russian Foreign Ministry press release. Their spokespeople are concerned that the murder of Baburova is being “artificially politicized” in order to discredit Russia. This, in turn, explains the most remarkable non-event of the past week: the total absence of a response to the murders on the part of the President and Prime Minister. For them to say anything at all, then, would be tantamount to admitting that there was something in the politics of Markelov and Baburova either to warrant killing them or to warrant talking about their murders. We are thus left to make three (perhaps mutually inclusive) conclusions. 1. They could care less. 2. They approve. 3. They have completely lost control of their country—and thus are loath to “politicize” this awful fact by admitting they both care and disapprove.
But what about everyone else? When we add up the Nazis; the staff at Novaya Gazeta; assorted editorialists, journalists, and TV reporters; some deputies in the State Duma; human rights activists; all the folks who have attended various memorials, marches, and protests countrywide (the bulletins on the Institute for Collective Action website are a good source here), I think we’ll barely make a dent in the 142,008,838 people estimated to be living in Russia.
So what gives?
Something’s got to give. For example, the windows. . .
On the news wires I read that the anti-fascists and anarchists who came [to downtown Moscow] yesterday to honor the memory of the murdered human rights activists smashed shop windows in a fit of rage and caused a pogrom in the metro. To my great surprise, I detected solidarity in my heart with these barbaric actions, and I even felt regret that I hadn’t been there myself and smashed everything up. And this despite the fact I’m not an extremist at all, and not even a leftist activist, but an ordinary, quiet university teacher. I like going to department store sales and drinking coffee on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. And I am against such actions in principle. But in this case I got it: this is righteous anger, justifiable rage, a reaction against contempt for our lives, for our feelings, for our intellectual life. When people begin to publicly smash up a city, this means that they no longer have any other way to draw attention to the problems that trouble them. When French hooligans burn cars, schools, and libraries in their own cities, they do this because snobby French politicians don’t consider the problems of these poorly educated and unemployed people important or a priority. The same thing is happening in Russia. The entire population of the country—including highly educated people, the intelligentsia, and all those whose personal political culture has taken on the semblance of views and convictions—is treated with nothing but contempt. The most horrible thing about all this is that we have heard about the LATEST political murder. No one is surprised anymore: that is the terrifying thing. Comparisons are made with [the murders of] Politkovskaya and Starovoitova, with the beatings of this person or that. The cases are analyzed—what is similar, what is dissimilar. . . In terms of the quantity and quality of all these murders, Russia is probably already on a par with Pakistan or Lebanon. There is nothing at all here that even smacks of Europe. Notwithstanding my respect for the country of which I am a citizen, Russia was and remains one big prison camp. When distinguished, famous people, supremely professional people, are “taken out” in broad daylight simply to scare everyone else, and everyone understands that nothing will happen, and all that remains is to wait for the next such criminal act; when our intellectual efforts are of no avail, and no one has any use for our brains and even less use for our conscience (it might just as well be flushed down a toilet), then apparently all that remains for us is to smash shop windows. Because this way we can vent our aggression against this humiliating situation we all find ourselves in.