After they initially had their request for permission to march on January 19 turned down by Moscow city authorities, the January 19 Committee have reached a compromise that will allow both parties to have their cake and eat it too: two standing demos or pickets (at Petrovsky Bulvar, 4, and Chistye Prudy, next to the monument to Griboyedov) with start times staggered an hour apart and with guaranteed safe passage down the boulevards between points A and B. The start time at Petrovsky Bulvar is 19.01; at Chistye Prudy, 20.00. Here is the map of the planned route. If you’re in Moscow on the 19th, join the march! If you’re not, make your way to the nearest Russian embassy or consulate and make your voice heard in memory of Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, and all the other hundreds of people who have been killed and injured by neo-Nazis in Russia over the past several years. Basta!
The January 19 protest action has been publicly endorsed by such folks as writers Boris Strugatsky and Linor Goralik, filmmakers Alexander Mitta and Boris Khlebnikov, musician Andrei Makarevich, artist Vladimir Dubossarsky, and many others.
One of the people who will be marching on January 19 is well-known TV and print journalist Andrei Loshak. He published the following column on the arts and culture website OpenSpace.Ru the other day explaining why he’ll be there.
On the nineteenth of January I plan to take part in a march (which has been curtailed by the mayor’s office to a picket) for the first time in my life. If I’d been at marches in the past, it was only in my capacity as a reporter. I might have been sympathetic to the demonstrators or, on the contrary, felt disgust towards them, but one way or another there was always a distance between them and me, a distance that for various reasons I didn’t want to reduce. But here there is no distance. You walk with a crowd of strangers, and that is the whole purpose.
Of course when “dissenters” [i.e., as at the oppositional Marches of Dissenters] get beaten up [by the police], I feel like intervening and stopping the injustice, because clubbing unarmed elderly people is at very least mean. But I have no urge to embrace the cause of their leaders. I’ll never be able to believe [ex-prime minister Mikhail] Kasyanov with his buttery eyes. I can’t even believe in Khodorkovsky, although I have a lot of sympathy for him. I don’t believe him because he once screwed over a friend of me on a business deal. So I can’t believe in him as the future Saviour, however much I’d like to sometimes. For me, if the imprisoned oligarch is the conscience of the age, then that status comes with some major reservations.
But there are things that aren’t relative. That is, things that are absolute, Nazism among them. It is racially pure, unadulterated, one hundred percent evil. It probably isn’t worth explaining what I mean because it is natural for people to think this way. Anyone who approaches this issue from a relativistic stance by that fact alone arouses serious suspicions. It was possible to doubt until 1933. After twelve years of Nazism in practice, how it is possible to make any concessions to it?
I have a friend named Alem. He was born in Moscow twenty-seven years ago. He went to an ordinary school on the outskirts of the city, and he was different from the rest of the kids in that his skin was slightly darker. His mother is Russian, his dad an Ethiopian. Alem turned out great: a tall man with luxurious dreadlocks, fine features, a toothy smile, and inexhaustible joie de vivre. Alem was a genuine skateboarding virtuoso, an undisputed authority in this field. In April 2004, neo-Nazis jumped him in the metro. There were two of them. They were decently dressed young men, in white sneakers and jeans, not some sweaty-smelling Nazi skinhead lowlifes. When the train pulled up, these neat young men knocked Alem off his feet and for half a minute smashed his head against the granite platform. Then they ran (or maybe even walked) through the closing doors of the train and disappeared. It all worked out quite neatly for them.
Alem was in a coma for five weeks. He had suffered a close craniocerebral injury and two cerebral hemorrhages. But he survived and for the past almost six years he has been learning to walk and speak again. On the inside he hasn’t changed at all: he is still the same fun-loving guy. He calls his wheelchair a “board” and he has covered it with skating stickers. Only the famous slogan “Skateboarding is not a crime” now looks a bit ominous. Sometimes he and I go to concerts of his favorite groups — Slipknot, Korn, Cypress Hill. At one of those concerts he leaned over to me and said, “The audience probably thinks I’m such a wild fan, but it’s just this tremor I have!” This is a typical example of Alem’s sarcasm, which is very much in the spirit of his favorite TV series, House.
He has likewise changed little on the outside. He still wears the same brands of clothing and has the same infectious smile, although he was forced to get rid of his dreadlocks. Over the past six years they had become seriously thin, and when his girlfriend left him there was no one to braid them. He is quite strong: from morning to night he walks from one end to the other of his one-bedroom apartment (which he shares with his mom and brother) with a walker, does exercises, and works to improve his diction. I can’t remember him ever once complaining.
Alem is a living verdict against the neo-Nazis. They ordinarily finish off their victims, but he miraculously survived and is thus a flagrant piece of evidence, irrefutable testimony to the reality of their evil deeds. In any other country he would have become a symbol of the struggle against neo-Nazism, but not in Russia, where no one has any use for him. Alem needs constant, expensive therapy, but the state has never given him any money for it, despite the dozens of letters written by Alem’s brother. Naturally, the criminals were also never found.
I sometimes try and imagine them. I guess that they’ve long ago forgotten about this incident — six years have passed, after all. They have changed, too. They have settled down, had kids, and grown beer bellies. Maybe they have even covered their swastika tattoos with Celtic patterns so that they can go to the beach when they’re abroad. Now they’re “oldsters,” and ordinary values — home, family, work — are in first place. They’re just like other people. Except for the fact that sometimes they do the Sieg Heil at a football match just for fun or over beers, amongst their kind, recall past exploits. Maybe, lowering their voices so the kids won’t hear, they recount how they crippled a “monkey” at Borovitskaya metro station.
My dream is that these Übermenschen would stop feeling like honorable family men. That they would tremble in fear because they’d been driven into the underground, a deep, stinking underground. That instead of going to the multiplexes and the Ashan hypermarkets on the weekends, they would have to move from apartment to apartment, use fake passports, and live every second with the animal fear that they could be captured at any moment. They would be made to understand that Valhalla is cancelled, that they face a perpetual Nuremberg Trial that begins in this world and continues in the next.
On January 19 of last year, they murdered Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov. Nastya and Stas were heroes. However sacrilegious it might sound, to be white and be killed by the fascists you have to earn it. They kill people who have fought evil long and fearlessly, who have tried to make its existence unbearable. The neo-Nazis usually lie in wait for such people with knives and guns. They kill so that other people, people who are a bit less bold and bit less committed, will stay at home and enjoy their tiny private joys and won’t venture out to where they’re not invited.
On January 19, Alem and I are going to the march in memory of Nastya and Stas, no matter how the mayor’s office might try to hamper it. To be more precise, I will be walking in the march and Alem will be riding alongside me on his “board.” Being apolitical in our society is considered good form. But this isn’t about politics. It’s pure ethics. Evil or good? Fascism or antifascism? Unfortunately, there is no such comfortable option as “neutrality.” Whose side are you on?