Khimki One Year Later: July 28, 2010 – July 28, 2011
July 28 marked a year to the day since the famous demonstration in Khimki during which 300-400 young anarchists and antifascists from Moscow and the Moscow Region marched from the train station to the Khimki town hall (to the applause of local residents), where they set off smoke grenades, pelted the building with stones, and spray-painted several slogans on its walls.
It was a protest not only against the blatant clear-cutting of the free Khimki Forest to make way for a Moscow-Petersburg paid highway of dubious worth, but also against the methods the woodcutters employed to shield their actions from public protest. Environmentalists who tried to get in the way of the construction equipment were dispersed not only by police but also by masked soccer hooligans. When their masks slipped off, the protesters recognized several of them as ultra-rightists.
The demonstration was spontaneous: it was held instead of a concert by two Moscow hardcore groups. During the demonstration, Pyotr Silayev, the singer for one of these groups, Proverochnaya Lineika, encouraged the demonstrators with chants shouted into a megaphone. The megaphone is one of Silyaev’s traditional “musical instruments”; you can find old videos on the Web where it is clear that he is shouting his fight songs into a megaphone: “It’s time to take the consequences for your culture! It’s time to take the consequences!”
Pyotr has been taking the consequences ever since: after managing to flee the country the day after the demonstration, he has spent time as a homeless vagrant in Western Europe, a squatter occupying abandoned dwellings, and a prisoner in a Polish camp for illegal immigrants. He is now applying for political asylum in a country neighboring Russia.
Another of the “defendants,” Muscovite Denis Solopov, an antifascist activist, artist (the first exhibitions of his paintings took place recently in Kyiv and Moscow), and a jeweler by training, was held in Lukyanovsky Prison, Kyiv’s notorious pre-trial detention facility, from March 2 to July 13 of this year. During this time he managed to catch pneumonia and spent Victory Day, May 9, in solitary confinement. Denis was meanly arrested outside the offices of the Kyiv Migration Service, which had rejected his asylum request. The fact that at the time he had already been recognized as UN mandate refugee and that this status had been confirmed by the Kyiv office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, did not stop the Ukrainian jailers: they had in hand a request to extradite Denis to the Russian Federation. However, all the protests actions organized by comrades in Kyiv, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and other cities were not in vain: on July 28, 2011, Denis Solopov left Ukraine and went further into exile, traveling to a third country [the Netherlands] which had agreed to admit him as a political refugee.
Two more participants in the Khimki demonstration heard the Khimki city court’s verdict in late June. Alexei Gaskarov, a correspondent for the web site www.ikd.ru (the Institute for Collective Action has specialized in coverage and analysis of social protests in Russia for nearly seven years, and Alexei has worked for them most of that time), was acquitted, while Maxim Solopov, a student at the Russian State University for the Humanities, was given a two years of probation. It was a surprising decision, considering that one and the same witnesses gave contradictory testimony against both of them, and that the defense had challenged claims that these witnesses had actually been in Khimki during the demonstration.
This largely “vegetarian” sentence was preceded by the stint Alexei and Maxim spent in the Mozhaisk Pre-Trial Detention Facility during the first phase of the preliminary investigation (from late July to mid-October 2010), as well as a vigorous public campaign for their release. Thus, during the first international action days on their behalf (September 17-20, 2010), thirty-six protest actions were held in thirty-two cities in twelve countries in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as in North America. Protests also took place in Russia, Siberia, and Ukraine, of course. The Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages managed in a short time to mobilize not only people in Moscow, Petersburg, and Kyiv in support of the young Russian activists, but also people in Krakow, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, London, and Berlin. In Athens and New York, protests for the release of Alexei and Maxim took place on two occasions in late September.
Political refugees from Moscow who (unlike Denis Solopov and Pyotr Silayev) have not made official asylum requests, continue to take the consequences for the Khimki demonstration, as well as for their protest culture, including the stones, smoke grenades, and spray-paint cans. They have dispersed to various cities and countries. They have not seen friends and relatives for a year now, and they are still afraid to return home. They were forced to flee Moscow a campaign of mass intimidation unprecedented in recent Russian history. The campaign has focused on the youth subculture scene to which many of them belonged – the antifascist punk/hardcore community. Arrests, searches, interrogations, and beatings took place throughout most of August 2010 not only in Moscow and the Moscow Region, but also in other regional capitals, including Nizhny Novgorod and Kostroma. In Zhukovsky, a town in the Moscow Region, seventy people were arrested before a concert, while in Kostroma more than 260 people were arrested in similar circumstances. The police officers who interrogated antifascist Alexander Pakhotin promised to cut off his ear, and it took him several weeks to recover from the beating he suffered at their hands. But they haven’t left him alone even now, a year later. In early July of this year he suddenly got a phone call inviting him to report to Petrovka, 38 [Moscow police HQ], for an informal discussion. Alexander reasonably replied to the caller that he preferred to talk with police investigators only after receiving an official summons. For Moscow police investigators, however, an official summons is, apparently, something incredibly difficult. It’s probably easier for them to hunt down and beat up obstinate witnesses – which is exactly what happened to Alexander Pakhotin.
Further evidence of the secret police’s abiding interest in the people who took part in last year’s Khimki demonstration is the canard that circulated in the Russian media in late June: Pyotr Silayev had allegedly been arrested in Brussels by Interpol at the request of Russian law enforcement authorities. Antifascists quickly refuted this lie: at the time, Pyotr was fishing, and he was not in Brussels. Apparently, the authorities were trying their best to patch up their reputation after losing the casing against Gaskarov and Solopov in the Khimki court.
And all this time the saga of the Khimki Forest per se has continued. There was last year’s big demonstration on Pushkin Square [in Moscow] with headliners music critic Artemy Troitsky, rock musician Yuri Shevchuk, and Maria Lyubicheva, lead singer for the popular group Barto. Then was there the temporary halt to the logging of the forest. This was followed by a vicious musical parody of the activists by a musician [Sergei Shnurov] who had been previously seemed like a member of the “alternative scene,” but now turned out to be singing almost with the voice of the Ministry of Truth. There was wintertime tree-hugging and springtime subbotniks. And finally, there was Russian president’s meeting with public figures and his announcement that the highway would go through the forest after all. Subsequently, we’ve witnessed the Anti-Seliger forum, to which two of every species of oppositional beast came (where were all of them during the constant demos and clashes in Khimki?), and their using the misfortune of the Khimkians to grandstand in the run-up to the 2011-2012 election season. Finally, there is the tent camp set up by the Rainbow Keepers and other eco-anarchists, which opened on July 27, 2011, the eve of the first anniversary of the famous demonstration.
What has this past year shown us? That in our country, any project, even one that is obviously directed against society, will be forced through all the same if big money and the authorities back it. That there is still no control over criminalized local authorities: not only have none of the officials mixed up in dubious affairs been put on trial, but none have even been fired. That the power of social solidarity still counts for something: if it cannot stop harmful projects, it can at least defend activists who have fallen captive to the penal system and get people out of jail. That radical political action (of which last year’s demonstration was an instance) is quite effective at drawing attention to acute problems, but that it must be effectively deployed and backed up with infrastructure, however informal; otherwise, the emotional, political, and physical toll on the movement will be too high and may jeopardize its very existence. This, perhaps, is the most important lesson for the social movement, but it bears repeating. As you know, in our country, even if you have brains and talent, it takes a huge effort to roast your enemy over the fire. For if you relax for just a second, lo and behold, he’s already roasting you over the fire. But there is hope, and the future still hasn’t been written.
July 27-31, 2011