SKINHEADS AND REFORMS: SMALL, VULNERABLE MOTHS AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF RUSSIAN REALITY

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Last weekend the Vremya Novostei newspaper reported an attack by a skinhead gang, which happened on the Arbat in Moscow. Two African-Americans were attacked – US marines who were escorting the spouse of Bill Young, a US congressman. Mrs. Young, who tried to stop the brawl, was also threatened with some improvised weapons. Despite apologies from the Russian Foreign Ministry, the enraged Youngs quickly left for America, promising to tell the world about conditions prevaling in Russia.

This incident has caused a scandal only because it involved a high-ranking person, moreover one from the US. But similar reports of skinhead attacks have become a routine topic in the Russian media of late.

“Newspaper reports resemble communiques from a war front, more and more,” says Izvestia. “Communiques from a strange front where neither side has a front line, nor flanks or rear.” Foreigners in Russian cities try to avoid going outside alone at night, and send reports about the situation to their homelands. In this manner “half-educated ignoramuses, who cannot and wish do nothing” are shaping the image of our country, Izvestia notes.

As the Gazeta paper noted, for a long time, right up until the president’s intervention, the Moscow police saw no reason for concern – despite the fact that skinheads have repeatedly threatened students from Asia and Africa.

In the meantime, media interest in this topic increases each spring – since 1997, when the Russian neo-nazis promised for the first time to celebrate Hitler’s birthday (April 20) by killing African of Asian people. (However, the Interior Ministry made an authoritative statement that no serious incidents have been registered on that date in the past five years – possibly due to intensified security measures).

It is hard to predict how the anniversary of Hitler’s birth will be marked this year: in addition, Vremya Novostei reported, the sporting authorities have contrived to schedule a soccer match between Spartak and TsSKA for April 21.

The fans of these clubs are renowned for their aggression, and it would hardly be possible to avoid mass brawls, not to mention the fact that teenagers from skinhead gangs make up the majority of soccer fans. Before April 20 foreign embassies distribute warnings to citizens of their states of a possible threat and recommendations, which are finally reduced to words of advice to go outdoors as rarer as possible. For instance employees of the Angolan embassy report that the Russian authorities ignore the major part of complaints of diplomats who regularly “become targets for hunt on the part of skinheads.” Nigerian diplomats assure that quite often skinheads are keeping vigil near the embassy: “sometimes it is even hard to reach for the car from the gate.” At the same time, the police most oftener pretend that nothing is happening.

Meanwhile, the scandal with skinheads touched upon the diplomatic representatives from the advanced states. Embassies of the US, Japan, and, for some reason, Italian and Swedish embassies, received messages with threats to “all foreigners” from a certain anonymous emailer using the name “Ivan, president of a Group of Russian Skinheads,” according to CNN.

Referring to the authoritative opinion of President of the “Hard Rock Fund” corporation Sergey Troitsky, nicknamed Pauk (Spider), the media immediately reported that no organization named Group of Russian Skinheads actually exists. Moreover, Pauk assured the Izvestia newspaper that “our affiliated organizations, connected with skinheads” are planning no actions against foreigners thus far.

Finally, head of the Moscow Department for Combating Juvenile Delinquencies Sergey Zherebin said that nowadays “leaders of skinhead movement urgently need political promotion and attention of the international community.” Therefore, according to Zherebin, ordinary citizens shouldn’t pay attention to similar escapades: “The stir surrounding any public statement of skinheads only add to their popularity.”

As a matter of fact, this terrifying statement of the police officer means that insufficient knowledge alone prevents masses of Russian teenagers from joining the Nazi movement.

In the meantime, in its latest issue the Moskovskiye Vedomosti weekly published a rather expressive interview of a leader of Russian skinheads – a certain Alexander Ivanov-Sukharevsky. It is strikingly enough, what caressing and poetic words the chieftain finds to describe his non-likeable disciples: “They come themselves, they are like small moths, they are so defenseless, these skinheads, they are very vulnerable; nearly all of them are from adverse and poor families, they are indicators of the society’s disease.” (For some reason, this intonation seems to be reminding well-known passages of a very popular TV host, Nikolay Drozdov?)

Further on, Ivanov-Sukharevsky shows his analytic depths of comprehending the problem: “These are people who came into the world when the communist internationalism, their minds are not littered; they were growing free, like weeds and they’ve grown into what their blood has done.”

It wouldn’t be decent to leave even the weeds without care: “We are forced to raise them like father and mothers do, because nobody has ever raised them and taught nothing to them. I repeat, however, that they are the future of our country, they are teenagers, as Dostoyevsky told.”

By the way, the chieftain and teacher of skinheads provides for irrefragable explanations in regard for respect the Russian Nazis suddenly felt toward the Fuehrer, who had in his due time endeavored to resolve, among others, the “Slavic problem” as well: “Hitler decided to liberate Russia from the yoke of Jews and restore the Romanovs’. However, the God didn’t let him win. It means now we are supposed to resume the cause of liberating the Russian nation from the yoke.”

As Moskovskiye Novosti comments on the program: seemingly, it would be ridiculous to deny ravings of the Nazis seriously. “It is obvious that an elderly man with a police waist-belt has merely been pulling the wool over the eyes of the teenagers.” On the other hand, trust is put in him… Consequently, Russian teenagers haven’t yet heard anything more convincing for them. Without being embarrassed, their mentor has been proclaiming himself the continuator of Hitler’s cause, “which is serious already.”

In the same issue Moskovskiye Vedomosti published an article relating the history of Fascism in Russia, which mentions the first demonstration of the Nazis in Moscow – on April 20, 1982, at the Pushkinskaya Square. Complete passiveness of the Moscow police – which even ended in a fight with fans of a sport club received special emphasis.

The author of the article, historian Semyon Charny thinks that an assumption, which had been common in the West in the 1980’s and look to be truthful very much, that the demonstration had been held with the consent (if not to say more) of the special services. According to Charny, the Nazis had most likely “been used as a scarecrow for the population, which had been expressing noticeable discontent with the aggravating life standards.”

Almost the same combination had been held with the Russian National Unity (RNU) in the post-perestroika times: “the special services turned it into a powerful organization, which had been playing the part of a scarecrow at necessary moments (for instance, in October 1993), and when its leader A. Barkashov started to show independence, it was quickly marginalized.”

On the other hand, these days it would be imprudent to neglect the fact that the Nazis can brilliantly play the role of a scarecrow not for the indignant inside the country alone. Having reported about a diplomatic scandal which burst out around the message “of the president of the Group of Russian Skinheads,” the Vremya Novostei newspaper notes that in addition, the activity of the ultra incurs direct damage to the economic interests of Russia. “Because it makes no sense to assure foreign investors to invest money in the country, where even security of diplomats is dubious.”

In the meantime, the Vedomosti published an extensive article by CEO of YUKOS oil corporation Mikhail Khodorkovsky (in accord with the international ratings, Russia’s top billionaire) about dependence of the country’s prospects of development on its international image and, particularly, of the influence of methods the Russian law enforcement agencies use on this image.

If in the situation with skinheads, as many people think, the Russian law protection system evidently commits flaws, in many other cases it applies, as they say, “more zeal than sense.” According to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a certain conflict, which obviously needs interference of the authorities, is ripening in the country.

On the one hand, as the author puts it, a new generation of Russians, which has been raised in the times free from previous, Soviet realities of life, has been growing and manifesting more and more activity in Russia. These young people grew up under conditions of democratic freedoms and are not ready to suffer humiliating attitude toward them. Moreover, – this fact should be taken into account – this generation is competitive enough on international labor markets, and is perfectly aware of that.

Our outstanding law protection system with its conservatism occupies another pole of society. According to Khodorkovsky, all signs of the traditional Soviet style, primarily complete disrespect for people, have preserved intact exactly in the law enforcement agencies.

No wonder that having come across this originality of Russia – from corruption of traffic wardens to the favorite amusement of the Moscow police – registration examination, let alone raids after young men of the call-up age, – a considerable amount of the most promising young men of decent professions decide to emigrate.

Khodorkovsky even calculated that the country loses about $3 million on each of the young guys who receive education in Russia and leave abroad to make careers or do business. “It is at least foolishly to disregard the fact, the author stressed, that openly Soviet style of our law protection system (and the army as well) is among the most significant reasons why up to 100,000 people emigrate from the country each year.”

Indeed, if calculated, the losses would amount to a colossal size. Moreover, most likely not a single skinhead can be found among these 100,000 people – there’s hardly a country which would hanker after similar junk. As mentioned above, the best – the most educated, the most successful – are leaving. There’s not the slightest wish even to think what future those who stay are preparing for our country.

However that may be, judging by some sources, Russian citizens still believe in an opportunity for resolving a multitude of problems, which exist in the country by you-know-who-he-is. As results of the latest poll done by ROMIR (published by Moskovsky Komsomolets), if the presidential elections took place next Sunday, 62% of the electorate would vote in favor of Putin. (Incidentally, the readiness to vote is not a mere rating of sympathies or trust. It should be reminded that Putin’s rating of trust is 72%). It is noteworthy that Zyuganov has still followed Putin, even though the gap is large (Zyuganov is supported by 8.8%). Unfading Zhirinovsky (3.3%) is ranking third. The rest of the politicians can only count on 1-2% of the vote at most.

No wonder that the world media do not give up its attempts to reunite the impression Putin makes on the West with his “over-rushing” ratings in Russia.

Another attempt was made in the course of the Russian’ president’s recent visit to Germany. The Novye Izvestia paper reported the other day that, according to observations of the Welt nespaper of Berlin, unlike in the times of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the Russia of nowadays “doesn’t simulate its influence where is hasn’t any.” The Kremlin humbled to NATO expansion, having realized that it cannot stop this process. Russia denies strikes on Iraq, but, as the German media have it, America shouldn’t beware of any serious aftermath even in case the strikes are delivered.

Commenting on these changes in the policy of Russia, the Berlin newspapers cited Putin: “Our main task is to raise the scale of living. This is only possible is favorable situation surrounding Russia in foreign policy is created.”

It can thus be stated that in defiance of the heavy criticism from the left, on the part of the most popular political party of Russia nowadays, the foreign policy chosen by the authorities did not influence on the popularity of the authorities among the people, who, actually, make, as they say, the electoral basis for the party under the name of CPRF.

Seemingly, this fact remained among the most outstanding mysteries of Russia for the German media. On the contrary, the Novye Izvestia newspaper confidently assumed an explanation for this fact. “At their hearts the Russians long ago abandoned their majestic ambitions. However, they were expecting an official announcement – by the strict and majestic voice – that the ambitions are lifted,” the newspaper assumed. It was when the required disillusion followed; besides, the Novye Izvestia – a newspaper, which the more criticizes the president the worse his relations with his current chief opponent Boris Berezovsky are – proposed to name this phenomenon the “phenomenon of disillusion.”

From the point of the political strategy, Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote, it would be the most correct for Putin to do nothing in the remaining two years in the office: “It is absolutely evident that he will be elected for the second presidency. There’s no alternative to him. Only gross errors can prevent his reelection. A standstill is the best security against any blunders.” Meanwhile, in the newspaper’s opinion, such situation is the best evidence of the fact that the president chose the right course.

Most likely, however, Putin will not manage to rest on his laurels. There are questions to which he will have to answer before the elections, whatever the case is. The first of them is the problem of Chechnya, which has almost become a perpetual issue. On the one hand, our society has got terribly tired with this war, which turned into a permanent nightmare. On the other hand, the authorities, which had given overestimated overtures to the electorate two years ago, certainly cannot resolve to a “new Khasavyurt.”

Moreover, there are clearly shaped “hawks” – “writer-colonel” (a definition of Nezavisimaya Gazeta) Daniil Koretsky outlined their position in the most concentrated manner in his recent interview to Novaya Gazeta. He proposed a special method to tame the Chechen guerrillas: gather leaders of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow and propose them to stop the war immediately. “Stop it from here if you can; in case you cannot – all of you will be sent to your historic fatherland the next day to resolve it on the spot. Your property will be confiscated, money will be used to buy helicopters, planes and missiles complexes.” Moreover, Koretsky is certain that any guerrilla activities in the republic would cease immediately.

More radical measures, from the point of “writer-colonel,” are apt in force majeure circumstances. For instance, following seizure of a hospital in Budennovsk by Basayev, his native village should have been encircled and threaten to eliminate it “in case a single shot sounds.” According to Koretsky, it would be enough: “The Caucasians live in communities. They have very firm kinship ties and relations between clans.”

Besides, Daniil Koretsky has no doubts that it is easy to provide for the legal background for similar actions: “There’s an institution of paramount necessity in the penal law and formally these actions comply with the framework of this institution perfectly.”

Novaya Gazeta, famous for its remedial articles dedicated to the Chechen problem, embarrassingly explains that it published the interview with Koretsky “to clarify the ideology existing among a part of officers of the law enforcement agencies.” It is clear that if similar opinions are present in the society (even though among the security structures), the authorities will keep the issue of methods to resolve the Chechen problem for quite a long time.

Economy is the second, possibly even more significant task for the president. Recently the Vedomosti newspaper reported a joyful piece of news – the industrial growth resumed in March, following the failed starting of the year. However, the experts immediately added a fly in the ointment having stressed that the Russian economy once again showed its dependence from the situation on the oil market: “The downswing concurred with deterioration of foreign economic factors, and when the situation improved an upsurge outlined.”

As for the further prospects, the experts are extremely cautious at assessing them: it is hard to judge now “whether we deal with a new wave of upsurge or have merely returned to the level from which the downswing had begun.” As before, investment shortage in the “domestic” industries is the main obstacle to the steady growth.

Not for nothing the president lately reproached the government for its “non-ambitiousness,” that is insufficiency of the speed of economic growth installed into the government program, which would at least give a hope to reach the level of the most weakly developed EU states. Portugal is traditionally announced as a “sparring-partner” (a definition of the Kommersant newspaper). “Acceleration becomes the top topic in the Russian policy,” Kommersant noted. And also the top topic of the presidential address.

At the same time, it is not hard to increase the scheduled figures in the government program, as the president wishes to. It is much harder to answer the question: how could the economic growth be accelerated in practice?

The measures presidential aide Andrei Illarionov proposed over a year ago were taken as a basis, Kommersant explains. As is easy to guess, the matter concerns structural reforms – primarily, reformation of the natural monopolies and housing and communal services.

In the opinion of Illarionov, the level of state expenditures which is annually installed into the federal budget, is ruining the Russian economy. (In his due time, the presidential aide had accused Anatoly Chubais jointly with the IMF of carrying out a “socialistic policy”). If reduction of the state spending proves to be a success (the proposed percentage is 1% of the GDP, that is 100 billion), i.e. cut taxes and diminish the role of the state in the economy (read – reduce the role of officials), this would give the desired formula for economic growth.

It all looks very convincing but the government is taking its time with claiming responsibility for carrying out a socially unpopular policy. “It is an open secret, Kommersant writes, that a sharp state spending cutoffs would not enjoy support of the electorate, whereas the Duma and the presidential elections are approaching.”

Therefore a statement about launching a new stage of reforms was left for the presidential address – such a popularity rating as Putin’s can withstand a great deal. Undoubtedly, the issue of the budget impact of the plans, a reduction of state spending, is also a contributing factor.

“Sharing responsibility for unpopular liberal policies is still a matter for the future,” Kommersant promises.

In general, the population of Russia should not be expecting especial welfare in the near future. Meanwhile, as is known from the history of Russian reforms, the limit of strength is a finite value and the disappointment can prove to be sudden and unalterable. It can collapse any rating – as had already happened in the times of Yeltsin.

The only thing left is to remind our society that everything could be much worse. As Khodorkovsky said at a recent presentation of the Open Russia association, at dawn of perestroika “corruption had saved us from the civil war: we had factually been offsetting with money with the people who could have made something resembling the war of 1917.”

However, the times have changed, and nowadays reduction of the share of state spending in the GDP can alone ensure stability and economic growth. If the authorities finally resolve to a similar step, they should be supported in every way possible.

The malcontents should sometimes (for instance, on April 20) look out the window in order to realize how wrong they are. Does your window happen to look out on Pushkinskaya Square?

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