Spotlight Interview: Moscow Anarchist Black Cross

[A few weeks ago we re-posted an action alert sent from some brothers out of Russia. The following is an in depth interview with Moscow ABC – Enjoy!]

How long has Moscow ABC been in operation, and what does it do?

There were previous anti-repression groups, but first incarnation under label of ABC-Moscow was set up in 2003 as a coordinating organ between existing groups, but around 2005 it had degraded to state of mere internet project. Around 2007, group was reorganised as an autonomous entity, and has been around ever since.

Most of our activity is spreading information and solidarity calls, and raising channeling funds in benefit of repressed anarchist anti-fascist comrades. Occasionally we organise letter-writing and other such events.

Are there many groups affiliated with you in Russia?

It is hard to say, as usually anytime when problem arises in some city, people come together and organise under banner of ABC on a temporary basis. However, besides Moscow I would say only Saint Petersburg has some more stable group.

What is the latest on Artyom Bystrov?

Court against Artyom and three other Nizhni-Novgorod anti-fascists has began, but this far there has been only more technical hearings.

In America, anarchist groups get harassed and set up by the state often, but on average, Americans do not let openly fascist groups operate freely, and although antifa is not common, it is usually supported by the public. How does that compare to the situation there? Is anarchism or antifa popular in Russia?

Unfortunately, most Americans probably think “Russian ultranationalists” are fictional terrorists from a “Call of Duty” video game…how would you describe an average Russian fascist?

I think it makes sense to answer these questions together.

For the beginning, there is no such thing as “an average Russian fascist”. Far-right in Russia has every possible tendency and tactic represented, there are orthodox christian fundamentalists, Nazi pagans, secular national socialists, third  positionists, “anarcho”-nationalists, subcultural Nazi hardcore punks, national bolsheviks, Russian (ethnic) nationalists and supporters of “all-white” solidarity,  some prefer legal means, others prefer bombings and murder. At times, they hate each other more than anti-fascists or migrants, at times, they manage to unite for “common goals”. Even amongst those preferring most violent methods, many position themselves as “apolititical racist democrats”, that means, they prefer parliamentarian system but for exclusively ethnic Russian (or white) people. Really, “fascist” and “far-right” are just umbrella terms for a huge variety of tendencies, without much common denominators. Most are not personally ready for any kind of armed struggle, but ideologically big part of the far right is either positive or ambivalent towards it.

According to opinion polls, up to half of the people may support some aspects of far-right program (curbing migration, “Russia for Russians, Moscow for Moscovites” etc.), just a minority is supportive of the far-right movement.  However, although majority of the people is against far-right, antifa is associated with street violence and other illegal means of action. And this perception is right – there is not really anything like legal antifa in Russia. This is why majority of people is against antifa, although it is hard to say for sure.

Anarchist movement is maybe more known in Russia than in any other country without substantial current anarchist presence in politics, as anarchist characters were common in Soviet movies and books (most commonly portrayed by drunken sailor, mad bomb thrower or a bloodlusty Makhnovist). However, I would not say that population is especially symphathetic to anarchist ideas.

This subject raises a hot issue in America, which is violent anarchists. Of course, anarchists were very influential creating Occupy Wall Street, a nation-wide non-violent movement, who then were attacked by a national conspiracy of assaults and kidnapping by the state, only for the media to come out and brand anarchists as being too violent! Is there a problem with violent anarchists in Russia, or is it propaganda?

It is neither, as anarchists in Russia are not making much impact in terms of violence. In Northern Kaukasus, there are in average more than 1000 armed incidents each year (bombs and shootouts) for which authorities blame armed islamists – for sure some of these are in fact some business or mafia conflicts, but still bombs and shootings are a weekly issue. There are also 1-2 racist murders each week. In this contexts, anarchists smashing something each 3 years is not much. Nowadays anarchists also burn things and occasionally even bomb something, but it is still a rather small-scale in comparison with islamist and far-right mayhem.

Anarchist street protests seldom turn violent in Russia, due to strong police presence. For example, in Moscow there are 2000 full-time riot police, 50% of whom are on duty all around the clock. During Duma elections, more than 50 000 riot police, police, internal army, police students, civil volunteers and private guards were on duty in Moscow only. Violent protests is also heavily legally persecuted – not as heavily as in US though. I think, that in case of a serious economical downturn, there could be same kind of dynamics in the streets as in US, no matter then uneven odds. But unlike US and Western Europe, Russia has pretty much recovered from the current economic crisis, due to flourishing oil exports. This could change however, if Western Europe fails to buy oil with current prices one day.

Have you been involved in the Anti-Putin movement? What is it like? Does this movement have any other interests, such as fighting fascism, corruption, and economic inequality?

It would be more correct do describe movement as “movement for fair elections”, as according to polls there are even people involved who voted for Putin or United Russia, but who would prefer more fair elections (although they are a small minority for sure).

Of course most of anarchists have participated to these protests. However, in general there is definitely no interest to fight fascism, as far-right is a visible and important tendency in the protests. Economic inequality is also not a theme – judging from outlook of the protesters in Moscow, many people are rather well off. Many of the demonstrators openly support Mikhail Prokhorov, a multi-billionaire hard-line neoliberal candidate for a president, who believes there is not enough economic inequality in Russia.

Anti-corruption is on the agenda though, as a matter of fact, most popular Russian far-right politician Alexey Navalny has made his career mostly by anti-corruption campaigning. At this point, anarchist calls for a more wide, radical and social program have had absolutely no any impact to the general movement. However, in many cities anarchists have
been a very visible part of the protests.

What do you all think about Food Not Bombs and Occupy Wall Street here
in the states?

I think Food Not Bombs has been a big inspiration for many people in Russia, for huge amount of people it has been a gate to a more general anarchist movement. I think there could be some differences , for example in Russia most homeless are in such a bad mental and physical condition, that there is no really chance to have them self-organise, in such cases Food Not Bombs may just provide humanitarian support. Also, in many Russian cities there has not been success in getting donations or dumpstered food for FNB, so it relies on money of participators themselves.

Occupy Wall Street has also been a big inspiration, there is also “Russian Occupy Movement” (their website seems to be down now though). However authorities in Moscow and I think in pretty much all other Russian cities have a zero-tolerance policy towards any standing demonstrations, ever since such strategy was successfully used to topple pro-Russian power in Ukraine in 2004. For example, day after presidential elections 5th of December, some protesters attempted to stay in Pushkin square after end of the legal demonstration, but they were immediately nicked. So in order to pursue such tactics in Moscow, you need at least thousands, if not tens of thousands of people for starters. But maybe some day it will work out.

If someone wanted to come join you, could they? Would they need to take

ABC-Moscow is not really a group which recruits people. However if some known and trusted person in Moscow anarchist movement wants to join, we propably let him/her to join. Personally I do support an open model of organising, and there are groups to which we would direct previously unknown people, if they contacted us and wanted to join. For example Autonomous Action of Moscow, which I am  also a member. Every candidate is screened and met at least once before invited to a meeting of Autonomous Action of Moscow.

What is the best way to support Moscow ABC and/or Artyom Bystrov?

To put it shortly – support actions and material support. If you are not into a ritualistic protest in your local consulate, mess with your local racists, or think about whatever kind of actions, which would both make local impact but be used to raise awareness about problems of anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia.

If you want to directly contact or donate to Moscow ABC, please check out the links on the previous post about them.

Moscow ABC, thanks for your insight, and good luck!