Julian Evans’ “Two Russias”

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The “March of Dissent” continues to generate opinion and discussion. I especially liked Julian Evans’ description of how the Other Russia and Nashi rallies provide an interesting contrast as well as serve as symbolic testaments to the state of Russian youth politics. Here is an excerpt:

Julian Evans, Moscow

Two rallies in Moscow weekend – one by the new opposition movement called The Other Russia, the other by the Kremlin-funded Nashi youth group – provided a stark contrast.

I was walking up Tverskaya, through Pushkin Square, when the police started. A long, long row of Ministry of Interior (MVD) police, the foot-soldiers of the Russian state, which seemingly has an infinite number of them to dispose of at any given time. They were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a green line stretching 600 metres to Mayakovskaya, where an opposition rally was taking place.

I walked along, feeling smaller and smaller as more and more police appeared. Next came the OMON riot police, in their white and grey camouflage, and their big, black boots, standing around in fours or fives, feeling elite compared to the MVD grunts, talking into headpieces or comparing truncheon techniques.

And all along the street were parked state vehicles – not just riot vans and meat wagons, but also fire engines, even bulldozers and street-cleaning machines – everything the city authorities could lay their hands on, for the purpose of controlling the deadly threat.

The deadly threat turns out to be about 1,500 protestors, mainly quite young or quite old, milling around Triumph Square in front of the statue of the Bolshevik poet Mayakovsky. This is the first public rally of the ‘Other Russia’ movement, a motley and controversial union of liberal forces, led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov, and various radical nationalist groups, whose best-known leader is Eduard Limonov, geriatric punk novelist and leader of a youth movement called the National Bolsheviks, or Natbols.

The square is small, and looks about three quarters full. On one side are the black and red flags of the Natbols and the Red Youth Vanguard (AKD), whose symbols are a hand grenade and a Kalashnikov, respectively. The AKD look like proper thugs, the Natbols look like half thugs and half white-collar boho misfits. This is how Limonov described a typical Natbol, in his Mein Kampf-esque manifesto (called, by the way, The Other Russia): “a strange, unorganized person living on society’s margin, a talented pervert, fanatic, psychopath, unlucky fellow.”

I see Aleksander Averin, the Natbols’ press secretary, among the group. I interviewed him a couple of months ago, in his boho flat in the north of Moscow. He is a pale, sickly looking boy of 23, with long, Byronic hair and a twitching, nervous face. He sat at his desk talking to me, in front of a pick-axe hanging on his wall, under a sign saying ‘God is with us!’. His young wife is in prison for storming the health ministry in 2004, and throwing a portrait of Putin out of a window. She was 22, a university student, but desecrating a portrait of Putin was deemed sufficiently grave to merit a three-year sentence.

I see his wife’s paintings all over the flat – one of a sea of flames, another in a Futurist style of her looking beautiful and heroic in a Natbol red armband, against a brooding city landscape. And then I see a photo of her, standing on a small shrine next to a pair of handcuffs, and she looks plain, a little geeky, the kind of girl you wouldn’t notice at school. A marginal person. I asked Aleksander why he, a lapsed engineering student, and his young wife were willing to risk beatings, torture, prison and possibly death for the Natbol movement. “We are like Limonov”, he said, face twitching. “We are Romantics. We want to lead remarkable lives.”

The young Natbols, of whom there are perhaps 30,000 across Russia, fervently admire Limonov, who in turn seems to narcissistically adore their immolations. An undeniably trendy figure in Russia, he represents an unfortunate nexus between avant-garde punk and Fascism. I once asked him why his movement went in for all the quasi-Nazi symbols – the red flags and arm-bands. He shrugged and giggled: “The kids like it.”

Read on . . .