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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Shock in Extremism

The recent march of members of the neo-Nazi movement Russian National Unity, or RNE, through Moscow was described by Russian Justice Minister Andrei Krasheninnikov as "a shock to the authorities." But was it really? The march was supposed tocommemorate the 66th anniversary of Hitler's coming to power in Germany and was scheduled weeks in advance. The Prosecutor General's Office and the Federal Security Service are well informed about RNE's activities. They have conducted dozens of inspections over the last five years of the RNE base in Terletsky park in the east of Moscow and have "found nothing illegal" in swastikas, light arms and the stacks of anti-Semitic literature. The members of RNE in their black uniforms and armbands bearing swastika-like emblems were recognized by the authorities of the eastern district of Moscow as a "people's self-defense volunteer unit" and were allowed to "maintain order" at the park and the nearby markets. So how could their march be a shock?

Krasheninnikov says there are no laws in Russia prohibiting Nazi symbols and propaganda. This is outright disinformation. Article 29 of the Constitution states clearly that "all propaganda inciting social, racial, national or religious hatred is prohibited." Article 6 of the law, adopted in 1995 to commemorate the more than 20 million Russians who died in World War II, also prohibits Nazi symbols and propaganda. There is also presidential decree No. 310 signed March 23, 1995, which orders all law-enforcement structures to combat extremist organizations, particularly those of neo-Nazi orientation.

So there are more than enough laws, but rather a lack of willingness on the part of the Justice Ministry, police and the Prosecutor General's Office to enact them. The Justice Ministry has registered 24 regional organizations of RNE and now refuses to ban the RNE because it has not yet been registered as a federal organization. The Prosecutor General's Office filed a complaint against the RNE's newspaper "Russian Order" in a Moscow court because "Russian Order" did not provide the State Committee on Media with all its issues since 1997. Yet the fact that the "Russian Order" has a swastika as its logo and calls the Moscow government "a Jewish gang" obviously does not bother the prosecutors.

Complaints of RNE members about "abuses of their rights" by the authorities are therefore utterly groundless. The fact that the "repressive" Justice Ministry has not yet registered them as a federal organization does not do them any harm. The only reason an organization might need the status of a federal organization is that this allows it to participate in elections to the State Duma. But as RNE leader Alexander Barkashov told me himself in an interview, the RNE is not interested in Duma elections because "the Duma is good for nothing and one can have a lot more influence on real life operating at the grass-roots level."

For years these grass-roots activities did not worry the state authorities. Now state officials only seem to be talking about taking action so as to protect themselves, rather than protecting human rights and democracy. Proceedings against Barkashov were only started after he threatened Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, saying he would "bring 100,000 Russian men to the capital and show him what we are worth." But the case against Barkashov is doomed to fail because it is based on article 318 of the penal code, which punishes "violence against a representative of state power." In the court Barkashov may successfully argue that there is nothing violent about 100,000 protesters. It will be much harder for him to escape it if he is charged with inciting national and racial hatred according to article 282 of the penal code. But the Prosecutor General's Office has almost never used that article against neo-Nazis.

In fact, it is hard to imagine the Prosecutor General's Office taking any action against the neo-Nazis, considering that acting Prosecutor General Mikhail Katyshev is an open friend of Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, a former deputy prosecutor general who recently stirred up a scandal by saying that the Jewish members of the former government were conducting genocide against the Russian people. Nor is there likely to be much action from the State Press Committee, whose recent head, Boris Mironov, made himself famous with the phrase, "If being a Russian nationalist means to be a fascist, then I am a fascist."

As for the general public, it is mostly indifferent to the Nazi symbolism and actions. All opinion polls show that no more than one-third of the population is actively opposed to the extremists. Especially worrisome is that many communist leaders adopted Barkashov's rhetoric at the same time, accusing him of being an agent provocateur of the authorities. That just means that the communists view extremist nationalism as a future political bonanza where they do not need any adversaries.

Unfortunately, the promises of President Boris Yeltsin to "crack down on extremism" are poor consolation. The president is so unpopular that his impotent roarings often only add to the Nazis' popularity. The syllogism is very simple. "The president is bad. He is against the Nazis. Therefore the Nazis are good."

The same may be said about sensationalist media reports that show Barkashov's portraits and swastikas without explaining why what he does is unhealthy. A new generation has grown up with no memory of the swastikas on the wings of planes bombing Russian cities, and it is these young people that Barkashov and others like National Bolshevik Party Leader Eduard Limonov aim to lure into their ranks. For some of these young people it is just a game. But evil actions sprang from evil games.

Dmitry Babich is a correspondent for the "Obozrevatel" weekly analytical program on TV 6. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.