Aleksandr Verkhovsky: The authorities are permitting rallies by nationalists, for fear of a repetition of the December events

Source: (info), 18/01/11

· Human Rights Defenders · Racism and Xenophobia

Since the December riots in the Russian capital, the authorities have preferred not to hinder events organized by nationalists, but to regulate them, said Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center for Information and Analysis, commenting on the rallies held on 15 January in Moscow and St. Petersburg in memory of Egor Sviridov, and also the rallies planned for 19 January in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.

On 15 January large rallies were held in Moscow and St Petersburg in memory of Egor Sviridov, the fan of the Moscow Spartak football club shot with a traumatic pistol during a brawl with a group of people from the Caucasus on the night of 5 - 6 December 2010 in Moscow.

“The 15 January demonstrations by nationalists that had official sanction (and this was the case de facto for the demonstration in Moscow, where the organizers were one Yabloko activist and two football fans) passed without incident, as expected. But, of course, these activities were not a simple commemoration of the person killed. No matter how limited were the number of participants in the Moscow demonstration, on conditions laid down by the authorities, or how numerically dominant the police, they found a way to express their point of view, singing “Arise, Great Country” as the demonstration ended. The main thing that the nationalists want now to convince their fellow citizens about is that a real war is going on in society between ‘Russians’ and ‘Caucasians.’ Well, in war - as in war,” Aleksandr Verkhovsky said.

“Now the authorities are seriously afraid of a development of the trend which was to be seen on 11 December; they are inclined to allow the nationalists to hold demonstrations that can be reliably controlled, and completely block other opportunities,” Aleksandr Verkhovsky said. “But,” he emphasized, “the more radical nationalists are trying, and will try in the future, to circumvent the restrictions and repeat in some form or other the success of 11 December.”

Speaking about the demonstrations planned for 19 January in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova that the city governments of Moscow and St. Petersburg had originally banned, the director of the Sova Center pointed out that to date the authorities of both cities have already agreed to allow the anti-fascist demonstrations to go ahead.

“While in Moscow the authorities have ‘deigned’ to permit the march (albeit along the length of only one boulevard and with a ridiculously small, and therefore not very legitimate, limitation on the number of participants), in St. Petersburg for some reason they have agreed only to a picket, and not a rally,’ Verkhovsky stressed. “On 15 January in St. Petersburg nationalists and fans were allowed to hold a rally on the 40th day after the death of Egor Sviridov. The difference between a rally and a picket is only in the use of sound amplifying equipment. Do the authorities in St. Petersburg consider it harmful for passers-by to hear the speeches at the first of these demonstrations, and not at the second? "

Aleksandr Verkhovsky pointed out that representatives of the Sova Centre attend most city demonstrations linked with the issues of racism and anti-racist as observers. “But in this case, as a year ago, we shall be participants too. Staff of the Sova Centre will take part in the march in Moscow,” he said. “From recent news items on Caucasian Knot one could get the impression that we will take part in the demonstration in St. Petersburg, but that of course is not the case, simply because we all live in Moscow.”

Aleksandr Verkhovsky called the murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova “one of the most high-profile political murders of the decade.” He explained: “Perhaps this is because Stanislav Markelov in his work dealt with several sensitive areas of public life at the same time. In particular, this was the issue of racist violence, whose victims Stanislav Markelov represented in court. The fact that the neo-Nazi interpretation of the killing was from the first the dominant one, and became the official interpretation, has brought this topic to the forefront.”

“But, in general, the extremely high levels of racist violence in the country make the figures of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova symbolic for those - very various - social groups that support the ideas of the Committee of 19 January. You can be an ultra-left, a liberal, or someone else, you can be someone without any strong political views, but racist violence touches the moral nerve, it encroaches on the fundamental idea of human equality,” Aleksandr Verkhovsky added. "The Committee of 19 January took an important decision, and one that it has put into practice, not to permit, as a matter of principle, the demonstrations to support any political programme, except anti-fascism (I myself would prefer to call it anti-racism), and this makes it possible for people of very different views to take part in the demonstrations on 19 January.”

Commenting on the investigation into the murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, the director of the Sova Center said that before the trial one cannot speak with any certainty of the participation in this murder of the accused, Nikita Tikhonov and Eugenia Khasis.

“We do not know what the evidence of the prosecution is at present, just as it is not known to the general public,” he said. “That is why we cannot yet directly assert that Nikita Tikhonov committed this murder (or that Evgeniya Khasis was his accomplice). But nor is there anything that seems improbable in this version.”

The lawyer Stanislav Markelov was killed on 19 January 2009 as he was returning from a press conference at the Independent Press Centre on Prechistenka Street on the issue of parole for former army colonel Yury Budanov. Anastasia Baburova, a student at the journalism faculty of Moscow State University and a journalist with Novaya gazeta who was accompanying him was wounded and later died in hospital. Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasis, who are members of nationalist organizations, have been charged with the murder.

Source: Caucasian Knot
Rights in Russia,
19 Jan 2011, 02:08