By Richard Arnold
Every year on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, neo-Nazis around the world engage in actions designed to “celebrate” the Fuhrer’s entry into the world on April 20. Russian neo-Nazis have been no exception to this trend and, in the past, have engaged in a number of attacks against ethnic minorities during this day. In 2013, for instance, Russian neo-Nazis killed a non-Slav in a racially motivated attack in St. Petersburg, and a number of soccer teams unveiled banners congratulating the Fuhrer on his birthday or held up signs with other provocative slogans (see EDM, April 29, 2013). Violence on Hitler’s birthday was at its peak between 2006 and 2009, so unsurprisingly the more recent drop in intensity of violence mirrors the general decline in the skinhead movement in Russia and its shift toward merging with soccer hooligan groups. However, April 20, 2014, promised to be interesting given Russian military adventures in Ukraine.
With regard to Ukraine, April 20 saw the killings of pro-Russian activists supposedly by Ukrainian far-right Pravvyi Sektor militants who left a “calling card” announcing their responsibility (see EDM, April 24). While many argue that these killings were orchestrated by the Kremlin, the fact that they happened on April 20 lends at least slight credence to the Kremlin’s protestations. On the other hand, this could also have been why April 20 in particular was chosen as the day for the Kremlin to put its controlled groups to work in Ukraine. Similarly, while both sides in the Ukrainian conflict have accused the other of being anti-Semites, one openly Nazi organization in Slovyansk allied itself with Russia by criticizing the Kyiv “Zionist Junta” and celebrating the detention of an African American journalist (http://vnssr.my1.ru/news/slavjansk_v_den_rozhdenija_gitlera_pojmali_zhidvku_atamanshu_kievskoj_sionistskoj_khunty_chernozhopoj_amerikanskoj_obezjany_irmu_krat/2014-04-21-20733), supposedly a spy sent to Ukraine by the “American paymasters.” This claim, along with the false allegation that Jews would be forced to register in eastern Ukraine (http://www.inopressa.ru/article/18Apr2014/time/jew.html), fits a Russian pattern of provocative actions which are designed to blacken the name of the Kyiv authorities. Such moves suggest the Russian government is impatient for developments in Ukraine that would justify further aggression. Thus it may be inferred that the momentum of the crisis is clearly important to the Russian authorities.
Within Russia itself, the most widely publicized report of a crime on Hitler’s birthday this year was attempted arson on a police station in Chelyabinsk. Skinheads threw two Molotov cocktails at the police prefecture (http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/news/racism-nationalism/2014/04/d29385/). The choice of this target fits a broader redirection of neo-Nazi attacks toward the state itself rather than ethnic minorities that the state is judged to be protecting. While this shift in focus goes back at least two years, it may also be a consequence of the fact that the national government has increasingly occupied the ideological space of the ethno-nationalist right. As the regime’s legitimating ideology is now nationalism, neo-Nazi groups have to create some difference between themselves and the regime or risk fading into irrelevance. A lesser-reported attack by skinheads on Hitler’s birthday came in Moscow’s Yasnevo region when 150 youth performed a pogrom on the market stalls of between 17 and 20 traders from Azerbaijan (http://newsbabr.com/?IDE=62366). Ten of the traders have since been reported as injured, although none has needed to go to the hospital.