Police Arrest Anti-Xenophobia Activists
By Sergey Chernov
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The 15-day Xenophobii.NET (No to Xenophobia) Campaign ended in arrests, when viewers leaving a film screening at Rodina film theater in the center of St. Petersburg were dispersed by the police on Sunday. But while the Russian media, from RTR television to Fontanka.ru news portal, reported a mass fight between Antifa activists and neo-Nazis, both the police and detained film-goers deny any fight took place.
"There was no fight, it was prevented," police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said by phone on Monday.
"It seems to be a provocation; the Antifa activists and neo-Nazis never came into contact," an anti-Nazi activist who only gave his first name, Denis, said by phone on Monday.
"We tried to walk to the metro in an organized way so as not to be attacked by neo-Nazis, when on Karavannaya Ulitsa we were jumped from behind by policemen with batons. They started to throw us to the ground and drag us into their vehicles."
While the French documentary "Antifa Chasseurs de skins" (Antifa: Skin Hunters), the final screening of the "Open Your Eyes! International Film Event Against Racism and Xenophobia" and the last event of the anti-xenophobia campaign, was being shown, a group of neo-Nazis reportedly attempted to attack the packed film theater, which drew more than 500 viewers.
The attempt failed when the police arrived and detained several attackers, according to Yevgeny Konovalov, chairman of the Russian Social-Democratic Union of Youth and one of the campaign's organizers.
"Around 30 beefy young men looking like boneheads (Nazi skinheads) attempted to storm Rodina film theater with sticks and stones, but they were scared off by the policemen," Konovalov said by phone on Monday.
"Having seen the police, [the attackers] retreated immediately to Nevsky Prospekt, but the police had time to detain three men. When I came out to see what was happening, I saw two handcuffed men being put into a police vehicle."
According to Konovalov, Antifa scouts later reported that a large group of neo-Nazis had gathered on Nevsky.
"In my view, it's very strange," he said.
"On the one hand, thanks to the police for preventing a nationalist attack, but on the other hand, it's not clear how they allowed them to come in a large group to the film theater, and then to gather in a large group, 40 or 50 men, on Nevsky Prospekt waiting to attack the people returning from the film theater."
A group of film-goers, mostly anarchists and Antifa activists, formed a 80-to-100 people formation to walk to the nearest metro along Karavannaya Ulitsa to Nevsky, when the police attacked the group, detained around 20 and drove them to police precinct 79, while the rest ran away.
On Friday, a march held by anarchists in St. Petersburg in support of the workers who took control of their plant in Kherson, Ukraine on Feb. 2, was brutally dispersed by the police who detained dozens of participants. Some of the detained complained of being beaten, while two policemen at precinct 79 where the detained demonstrators were taken allegedly made Nazi salutes and shouted "Slava Rossii!" (Glory to Russia!), the slogan used by neo-Nazis.
The police said 19 participants were detained and charged with violating the rules for holding a public event. No comment on the beatings was given.
But Konovalov denied early reports on Antifa web sites that said that the neo-Nazis and the police had acted in concert on Sunday.
"That's not quite true, at least the police didn't touch Antifa activists as they arrived or during the show," he said.
"The thing is that there are several branches of the police," he said. "There is the usual police, which is a patrol service that doesn't get to the heart of anything; what they really do is protect public order; and then there is the former 18th Department of RUBOP (anti-organized crime police agency), which has been turned into the Anti-Extremism Department it is often involved in unlawful activities and attacks on Antifa activists.
"I think they were instrumental in the detainments, because we saw some RUBOP men in police precinct 79, and among them one was recognized as the same policeman who made a Nazi salute and shouted `Glory to Russia' on Friday."
Konovalov said that he and other activists had visited the precinct and stayed there for some time to prevent possible beatings of Antifa activists by the police officers.
"I think we influenced the situation, because when we arrived, 20 Antifa representatives had already spent an hour standing with their faces to the wall and hands behind their heads, and we demanded that [the policemen] either start compiling reports or do something else, because people should not be treated like this."
Most of those detained were released after 1 a.m., when the metro was no longer open, while three spent the night at the precinct. The police said 18 were detained and charged with "disorderly conduct."
Nevertheless, Konovalov described the campaign against xenophobia as a "success."
"Everything that happened [during the campaign] has only made our ranks closer, while society was been shown that boneheads are not an invention, these people do exist, they do have gangs and they are ready to go to absolute extremes."
A two-person demonstration in defense of the Russian Constitution near Gostiny Dvor on Nevsky Prospekt only lasted for seven minutes before both the participants were detained and their posters with quotes from the Constitution and the Law on the Police were taken away and torn up by police officers on Sunday.
Local activists from Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front (OGF) and the Yabloko Democratic Party attempted to hold a rally after it was not authorized by City Hall, despite an application having been submitted properly.
When the policemen, of whom there were many present on the site, approached, OGF activist Denis Vasilyev explained that the demonstrators were acting in accordance with the Russian law and Constitution, and said that they considered the authorities' refusal to authorize the rally "illegitimate." Both were detained, however, and after spending three hours at a police station, they were charged with violating the rules for holding public events.
Five minutes after the detentions, five activists held another demo on Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa, close to Gostiny Dvor, where they held posters urging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to pray for forgiveness, accusing Russia's main television channels of Joseph Goebbels-style propaganda, and demanding freedom for imprisoned businessman and Putin's political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The police were not present at the second demo.
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