Datsik’s prostitution purge and morality in Putin’s Russia

Viacheslav Datsik’s recent rampage, in which he forced nearly a dozen prostitutes to march nude through the streets of Saint Petersburg, represents the nexus in which Russian nationalism, state-condoned vigilantism, sexism, and a pathological hatred of the weak collide.

When Datsik busted his way into a bordello on Vasilievsky Island early on May 18, his so-called “war on prostitution” was already in full swing. In the first video clip, released to Russia’s security service-linked Life News, his fellow travelers can be seen rounding up terrified women, one of whom was chocked against a wall to silence her screams.

The unclothed women (and a couple of johns), many visibly in tears, were then led down five city blocks to a police station, whereby befuddled officers attempted to cover them up after Datsik expressed his intention to file a report before slipping off into the night to do it all again.

But the second time around, security, perhaps being tipped off, were prepared for Datsik and crew, upon which they subdued him and his cohorts before turning them over to police.

When asked why he had led the women on a shameful procession through the streets, he told the Fontanka news portal that Russia should “know its heroes”.

Is Datsik insane? Russian authorities had previously declared he was schizophrenic before locking him up in a mental institute in 2010 following a rash of armed robberies several years prior. After escaping that facility (by allegedly tearing through its fence with his bare hands), fleeing to Norway, and shortly ending up back in custody there, a Norwegian police physician argued he was not suffering from a serious mental disorder at all. Whether or not Russian authorities agreed with that second opinion, they did opt to put the self-proclaimed Red Tarzan, the son of the Slavic god Perun, in prison for the next 5 years rather than return him to a psychiatric facility following his extradition.

Then, this past March, he was released. So what does a self-described neo-pagan, racist, cage fighter, and man of questionable mental stability do after spending half a decade behind bars?

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It seems that he embraced a zeitgeist, which, during his stint in prison, had increasingly come to resemble his own strange, demiurgic dispensation of reality.

Conspiracies, paranoia, xenephobia; muscular shows of tradition disseminated via modern portals like YouTube. In Russia, the situationist’s prank has been inverted. The muckraker’s are tools of the state trying to soil the righteous; bizarre, larger than life punks and outlaws engaged in acts of avant garde civil obedience.

Is it any surprise that Stanislav Baretsky, the 400-pound former gravedigger, musician, performance artist and Leningrad-contributor most famous for publicly ripping apart beer cans with his teeth to protest foreign libations, accompanied Datsik on an earlier leg of his crusade?

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The point of contrast is one that cannot be missed. Both men, corpulent cowboy’s in a lawless land, are cut from much the same cloth; a world of fenya — criminal slang — and seedy characters romanticized in ‘blatnaya pesnya’ — prison songs.

But whereas Baretsky is merely a self-aware jester, aping the affectations, argot and image of the hardened criminal for the sake of art and theatre, Datsik is the cage-fighter turned convict, unburdened by a sense of irony, restraint, and perhaps reality itself.

From the ersatz to the earnest, it is the convict’s worldview, and how it has permeated broader Russian society, that colors, if not underpins Russia’s social media age vigilantes.

For they are, to some degree, enforcing the power structure that exists in the ‘little zone’, as prison was known in Soviet times, across the ’big zone’ — society as a whole. They have made themselves the enforcers of what Natalia Antonova has called sublimated gulag culture.

As sociologist Anton Oleinik noted in ‘Russia’s Prison Subculture: From Everyday Life to State Power’, Russian prisons are organized along a three-tiered hierarchy. At the top are the blatniye: the elite who both make and enforce the rules. The second group, muzhiki — variously peasants, salt of the earth, and inhabitants of Russia’s eternally working and manly class (be it good or bad) — are the everymen battling to keep a sense of themselves in this hard world.  The last tier are variously subdivided into the shestyorki, six groups who, in their own ways, have been stripped of their autonomy and suffer abuse at the hands of the prison’s ruling class. At the very bottom of that barrel is the “rab” — literally slave — a position reserved for child molesters, homosexuals (though not prison wolves)  and those saddled with debts they cannot repay.

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The prison authorities themselves, representing state power, have employed smotryashchiye or overseers from among the general population, ostensibly to keep order. Bur for who and what that order is kept is an entirely different matter.

Outside, a similar structure has increasingly been solidified since 2012, when Vladimir Putin’s third term as president kicked off. His focus on social conservatism and traditional values has led to a slew of witch hunts targeting both the political opposition and otherwise disempowered groups in society.

But in the big zone, it is armies of cossacks, bikers, anti-maiden protesters and extreme nationalists (if not outright nazis) with, varying degrees of state support, harassing, attacking, filming and degrading the shestyorki of Putin’s Russia —homosexuals, punk-rock supplicants, illegal immigrants and every other variety of dissident and social deviant.

It is, as always, an attack on the weak, with a camera on hand.

During the short-lived St. Petersburg crusade, one telling incident saw Baretsky stoically standing by as Datsik manhandles more than one Nigerian women, whom he accuses of “infecting Russian citizens with AIDS.”

It is reminiscent of Maxim Martsinkevich or Tesak (Hatchet)’s Occupy Pedophilia movement, which itself involved hunting down young gay men they found online, outing torturing and shaming them in horrific videos later spread through social media; all in the name of protecting children.

In both campaigns, using coercion to publicly out people existing on the margins of society was integral.

It is similar to the phenomenon of facial recognition technology being used to identify, embarrass and harass Russian women performing in pornographic movies.

As Antonova wrote, citing Snob columnist Arina Kholina, Russian attitudes towards “fallen women” are notably vicious.

“For generations, we pass down this very strange and cruel rule – a whore is inhuman,” Kholina wrote.

And then there are criminal groups with no ostensible ideological motivations who have increasingly begun targeting homosexuals for blackmail, knowing that many victims will not go to the police for fear of being outed.

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In this dark world where the weak are targeted with the tacit consent of the state, it is no coincidence that both Datsik and  Martsinkevich have deep links to the far right.

For these appeals to tradition, “contempt for the weak” and need to purify the nation and stem the tide of decadence through redemptive violence are among fascisms primary markers.

It should also come as no surprise that of all Russia’s family values YouTube muck rackers, Martsinkevich was actually incarcerated (though for racist remarks, not for brutalizing gay men) while Datsik risks returning behind bars.

The reason is quite simple. Datsik and Martsinkevich themselves belong to movements, that, to the degree they have not been absorbed through state sanctioned channels, represent threats to the current order.

Attacks on brothels and migrants fly in the face of Putin’s regime, which tolerates decadence in private and is, to his credit, genuinely open to Russia’s ethnic and religious diversity (so long as non-Slavic groups do not rally for greater autonomy.)

Through genuine political disenfranchisement, the government allows for controlled violence to be directed at the state’s enemies, or groups that are otherwise viewed as disposable, as a means of sublimating social tensions bred through their policies.

But those whose rage risks being redirected back at the state will quickly be neutralized.

Ironically, those who take the rhetoric of the Russian state at face value risk finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Many of the state’s enforcers are already there.

Datsik himself is the apotheosis of exaggerated masculinity in a country of manly men primarily raised by single mothers. He is a disenfranchised chauvinist, a hard man with a soft mind and a maximalist approach to life that many Russians embrace, if only rhetorically, with a sense of pride.

But to see this figure, eight limbs of madness and a penchant for taking the government’s toxic spew of hate and paranoia to heart,  is to witness a grotesque manifestation of what it has come to mean to be not only a moral agent in Putin’s Russia, but a man.

 

 

Fascists come to Russia to rally against…fascism?

William Echols

Following the first International Russian Conservative Forum, the overall militarist bent Moscow has taken in the wake of its secret war against Ukraine has brought to the fore a startling fact; many in Russia are scantly aware of what fascism actually means anymore.

Imagine if you will, an authoritarian form of government which borrows heavily from socialism, but believes that the real locus of history is not class conflict, but national and racial strife. Proponents seek private enterprise with a heavy government hand, often with the strong presence of state-run enterprises. They stress the need for autarky, or self-sufficiency, which entails the national interest being protected via interventionist economic politics. The goal, of course, is not necessarily to cut oneself off from the outside world, but to be sure the state can survive with or without international trade or external forms of assistance.

What if adherents to this ideology were, in the words of political scientist and historian Robert Paxton, obsessively preoccupied with “community decline, humiliation, or victimhood?” What if these forces, in a shaky collaboration with traditional elites, jettisoned all democratic principles and used “redemptive violence” for the sake of internal cleansing and external expansion?

'The future belongs to us.'

‘The future belongs to us.’

What if the ideologically faithful were obsessed with conspiracy theories and the constant need to remain vigilant against internal security threats, which often involved both indirect and overt appeals to xenophobia, and more specifically, anti-semitism?

What if cultural myths were promoted for the sake of fusing the individual and the masses into what Emilio Gentile described as a “mystical unity of the nation as an ethnic and moral community?” What if discriminatory measures were adopted to punish those outside of this community, who are viewed as inferior and dangerous to the integrity of the nation?

'Protect your motherland, protect your loved ones.'

‘Protect your motherland, protect your loved ones.’

What if, in the words of Bulgarian Communist Georgi Dimitrov, this ideology exhibited  in its foreign policy “the most brutal kind of chauvinism”, cultivating what he called “zoological hatred” against other peoples?

What if this policy, “inspired by the myth of national power and greatness,” is predicated on the “goal of imperialist expansion?”

The above list of qualities, if you haven’t already guessed, are all related to scholarly definitions of fascism.

And over the past year, Russians engaged in a war of words (as well as actual war) have clutched two rhetorical grenades called “provocation” and  “fascism.” With the former, any social ill can be chalked up to an external enemy or outside plot, deflecting all blame or need to hold the individual or government responsible for the current state of affairs. The latter is used to delegitimize your enemy by associating them with a historical force which negatively impacted most every Soviet family. Both are intended to shut down critical thinking.

But despite the incessant talk of juntas, Banderites and fascists which has filled the Russian airwaves ad nausem, it is in fact Russia which, as a nation, is on a stark, fascist drift.

“What you foreigners don’t get is that those people in Maidan [Kiev], they are fascists,” Alexander, a Simferopol resident, told the Guardian’s Shaun Walker two weeks before Russia officially annexed Crimea last year. ”I mean, I am all for the superiority of the white race, and all that stuff, but I don’t like fascists.”

To anyone who has not spent much time in Russia, the internal contradictions present in the above statement are glaring. But no matter the level of cognitive dissonance, that very attitude, albeit to different degrees, is widely held throughout Russian society.

Perhaps that is why, despite the rhetoric, observers from far-right European parties, including Béla Kovács from the Hungarian Jobbik Party, one time neo-nazi and modern day “National Bolshevik” Luc Michel, far right Spanish politician Enrique Ravello, and representatives from the Flemish right-wing party Vlaams Belang came to Crimea to legitimize the sham independence referendum, rather than throw in their support behind their supposed fellow ideological travelers in Ukraine. In this strange and managed reality, everything you think you know about the world no longer applies.

For people like Alexander, the far-right European observers in Crimea, and perhaps many in attendance at the International Russian Conservative Forum in St. Petersburg on Sunday, a fascist is some type of Anglo-American-Zionist (Jewish) tool who wants to crush traditional values in general and Russia in particular via the vehicle of NATO force and so-called cultural Marxism.

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A fascist is not, in contrast, a militant, anti-immigrant white supremacist who talks about Europe’s Christian roots, rallies against homosexuality and other forms of moral degradation, berates the EU and promotes some vague return to a nationally-centered economy, and believes his country to be under the thumb of Israel and other Zionists forces.

Of course, a worldview contingent on such semantic muddying is destined to lead to a few moments of absurdity, as it did on Sunday when participants at the forum actually debated just who could be called a fascist (and whether that was a bad thing at all).

“I don’t find it defamatory to be called a fascist,” said Roberto Fiore, leader of Italy’s far-right party Forza Nuova, who, as Max Seddon pointed out, actually signed an “anti-fascist memorandum” in Crimea last August. “But I do find it defamatory if you call me a Nazi.” 

But for Aleksei Zhilov, an organizer for pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine, nothing was worse than fascism, that is, if fascism were to be defined by a simple tautology.

“All that is in Donbas—that is antifascism, and everything in Ukraine is fascism,” he said. “There isn’t any other fascism anywhere.”

It is in this bizarro world where Alexander from Simferopol can be a white supremacist who is also opposed to fascism. Julia Ioffe confronted the same type of “mind-melting” cognitive dissonance with Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine this past June.

“As Dmitry and I talked, I noticed a Vostok fighter in fatigue pants, a t-shirt, and a bulletproof vest pacing around with a Kalashnikov. He had a long, scraggly blond beard and was peppered with tattoos: a rune on one elbow, and, on the inside of his right forearm, a swastika, just like the one on the chest of the supposed Right Sector soldier. I asked Dmitry about it, but the man spotted me pointing to my arm.

‘Come here,’ he growled, beckoning angrily.

I remained frozen in place.

‘Don’t you go spreading your lies,’ he barked as he strode toward us. ‘This isn’t a swastika. This is an ancient Slavic symbol. Swa is the god of the sky.’

I stared, silently.

‘It’s our Slavic heritage,’ he said. ‘It’s not a swastika.’ Then he turned and walked away.”

To be fair, this habit of appropriating the swastika as a symbol of slavic heritage is one found on both sides of the Ukrainian conflict.

In July, a volunteer from the Ukrainian National Guard’s First Reserve Battalion told Vice’s Simon Ostrovsky much the same thing the Vostok fighter told Ioffe.

“I don’t consider myself a fascist, a Nazi or [a member of] Right Sector,” he said.

“It’s [referring to a swastika pendant around his neck] an ancient Slavic symbol. It’s always brought good luck.” 

Claims, however, that swastikas, kolovrats (spinning wheels) or other neo-pagan symbols have been divorced from neo-nazism within eastern Europe are dubious at best. Sometimes, the meaning of the symbol is contingent on the interlocutor, which is to say, which face you need to present to which audience.

In the case of Alexey Milchakov, a Russian mercenary fighting for  the“Donetsk People’s Republic” who was also a guest at Sunday’s forum, there is no prevaricating when it comes to his Nazi allegiances (he first made a name for himself by brutally murdering puppies and posting the images online.)

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And yet, somehow, Russia has reached a point where neo-nazis are not only fighting “fascists” in Ukraine, but they are being invited from abroad to throw their support behind the Russian government in a war which is ostensibly being waged against other fascists.

The mind numbing confusion of it all begs the question: how can a country whose main cultural rallying point entails its massive contribution to the defeat of the Nazi menace be both ignorant to fascism and, in the right context, sympathetic (if not outright supportive) to its goals?

Iosif Zisels, the head of Vaad Ukrainy, the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, spoke about this strange reality back in November.

Zisels said that Russian neo-nazis (including the group Russian National Unity) are playing an active role in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, though the source of their ideology dates back 20 years. He believes these far right forces were born in 90s and incubated in a cultural climate which Russians themselves have come to describe as a time of national humiliation.

“Russia is infected with the ideas of revanchism, which is very closely connected with fascism,” he said.

Revanchism, a policy of “revenge” centered around reclaiming lost territory, was made evident in Crimea, and rears its ugly head every time Russian President Vladimir Putin criticizes the legitimacy of former Soviet states. And it is this Soviet fall, with “Russia” no longer being viewed as a super power despite a national unwillingness to give up the imperial ghost, that stokes the fires of fascism. That, dashed with red hot resentment due to the wild economic instability of the 1990s, created a pressure cooker society with atomized proto-militarists looking for meaning in something collective and violent.

And in these strange, sometimes angry, post-Soviet times, Russian authorities have begun to lionize the country’s imperial past, aping czarist iconography to bind the people together in some caricature of national identity in lieu of genuine trust or social cohesion.

Of course, many of the reactionary Russian forces battling it out in Eastern Ukraine are reminiscent of the Black Hundreds, early 20th century monarchists known for their russocentrism, blatant xenophobia and penchant for anti-Jewish pogroms.

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It is perhaps no surprise that the Black Hundreds rabidly denied the existence of a Ukrainian nation as well, and did everything in their power to stifle Ukrainian culture and heritage.

Those yielding power in the Kremlin are comfortable using such nationalist fervor when it suites their needs despite being global capitalists at heart (their primary goal is to maintain the opulent lifestyles Russia’s resource wealth provides them). So far, they have managed to harness this extreme national force to their own ends. How long they can keep this golem on a leash, however, is anyone’s guess.

But there is one important thing to remember. This is a mutually beneficial relationship. Kremlin funds and Kremlin support for Europe’s far right is a means of driving fringe parties into the mainstream, who in turn will be more amenable to the Kremlin’s politics, “traditional values”, and ultimately corrupt governance.

The Kremlin is, in a sense, encouraging the worst aspects of European society, all so it can preserve the rot in its own.