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City news
Activist Stabbed 20 Times
01.17.2007 16:14

antifascizm By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

A twenty-one-year-old antifascist campaigner was stabbed twenty times on Sunday night in south-western St. Petersburg in an apparent attack by extremists.

Ivan Yelin was taken to the intensive care unit of St. Petersburg Hospital No. 26 on Ulitsa Kostyushko, where his condition is described as severe. Yelin underwent an operation for wounds sustained to his liver, kidney, solar plexus and other areas, suffering massive blood loss.

The St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office has opened a criminal case for attempted murder. No suspects have yet been detained.

Immediately prior to the attack on Sunday, Yelin had been taking part in an international humanitarian initiative titled “Food, Not Bombs,” giving food to the local homeless people and street kids just outside Vladimirskaya metro station in central St. Petersburg.

The initiative takes place on a regular basis at several fixed places, including areas close to Vladimirskaya and Vasileostrovskaya metro stations.

The attack took place between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. near Yelin’s home on the corner of Ulitsa Ziny Portnovoi and Leninsky Prospekt in a south-western district of the city.

Antifascist campaigners are convinced that local nationalists and extremists are behind the attack.

“Members of skinhead gangs routinely show up at antifascist and human rights meetings,” said Ruslan Linkov, head of the St. Petersburg organization Democratic Russia. “Nationalists take photographs of the participants and also follow human rights activists to their homes.”

“On Sunday, Ivan was more noticeable than the others: he was putting food into bowls and giving it to people, and naturally drew more attention,” said fellow antifascist campaigner Oleg, who asked that his real name not be used because of fears for his safety. “After they finished, most volunteers went to a rock concert in a nearby club but Ivan went home on his own, making himself an obvious target.”

Timur Kacharava, a frequent participant in antifascist meetings who was stabbed to death outside a bookstore on Ligovsky Prospekt in November 2005, was also reportedly followed after taking part in a “Food, Not Bombs” event.

As skinhead violence against foreigners and ethnic minorities rises in Russia, growing numbers of antifascist campaigners are considering giving up street politics, they say.

Not only do they fear physical attack by skinheads, but they say they are treated with suspicion and hostility by the police, while adding that the political elite and general public are indifferent to their goals. Most depressingly, they say, at their own rallies they are usually outnumbered by police and nationalists.

“We have to face it: ordinary citizens prefer to stay away from human rights or antifascist meetings,” said Iosif Skakovsky of the human rights group Memorial. “It does not help things that the authorities and law-enforcement organizations both on a local and federal level demonstrate an outrageous lack of leadership and seem to be content with the state of denial they have adopted about hate crimes.”

As a result, many antifascist activists are losing faith that they can make a difference.

“More and more of us are strongly considering giving up the fight,” Oleg said. “I have personally been attacked by skinheads who kicked me in the head with their heavy boots. But it is not the fear of a physical assault that makes me doubtful about defending the cause. Rather, it is our failure to make a difference in the minds of ordinary Russians that is most frustrating.”

Those who want to continue their activism are thinking of changing strategies as street fights between antifascist campaigners and nationalists are becoming increasingly common. The most recent clash between members of the Antifa group and nationalists took place in September. The street fights broke out when activists from Antifa tried to disrupt a meeting of the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration.

“After the murder of Timur Kacharava we figured that the only way to stop the fascists is to counter them physically,” said antifascist campaigner Mikhail. “If the authorities do nothing, we have nothing left to do but fight.”

Linkov is worried by the tendency of the authorities and the mainstream media to portray antifascist campaigners as yet another breed of extremist.

“They think things would look better if this were seen as the problem of youngsters drinking too much, rather than the problem of nationalist groups getting stronger,” Linkov said. “They seem to be trying to spread the responsibility for street violence more evenly among various political forces.”

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