Skinhead vs. Skinhead in Anti-Racist Fight

Anti-fascist skinheads have altered Soviet propaganda posters to make their point.

Moscow Times/March 31, 2004
By Carl Schreck

Some of the skinheads roaming Russia's streets are out to attack not those who look different from them, but rather those who look the same.

"We beat up fascist skinheads because we want them to associate fascism with pain," said a 22-year-old student, who -- along with other anti-fascist skinheads -- seeks out neo-Nazi skinheads in Moscow neighborhoods.

The student, who asked to be identified only be his Internet nickname, Marmyrus, admits the anti-fascist skinheads are small in number compared with the fascist extremists, but says they are determined to fight back against what they see as a rising tide of xenophobia.

Racial motives have been blamed for two killings last month, in St. Petersburg and Voronezh.

Police in St. Petersburg say they suspect an extremist youth group of involvement in the Feb. 9 murder of a 9-year-old Tajik girl, while last Friday the Voronezh regional prosecutor's office brought charges of racially motivated murder against three young men suspected of murdering a medical student from Guinea-Bissau in Voronezh on Feb. 21.

Marmyrus and his friends are in the process of creating a group called Interskins, with the idea of fighting the fascist bent among Russian skinheads.

They take as their inspiration the SHARP, or Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, movement, which was started up by skinheads in New York in the late 1980s and quickly spread to Europe.

Marmyrus, a fourth-year student, said he fell into the fascist skinhead crowd when he was 14 because he liked the style and the attitude. But he said had his doubts about the racist ideology from the beginning.

"I had black friends, and they were telling me I had to hate blacks," Marmyrus said.

When he was 16, a classmate told him about SHARP, and, still a fan of the skinhead aesthetic, he turned his attention to fighting neo-Nazi elements in the skinhead movement.

Marmyrus has since grown his hair out, though it is still short. He says he doesn't fight much anymore, since if he were to be arrested, he would be kicked out of his university.

"It would be four years down the drain," Marmyrus said.

Instead, he and his anti-fascist skinhead friends are working on developing a web site and altering kitschy Soviet-era propaganda posters to create anti-fascist messages.

Marmyrus, who says he voted for liberal candidate Irina Khakamada in the presidential election and that he dislikes communism, nonetheless cites Soviet-era "people's friendship" language when talking of his disdain for fascists.

"I think it is nonsense to call for fascist politics in a country where for 70 years internationalism was glorified," Marmyrus said.

In a report published last month the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, a private group that monitors discrimination, put the number of skinheads in Russia at 50,000.

Of this figure, the group says between 5,000 and 5,500 skinheads live in Moscow and the Moscow region, while about 3,000 live in St. Petersburg.

This is a massive growth from 1992, when only a few dozen skinheads were reportedly active in Moscow, and barely a half-dozen in St. Petersburg, the group said.

But these numbers do not include anti-fascist skinheads, said Alexander Tarasov, the author of the report, because their numbers are negligible.

"[The anti-fascist skinheads] that are out there exist primarily in the virtual sphere," Tarasov said. The anti-fascist skins' activities are mainly focused on spreading anti-fascist propaganda through sites such as, he said.

In Germany, fascist groups holding legally sanctioned rallies have to be given heavy police protection from larger anti-fascist groups, including SHARPs.

But Tarasov is skeptical how much Russia's anti-fascist skinheads could intimidate the country's fascist groups.

"Most of [the anti-fascist skinheads] like to talk about how tough they are," Tarasov said. "But they don't usually go out on to the streets and take matters into their own hands."

He did note some exceptions.

"Some small groups in Novosibirsk take on the fascists physically, and there is a similarly active group in Sputnik in the Volgograd region," he said.

Marmyrus admitted he knew of few anti-fascist skinheads. He says he personally knows around 30, though he has seen signs that the trend might spread.

"I saw a group of anti-fascist skinheads I didn't know the other day, hanging out in my part of the city," Marmyrus said. "Usually, I know everyone."

Tarasov said he would welcome a growth in anti-fascist skinhead groups.

"Any anti-fascist movement in Russia is undoubtedly positive," Tarasov said. "If the government isn't going to do anything about fascists, then civilians will have to take care of it."

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