At a time where most media are only covering what is happening among the extreme right winged group of ultras in Russia, we set to learn more about the opposite side, those who calls themselves Antifa, short for anti-fascists. To do so we interviewed Petr from Ekaterinburg, a declared Antifa football supporter of the local team Ural and writer for the Russian blog LeftSideTerraces.
How is it to be an anti-racist football fan in Russia? How many left winged fan groups are there in the country and are they cooperating? How are you organized and are you attached to a political party?
Being an anti-fascist football fan in Russia extremely difficult at the moment. The Russian fan movement was created by far right skinheads, who are considered to first appear at Spartak Moscow. Around Europe there are a lot of Antifa [anti-fascist] ultras, but in Russia football fans have always been associated with Nazism, and only now we are beginning to form another look at that culture.
In the 2000s Russia had an Antifa subculture, which rebuffed the Nazis in the streets, and some of these Antifas also enjoyed football and attended the games. They were however angry to find bastards who glorified Adolf Hitler on the stands, so they attempted to create left winged fan groups, but it was difficult to do so because of the opposition from Nazis.
Previously, anti-fascists fans acted in clubs like Karelia-Discovery (Petrozavodsk), Zvezda (Irkutsk), Okean (Nakhodka), Devon (Oktyabrskoe), Mosenergo, Hammer and Sickle (Moscow), but many of these teams were disbanded. I would say that at the moment openly Antifa fan groups only exist in Caucasus at Spartak Nalchik, Anzhi Makhachkala and Terek Grozny. This is due to the fact that Russian Nazis hate Caucasians, something that is largely due to the wars in Chechnya. Therefore Caucasians largely support the idea of anti-racism, but among them is also found local chauvinism.
There are no major left-wing parties in Russia at the moment, and even the Communist Party is pro-Putin and it’s not like left-winged people. There are plenty of small left-winged and anarchist organizations (Autonomous Action, RKSMB, Committee for a Workers’ International, KRAS-MAT), but they are not engaged in the creation of anti-fascists fan clubs for football. Instead the anti-fascists fans are united on the basis of information resources and forums like the Offside Magazine, Left soccer and FARP. These are all grassroot initiatives for the people who actually bothered to come to the stadiums despite the Nazi symbols and racist slogans.
It seems like there is a very strong presence of fans that represent the extreme right in the stadiums. How is it to watch football in Russia’s topflight as a declared anti-fascist fan?
There are antifascists at every big club in Russia, but they can’t openly demonstrate their views. If you’re openly expressing anti-fascist views you are attacked. The situation in Russia is very similar to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania, where the stadiums are also full of Nazis. The football stadiums has become the mainstay of the Nazis, this applies to both the Premier League as well as the lower divisions. At almost all matches you can see far right symbols such as the Celtic cross, Odal Rune, 1488, black-yellow-white flag [the flag of the Russian Empire], and sometimes even swastikas.
You can even be attacked for creating an apolitical fan group, as it is believed that the stadium can only be far right. A good example is the case of the antifascist Ilya Dzhaparidze, who was a fan of Dynamo Moscow and wanted to create an apolitical group of fans there. For that he was killed by a group of Nazis.
I live in Ekaterinburg and support FC Ural, and we have also had problems with the far right in the stadium. Once our local anti-fascists visited the fan sector, but then they were asked to leave. Among ordinary fans there are without a doubt a lot of people who are against racism, but if we talk about the ultras subculture, everything is different.
You have to understand that the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Central Asian countries, now has a problem with fascism in the stands. In Ukraine for example almost all teams, except Arsenal Kyiv, have Nazis on their stands. In Belarus the situation is different, as there exists a dozen teams with Antifa Ultras like Partizan Minsk, Orsha, Ivantsevichy and Rudensk, but there is also a strong Nazi movement.
What kind of activities are you as anti-racist fans doing – both inside and outside the stadiums?
Most people are now trying to unite and walk together to the stadiums, but without the anti-fascist symbolism. In Chelyabinsk, a city near Ekaterinburg, local apolitical and anti-racists supported FC Chelyabinsk for a year, but they were constantly attacked by Nazis, who are very strong in that city. The club was later disbanded.
Anti-fascists in Russia today are trying to hold amateur tournaments where they can play football themselves. In St. Petersburg, local anti-fascist held the DIY Football League. In the city of Perm, 360 kilometers from Ekaterinburg, my friends host the tournament PermCityBall.
I like the way they do it in Greece, where there are many amateur teams for Antifas, like for example Asteras Exarchia. I believe that because of the large number of Nazis it is impossible to take over the fan-sectors, but we must try to create a culture of Antifa ultras in Russia and work closely together.
This summer I went to an anti-fascist football festival in Ioannina in Greece. Six amateur teams participated; Asteras Exarchia (Athens) Proodeftiki Tumba (Thessaloniki), Autonomous Football Club of Patras, Liberta (Volos), Apifarhos (Ioannina), Marinos Antipas (Larissa). These teams were all created by anti-fascists and they play in local tournaments. In Russia, too, the anti-fascists are beginning to do something like that. It helps shape the anti-racist sentiment at the grassroots level in football.
The Antifa Football Festival is held primarily to strengthen the ties between the anti-fascist amateur clubs around Greece, and furthermore in order to create a plaform for discussion about both football and politics. The festival has grown over the past years, with both Ioannina and Larissa being new participants this summer. In contrast to the various fan groups of professional teams, all the participants clearly stated that they were all united with one shared goal. For the anti-fascists in the former Soviet Union, where the ultra-right is occupying the stadiums and have close ties to the club administrations, this is an important strategy.
As I said, we are also hosting these tournaments in Russia now, and in August the sixth anti-fascist football tournament was played in St. Petersburg. All participants in the tournament were basically anti-fascists who opposed racial prejudice. This year 20 male and four female teams from Brest, Minsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Cherepovets, Moscow and St. Petersburg took part in the tournament.
We went with them to the match Dinamo Moscow – Omonia Nicosia and became friends with people from Omonia’s Gate 9. I also have many friends in Greece who supports different clubs down there.
I also talk to fans from Spartak Nalchik and Orsha Belarus. I even know some fans antifa from Kazakhstan. I believe that all anti-fascist fans from around the world need to help create a new fans culture where there is no place for racism. We have a blog where we write about Antifa ultras from different countries, as well as an online magazine.
In FARE Network and SOVA-Centers report about racism in Russian football they claim that the attitudes inside the football fan groups as well as in the Russian society have been developing intensively since the early 2000s. Do you agree with this?
Yes, during the 2000s the number of attacks on migrants increased. But in fact, it all started earlier. In many ways, the reason for this was the collapse of the USSR and the ethnic conflicts in the early 90s, for example the feud between Caucasians and Russian is caused by the wars in Chechnya.
In the 90s Nazi groups began to appear in Russia, even though they were still a marginal subculture. The ultra-right skinheads went to football matches and attacked migrants on the subway. Later these groups left the underground to hold open meetings. Some people started to support them because of the low level of education and the financial crisis in the country. In the mid-2000s the Nazi movement began to attack anti-fascists, and many were killed.
Unlike in other countries, we, the anti-fascists, do not support, and are not supported by, any party or movement. The police were also helping the Nazis, and we had to rely only on ourselves. In fact in those years we faced the most radical Nazi power in the world, and few people ready to stand in their way.
This led to the Russian Antifa also becoming radicalized. Every day they fought and held cold steel. It can be compared to Italy’s Years of Lead [NOTE: A period marked by terrorism by both extreme left and right winged groups], a terrible time. The Nazis organized large riots on Manezh Square and in the Moscow district Biryulyovo. Now we can however say that Nazism in Russia is on the decline, and they can no longer gather numerous rallies and do not attack anti-fascists.
I think this is due to the situation in Ukraine. People in Russia have seen that the ultra-right forces are only war and destruction, so they have stopped supporting Russian nationalists. Nevertheless, fans’ subculture is closed and there will be a long time to attend the Nazis.
Do you think the Russian government’s politics plays a role in the racism we see in the society and do you think the authorities generally do enough to fight racism?
I believe that the power in Russia is largely to blame for the rise of the Nazi movement in the 2000s. There is evidence that some right-wing people were sponsored by the Kremlin. Authorities set themselves the task to strengthen patriotism in the society, and there was a program called “managed nationalism” to monitor the activities of far-right youth. However, even during the reign of Boris Yeltsin, the police used Nazi gangs to attack their opponents and racketeering. Therefore we can say that from the beginning of the 90s, authorities helped the Nazis grow stronger and get on their feet.
Today, because of the situation in Ukraine, the authorities have decided to show that they do not want to support the Nazis, which is why they are under a lot of pressure from the police. When the authorities decided to stop supporting the Nazi movement, it was defeated in the public and it is now underground again. I’m sure that if it will become profitable for the authorities to support the nationalists they’ll do it without hesitation.
Are the clubs (and players) doing enough in fighting racism among the fans? If no, what do you think they should change?
I don’t think that the clubs are doing enough at the moment. Yes, measures are being taken against racism and the players are against it, but football fans do not want to hear it. We need initiatives from below, from the fans.
Of course the football stands are largely a reflection of society, and if people are willing to tolerate Nazi slogans in the stands it is difficult to do anything. Initiatives such as FARE are unlikely to benefit Russia. For example Lazio is doing a lot to combat racism, but the stands are still full of people from the extreme right-wing. Here it is necessary to try and change the subculture.
Another problem is that the leadership of the clubs in Russia does not care about the fans, as long as they don’t come in the way of them making money. They only started fighting racism because of the sanctions from UEFA. Zenit are one of the richest clubs in Russia, but in the fight against racism, they are investing significantly less than in the acquisition of new players.
Are there any clubs in Russia with a left wing attitude and a clear anti-racist profile?
My friend Murat Mizov from Spartak Nalchik is in contact with the club management and he is one of the leaders on their stands. There you often see anti-fascist symbolism, and I believe there is potential to develop more anti-fascist fan groups in Caucasus, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and in the national republics within Russia. At least people out there are willing to accept anti-racist topics, because they do not belong within the Russian ethnos, while the stands in Moscow and St. Petersburg have firm ties to the extreme right-wing.
Have the Fan Law from 2014 and the ‘Rules of Conduct for Spectators and for Ensuring Their Safety on Stadiums’ from 2011 helped in the fight against racism?
I do not think the laws to control people’s behavior on the stands are effective. The police who are on duty at the stadium do not understand the meaning of the symbols that are shown in the stands. They’ll know the swastika, but that is rarely shown anyway.
When Nazis began to appear at German stadiums in the 1990s the government implemented tough laws to deny them access. But Russia isn’t Germany, and such laws are unlikely to succeed. Germany still has problems with fans from neo-Nazi groups (eg FC Energie Cottbus). You can’t solve problems like racism with repressive laws. I think that what is needed is meaningful and serious work from the fans to educate and help each other.
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Author: Toke Møller Theilade
Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.