Interview with a DIY Punk activist from St. Petersburg, Russia

(published in Trust Fanzine October 2008)


In August I traveled with a backpack and a friend through the Ukraine and western Russia. Concerning Russia, we had the diffuse idea of a country in which altenative, especially leftist subcultures are confronted with multiple and massive threats. Our expectations were based on the postings on indymedia about punks that got sabbed by boneheads, the stories of punkbands that need to organize their gigs in a clandestine way and the reports about close entwinements between the police and militant fascists.
Therefore we were quite surprised how many "alternatively" looking kids we saw in western-russian cities.

When we met Szarapow in St. Petersburg, we took the opportunity and did this interview with him. Szarapow is actively involved in the local DIY scene since years: He published several fanzines, is organizing concerts, is currently creating an anarchist internet platform, runs a label and plays in the band Svinokop.

Yesterday you played with your band on a concert that has been organized by members of the band Crowd Control. From our point of view, the circumstances under which it took place were not usual: The crowd met at a metro station and then we walked altogether to the place where the gig took place, an abandoned construction site outside the city. Is it common that concerts are organized illegaly and in a clandestine way?

No, it´s also an exception around here. Usually we do concerts in commercial rock-clubs or we rent any fucking bar in the outskirts. But sometimes an illegal setting is chosen, mainly because of the atmosphere.

So the concert yesterday was not organized "underhand" because the situation in St. Petersburg is kind of threatening for political DIY gigs?

I do not really know that, you should ask the paople who organized it. I just played there. But I do think that it´s mainly because it´s more fun doing it this way: There is no security, you can make fires, etc. pp.
Nevertheless I assume that it also plays a role that the band Crowd Control is known for being part of the antifascist movement. If the concert would have been announced in public, it would have been possible that fascist attacked. (...) But I do not really think that the nazis here are that suicidal. I mean, sometimes punks are attacked when they are alone or in small groups, but that rather takes place in the city center. There it´s much easier to disappear in the crowds afterwards and not get caught.
In general, there are that many punk gigs in St Petersburg (2- 3 per week), nazis would hardly be able able to attack all of them. That is why the nazis (and the police as well) prefers to focus on political bands like Crowd Control or Komatoz. Because some of their members are known for organizing antifascist actions and have been arrested for doing so.

 

(Zorka in St. Petersburg 24.08.2008)

 

Is it the special situation in St. Petersburg that there are that many concerts and that the situation is relatively relaxed? How would you judge the situation in other cities, especially in Moscow?

I don´t know, I´m not getting around that much in Russia. I would say, recently most of the concerts in Moscow are taking place in the outskirts. The clubs in Moscow itself are not doing punk gigs anymore, because there´s a high risk of violence: In spring this year an antifascist was stabbed in a planned attack while he was heading to a concert. Something similar happened 2 years ago already.
At the same time, I think that it is kind of more common among the punk kids in Moscow to get drunk and destroy the venue. In St. Petersburg the scene seems kind of more "reflective" to me. Of course the walls get tagged here as well and bottles get smashed on the sidewalk from time to time, but it´s not that massive as you might see it in Moscow. For example, there is the Jerry Rubin Club, a venue that is closely linked to the anarachist movement: They do not do any punkgigs at all anymore, because the kids destroyed the place several times, pissed all over the yards of the neighbours, etc. (...)
In the smaller cities where you have an active underground / DIY scene, concerts are usually organized "underhand". They rent any shithole and the kids spread the date and place just mouth by mouth among their friends. Some years ago, nazis attacked a punk concert in the little town of Volzhskiy, near Volgograd. When the punks defended themselves, a nazi was hurt seriously and died later in the hospital. Something similar happened in the year 2000 in Moscow, when fascists attacked a concert of the skapunk-bands Spitfire and Distemper. An 18 year old nazi died after he got stabbed.
These cases show clearly the difference between the two sides of the conflict: In those cases where nazis got killed by antifascists it has always been an act of self-defence against a prior nazi attack. On the other hand, when punks or antifascists die, you usually have a complete different situation: A dozen nazis, armed with knifes, attack a small group of people who are walking down the street peacefuly. This explains the high number of killed antifascists compared to the relatively low number of dead fascists.

So the reason for the relatively relaxed atmosphere in St. Petersburg is the numerical proportion between many punks/ antifas on one side and relatively few nazis on the other side? This makes it hard for them to attack activists continously?

In St. Petersburg it is more common that they "patrol" in the streets and attack people they identify as antifas or as people from Asia, Africa or the Northern Caucasus. I can´t really tell you how big the nazi scene is here, I am not observing it continously and in detail.

At the meetingpoint at the metro yesterday an incident took place when a passer-by started insulting the punks. During the conflict he was pepper-sprayed. How would you judge the general attitude towards the punks on behalf of society?

Well, people did not call me a faggot because of my earrings since roundabout 10 years now... It has became kind of common wearing piercings or tattoos at least in the big cities. Nevertheless, I don´t think that it would be tolerated to live openly gay here.
Rascism and xenophobia are widespread among the people here, so I would not say that subcultures are the main objective of reactionary mainstream. People from Aserbaidschan, Middle Asia, Usbekistan are more likely to be the victims. Although the nazi violence usually is rejected by the mainstream society, this does not mean that a xenophobic and antisemitic tenor does not exist.(...)

Beside the DIY scene we are talking about: Is there a commercial punk movement existing in St. Petersburg?

Of course. On the Sex pistols gig in June (where I went and which was brillant by the way) there were 2300 people, which I would consider as much. But when Exploited played 10 years ago, there were twice as much people. So probably the old punks are dying out here slowly as well.
But we also have commercial bands here that usually play melody-core or similar and which are playing in stadiums from time to time. And there are still some old bands from the early years that are filling big venues.

You also lived a while in Australia and also traveled to Western Europe several times already: Where do you see the main differeneces between the scenes here and there, e.g. regarding sexism etc.?

I think these things are not dicussed that much over here. Here the kids are now beginning to realize what all this is about.
I´d say, one of the main differences is that in the so-called "western world" you have a certain continuity regarding anarchist ideas. Here, the so-called "communism" annihilated the anarachist movement during the1920s/ 1930s. In Western Europe, the US and Australia there are projects who have a long history. There you were usually not thrown into prison when being an open anarchist- you had the opportunity to publish books. This was completely impossible in Russia. Just now books are staring to be be published here, ideas start to spread and people get organized.
Similar things can be observed in the music scene: In Western Europe you have alternative music scenes since the 1960s / 70s or even earlier: Proggare in Sweden, the Hippies anywhere and the squatter´s ovement with bands like Ton Steine Scherben in Western Germany. We did not have these things here, even the first rock clubs were established in the 1990s.
This means we do have lot less grown infrastructure here as well. In Russia you will not find a youth centre in any town like you do in Germany. We neither have enough people or ressources to run projects like newspapers, magazines, infoshops etc. For example, the zine „Abolishing the Borders from Below“ (international anarcho-/ activist- magazine with bnews from all over Eastern Europe) is done by a collective in Berlin. This is because there is no city in Eastern Europe where you find the needed infrastructure.

You find info about SZs distro and his band at http://svinokop.narod.ru

His postal address: dmitrij ivanov, po box 30, st. petersburg-9, 195009, russia

The interview was done by Peter and Daniel and was published in the Trust #132 (Okt./Nov. 08).

 

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