Russia’s Rent-a-Mob Racket
by Dave Essel
We all know that neo-nazi Russia does not permit genuine popular demonstrations. I can never quite get it through my mind how one can have a constitution permitting the freedom to demonstrate and the fact on the ground that authorisation to demonstrate has to be sought and obtained. Unauthorised demonstrations lead to broken heads and arrests – to a greater or lesser extent depending on whether it is neo-nazi youth getting a bit too turbulent without having been invited to do so (in which case expect some nominal arrests and quick releases with a warning, as was the case last November 4, or people genuinely moved to demonstrate about a genuine evil, in which case it’s 14 days in the cells as it takes that long for semi-literate cops to compose a case).
So it was with particular interest that I read this report in Novaya Gazeta about how actual demonstrations are organised.
Just as capitalism in Russia bears only a slight resemblance to the real thing – more 19th century factory screwing workers by paying in factory notes that can only be used for purchases in the company store than voluntary and mutually beneficial exchange of goods/service for money) so Russian demonstrations are not spontaneous manifestations – of course, but rent-a-mob with the added element of manages to screw the rented mob and make money for the stewards!
Sweet land of блат, pork (in very small portions for all but the select), and exploitation of the disenfranchised….
Two Hundred Roubles a Head, Pumpkins For Free
November 6, 2008
Twenty thousand people demonstrated in front of the US Embassy in Moscow on Wednesday 2 November. The demo was called ‘the American show’. People were bused in from two or three dozen towns for the occasion.
In St. Petersburg, the list of those wishing to make a trip to the capital to protest against the United States’ aggressive policies was opened two weeks in advance. On the eve of the demo, 1 November, 12 buses were due to leave from outside Moscow Metro station at 23.:30.
11pm. About 500 people are gathered near the monument to Lenin.
“You going to the demo? Do you know who’s organising it? What’s it going to be, anyway?” I asked one little group huddled under an umbrella.
“We’re like going to take pumpkins to the American Embassy. I don’t really know. Actually, we’re going there to hook up with friends from Kaliningrad. They’ve signed up for the demo, too,” comes a reply from two students, Sveta and Olga.
“It’s a sort of flash mob against US policies,” three other girls add. “But we’re not going to the actual demo. It’s just a way getting to Moscow for free.”
Practically all the would-be demonstrators had learnt about the event from the Vkontakte (InTouch) website. You had to meet two conditions to be eligible: over 18 and prepared to spend 24 hours on the road. Not a word about US policies. So students with time to kill are going to Moscow.
The buses began driving up an 11:30. A girl with a massive suitcase tried to barge on first. In vain – only those on the list could board. 11:40 pm: the organisers suddenly remember about the pumpkins. According to the demo plan, Halloween-style pumpkins are going to be deposited around the embassy, each with a burning candle inside and marked with the name of someone who has suffered from American aggression. A Gazel delivery van full of pumpkins is parked nearby.
“Hey, all you men here!” an organiser girl tries to warm thing up. “Come help unload the pumpkins.”
Twelve buses with a police escort set off at last sometime after 1am.
I ask the organiser for our bus, one Sergei, a lad of twenty or so, who the actual organisers of the demo are. Is it Nashi?
“Not quite. It’s more a youth group initiative. Movements don’t really last more than 4 years. Nashi are yesterday. A new movement will be announced soon. It’s going to hold a congress after the demo in Moscow…”
“Hey, Max!” Sergei suddenly breaks off from our conversation. “Hang a Nashi sign in the windscreen, it’ll keep the cops from bothering us.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, turning back to me.
“Attention, please! Listen up, you all! Read this print-out: it tells you what to answer to journalists if they ask you what this American Show is about, what the pumpkins mean and why you’re taking part. Also, when there are journalists about, never ever use words like “party”, “outing”, “get-together” and suchlike.”
The TV screen comes on in the bus and we are played a specially prepared video in which a Russian-speaking puppet of George Bush says the following – literally: “Europe’s trump card was its centuries-old cultural traditions. We diluted those with mass culture. We forced Russia into an arms race. We brought Hitler to power and created terrorism.”
“This is my fifth big demo.” Sergei is speaking to me again. “We organised a demo of 60 thousand on 9 May. We had veterans wear old cartridge cases on a string round their necks. Then the annual meeting in memory of the victims of Beslan. We got 100 thousand together for a New Year’s Day celebration. Another thing we did was organise a demo against Kommersant [newspaper]: we printed their articles on toilet paper and handed sheets out in the Metro…”
“So how much to you get for doing this?” I ask.
“We get 200 roubles for each adequate attendee we bring to a demo. Adequate – that means someone who is not drunk, not a drug addict, and who can answer questions about why he is on the demo.”
… The drive to Moscow takes 15 hours. Now we are on Novinsky Bulvar, surrounded by ordinary police and OMON riot police. Nearby are dozens of buses with signs in their windshields: Cheboksary, Belgorod, Novgorod, Saratov…
The Sadovoye Koltso ring road is closed to traffic.
“Okay, Vologda! Line up in twos! Don’t light your candles yet! What are you waiting for?! Go through any of the metal detectors!”
1930s jazz blares through powerful loudspeakers, making it impossible to hear much. Large screens flicker with scenes from American popular films, political news, pop musicians. In the area in front of the screens, thousands of boys and girls with pumpkins in their hands quietly make dance moves to the sounds of jazz, rock and roll, and the Beatles. Large spotlights are aimed straight into the American Embassy’s windows. Broken pumpkins are all over the place.
The faces of the attendees are blank and bored.
At last, at 19:30, a girl with a pumpkin comes out onto a stage:
“For America, Halloween is a show. American politics are a show which cost the rest of the world millions of victims. Let’s light these candles in memory of the fallen. For them, for their friends and loved ones who were left behind: let’s have a minute of silence.”
The attendees put on serious faces, obediently light their candles, and hold the pumpkins up above their heads. There is a name on each pumpkin – of someone killed in action, mainly in South Ossetia. The names of victims of terrorist attacks and wars run across the screens.
After a few seconds, the crowd grows noisy again.
“A penny for your thoughts?” I ask the girl next to me.
“I’ve been at worse”