The beginning of the end for the Government of Australian Tory Prime Minister John HoWARd was in April, when the multi-millionaire leader of the Opposition Kevin Rudd (Opposition being a purely formal expression in this case) received Rupert Murdoch’s blessing to become his new regional manager in Australia. Confirmation of the end, however, has come with United States’ CEO George W Bush’s description of HoWARd as his “battler buddy” (Big John is Bush’s ‘battler’ buddy, AAP/AP, Sydney Morning Herald, September 7, 2007); the shift from ‘deputy sheriff’ to this less formal term a reflection, perhaps, of the growing affection Bush has for his loyal Australian ‘mate’. Unfortunately, while the Australian public, after 11 years of largely uncontested rule, has little regard for HoWARd, it has even less for Bush. Thus according to a Galaxy Poll commissioned by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, 52% of Australians believe George to be the worst US President in history.
Not content with being a grossly unpopular and massively expensive inconvenience, however, Bush has taken the opportunity of the, er, ‘APEC’ summit, to further confirm widespread speculation that, somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot. Thus according to The Times:
President Bush not only muddled the international meeting he was attending this week – he also thought he was on the other side of the world. Speaking in Sydney at the Asia Pacific Economic Council (Apec) summit of world leaders, Mr Bush thanked “Austrian” Prime Minister, John Howard, in front of a summit of business leaders, for being a gracious “Opec” host…
Toward the end of his speech Mr Bush turned towards the Australian Prime Minister and thanked him for being such a gracious host during the “Opec” summit. Almost immediately realising his mistake, Mr Bush corrected himself, saying: “I mean the Apec summit.” He then said: “I have been invited to the Opec summit next year. The Apec summit.” The stumble brought good-natured laughter from the audience of top business leaders from Asian and Pacific rim nations. But White House officials accompanying Mr Bush in Sydney later said that the President had not been invited to the summit of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) next year. And no it was not another gaffe, they said, he had been joking. As if that was not enough though, Mr Bush also botched the host country’s name, referring to Mr Howard’s visit to Iraq in 2006 as a thank you to “the Austrian troops there”…
Bernard Lagan, Bush gaffe cap calamitous Apec summit, September 7, 2007
Bush’s gaffes echo one rather embarrassing — for HoWARd — admission George made four years ago. In February 2003, Bush announced that Australian troops would be joining his ‘Coalition of the Killing’ in the commission of war crimes in Iraq. This was embarrassment — and how — for the battler buddy, as at that point HoWARd had failed to inform the Australian people of the President’s — which is to say the Deputy Sheriff’s — decision.
In other news…
In the eastern state of Saxony in Germany, according to a recent poll, the social democratic SPD is even less popular than the neo-Nazi NPD (Spiegel Online, September 7, 2007). While supposedly ‘shocking’ news, it should be read keeping in mind that Saxony has long been a stronghold for the far right, and in acknowledgement of the embrace of neo-liberal ideology by the SPD. In fact, a similar situation could easily (re-)emerge in Australia, especially after the ALP demonstrates its own similarity to the Tories after it wins office at the next Federal election.
Speaking of Australia — and neo-Nazism — Andrew McCathie, writing in The Age, claims that “GERMANY’S neo-Nazi movement has discovered a new and powerful instrument to communicate its vicious and violent message: music” (Neo-Nazis use music to spread vicious message, September 8, 2007). McCathie further claims that “Despite being banned in Germany, music from neo-Nazi groups such as Landser (Foot Soldier), Race War, Power and Honour pump out often shoddily produced CDs”.
A few points:
First, the German far right has been using music as propaganda, and as a means to recruit alienated white male youths as foot soldiers, for decades. In fact, one of the world’s leading racist, right-wing labels, Rock-O-Rama, was (re-)established in Germany by German fascist businessman Herbert Egoldt over 20 years ago. When that label was forced to fold in 1994, Hebert helped to establish another label in Belgium, Pure Impact, which continues to distribute racist and fascist musical product throughout Europe and the world. Secondly, while the production and distribution of overtly neo-Nazi music in Germany is under a formal ban, the largest market for US-based producers and distributors of same is Germany, and has been since a major crackdown in the mid-’90s. So, nothing really all that newsworthy in this sense. Finally, while Landser is indeed a well-known neo-Nazi not-so-pop group, I think by ‘Power and Honour’ McCathie actually means to refer to ‘Blood & Honour’, the international neo-Nazi network…
More to the point, while B&H is banned in Germany (and Spain), in Australia, it’s been organising semi-annual gatherings for well over a decade. In 2006, for example, B&H organised a gig to commemorate the death of B&H founder Ian Stuart Donaldson at a Fitzroy pub, The Birmingham Hotel. On the night of the gig, a local woman was assaulted by some of those in attendance. This year, the gig is scheduled to take place just five weeks from now, on Saturday, October 13. Performing at the gig will be an as-yet undisclosed act from either Europe or possibly North America, but also, and most interestingly, a local, Melbourne band called Fortress (led by Scott McGuinness) and another, seminal neo-Nazi rock band called Quick & the Dead. “Interestingly” because within fascist circles at least, Fortress has been extremely popular, especially in Germany, and played many times to thousands of adoring boneheads. Further, the band has announced that this will be their final show. The prospect of a performance by the Quick & the Dead, on the other hand, is interesting because it was the first neo-Nazi skinhead (bonehead) band to form in (Perth) Australia back in the early 1980s; secondly, because one of its members, Murray Holmes, also played with Skrewdriver — without doubt the most infamous neo-Nazi rock ‘n’ roll band of all time, and in many ways the group responsible for kick-starting the movement as a whole.
Unfortunately, to this point, the only corporate/state media coverage the issue has received in Australia of late has been confined to a handful of articles in The Melbourne Times (also a Fairfax publication) regarding last year’s ISD gig. The inroads that fascist, neo-Nazi, and racist ideology is making into the local punk subculture — whether in Melbourne, Sydney or Perth — has subsequently been completely ignored, and a number of attempts to gather opposition to this development met with either hostility or only token, and largely covert, expressions of support. Thus The Birmy continues to host ‘punk’ bands, local ‘punk’ distros continue to sell neo-Nazi music, and even local ‘skinhead’ bands — most prominently, Bulldog Spirit — continue to contain neo-Nazi members. (And the problem of neo-Nazi infiltration into local punk and skinhead subcultures is also mirrored in the local heavy metal milieu, where a very similar, and profoundly conservative, political ethic dominates.)
You wouldn’t read about it.
You can, however, read about the ways in which boneheads are happy to return the favour if their activities are tolerated, and/or, as in this case, prove to be useful to the state.
September 6, 2007
Few things can shock society today. One of them was a video recently posted on the Internet that appears to show the execution of two men. The three-minute clip, posted by a LiveJournal.com user, signed “antigipsyone,” on August 12, shows a Dagestani (from the North Caucasus) and a Tajik (from Central Asia) kneeling on the ground with their arms and legs tied up. A swastika is displayed in the background. “We were arrested by Russian national socialists,” they say in voices trembling with fear, after which one of them is beheaded and the other is shot in the back of the head.
Police investigators are currently examining whether the video showed a real or staged execution. Preliminary examination suggested that it was probably staged. Whatever the case, the video highlighted the neo-Nazi threat in Russia.
A Strange Legacy
Russia’s skinhead movement appeared in the early 1990s, amidst that era’s social and economic turmoil. As often happens, a subculture that comes from the West changes beyond recognition in Russia, and that was true for the skinheads.
The past year saw a record number of crimes that law enforcement agencies blamed on skinheads. An attack on an environmental camp in southeast Siberia, which left one person dead and seven injured, and that grisly video both occurred in the past two months alone. But during the year there [have been] other murders, pogroms, raids, and provocations. The authorities and society as a whole are confronted with the question of how to stop a force that is gaining momentum all the time.
Skinheads began as a working-class subculture in Britain in the 1960s. Originally it had nothing to do with color, race, religion, or national origin. In subsequent decades, the skinhead subculture spread to other parts of Europe, North America and other continents.
In the 1970s, both neo-Nazi and anti-Nazi organizations in the UK and the United States looked on skinheads as potential cannon fodder. Youth culture, unencumbered by any bans and ready to follow any shiny new idea, started developing along several lines. The Neo-Nazis came to be known as boneheads, while those skinheads who identified with the original 1960s skinhead subculture divided into anti-Nazis and anarchists.
The anti-Nazi movement became known as SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice). The anarchist movement developed into RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads), a left-wing anti-racist, anti-fascist skinhead group.
The history of the early skinhead movements shows that boneheads in particular became victims of political games. Exploiting youth culture’s responsiveness to new ideas for political purposes is a common practice. And only fascists were able to unite a critical mass of skinheads under a single flag.
Today, proactive, assertive anti-Nazi propaganda in Europe and North America has had a positive effect: fascism as an ideology failed to acquire a following large enough to cause yet another social crisis.
Skinheads a la Russe
The breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent crisis created a generally negative psychological environment for many people but also an ideological vacuum that emerged with the collapse of the Communist ideal, which could be considered a national idea. Since nature abhors a vacuum, it was filled with trendy borrowings from the West. Young men with shaved heads appeared in Moscow together with the first democrats. In 1992, they numbered in the dozens.
Yet by 1994, there were already thousands of skinheads. The reason was not just the social crisis but also the position of the ruling establishment, which showed that violence is a legitimate option in any dispute. The start of the military campaign in Chechnya strengthened the nationalist mood among teenagers. An external enemy was found, and many thousands of school-age people were ready to follow the “Russia for Russians!” slogan.
Ignorance and resentment, as well as the scaling down of anti-Nazi propaganda, were major factors that contributed to the evolution of the “Russian skinhead.” This type had nothing to do with traditional skinheads or SHARPs or [RASHes]. The majority of Russian skinheads became boneheads – extremely nationalist skinheads, advocating violence and racial intolerance.
As in the UK, neo-Nazis needed a social group from which to recruit new members. Aggressive soccer fans were an ideal recruiting ground. First, many were already accustomed to violence. Second, educational levels among them are generally very low. Many soccer hooligans eventually [came] to embrace neo-Nazi ideas.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies categorically refused to treat crimes committed by boneheads as ethnically motivated, or hate crimes. The opposing force – the Russian answer to SHARPs and RASHes, which rallied under Antifa banner – was so small that it wasn’t a threat. [In Europe, especially in the UK, militant anti-fascism advocates the use of violence against fascists. Within the anti-fascist movement, the term militant anti-fascism is often used in contrast to liberal anti-fascism; fascists often use violence and depend on a physical presence in the streets, and militant anti-fascists believe that an equal counterweight is essential to stop fascism, and that fascism should be tackled by communities rather than by the state. – Ed.]
When boneheads became aware of their strength, they launched large-scale actions. That included raids on outdoor food and clothes markets, street riots in downtown Moscow during a Russia-Japan soccer match, and an ongoing wave of violence and murders.
Antifa vs. Boneheads
Until recently, the government’s efforts against the neo-Nazis produced almost no result. Putting a few dozen people behind bars is not effective. Meanwhile, representatives of the world’s major racist and neo-Nazi movements, parties and groups, such [as the] Ku Klux Klan and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (a Nazi party) were freely coming to Russia to share their experience with local youth movements. The only organization that is officially outlawed in Russia is the Russian National Unity, which disappeared years ago.
The current stage of the struggle is linked with the implementation of the Law on Countering Extremis[m]. The case of Maxim “Tesak” (“Hatchet”) Martsinkevich, the leader of Format 18, a bonehead group, appears to demonstrate that Nazi slogans may not be chanted in public. Tesak was charged with inciting ethnic hatred and threatening to commit violence during a debate organized by democratic youth groups at a Moscow club in February. Martsinkevich arrived with about 20 followers, made Nazi salutes, and threatened “to slaughter the liberals.” A Moscow court convicted three of his associates in June for the murder of a member of an anti-fascist organization.
The dual murder video footage shows that it is also against the law to spread materials fomenting ethnic hatred.
But does the realization of the extent of the problem come too late? How did Tesak’s arrest affect the boneheads? They regard him as a hero who suffered for the truth. As for the grisly video, quite a few people saw the brutal murder as a positive step in the struggle against illegal immigration.
Meanwhile, Format 18’s Web site, which featured much illegal material, was shut down through the efforts of the Antifa movement, not the authorities. But the anti-fascist movement is still regarded as unpredictable and uncontrollable, and therefore, the authorities refuse to notice it or use it in fighting neo-Nazism.
[In fact, it represses it.]
Even worse is that often it is hard to tell a bonehead from an anti-Nazi. The only distinguishing features of Antifa skinheads are an image of a Trojan warrior’s helmet on the jacket and red boot laces[?]. As for the boneheads, they use white laces and WP (White Power) and 88 (Heil Hitler) patches. It can be difficult to see these distinctive marks, especially from a bureaucrat’s armchair.
It is noteworthy that neo-Nazis in Russia are not declaring their political ambitions or attempting to put themselves on the map. Perhaps they realize that their time has not come yet. They will not have to wait very long, however, unless new, effective anti-fascism laws are adopted.
Here is yet another dark touch to an already grim picture: according to Oleg Yelnikov, the head of the Interior Ministry press service, his agency does not have reliable data on the number of skinheads in Russia. Unofficially, however, at the start of 2007, there were believed to be at least 100,000 skinheads in the RF.
Commentary to follow; in the meantime…