Antifascist protests against “Conservative Forum” in Saint Petersburg

On March 22, 2015 Saint Petersburg hosted disgraceful “International Russian Conservative Forum”, which saw about 400 nationalist participants, including members of 11 European parties, which adhere to right-wing rhetoric.

Saint Petersburg city authorities de facto supported nationalists, who arrived to participate in this event, as well as its organizers, “Rodina” (“Motherland”) movement, while antifascists and Saint Petersburg inhabitants, who did not agree with the forum and tried to protest against it. Information about participants of the forum, namely various openly nationalist parties, was circulated for several weeks before the forum. Administration of Holiday Inn, where the event was to take place, received hundreds of letters of protest, which demanded that no support was given to nationalists through provision of a venue for their event. On the eve of the forum antifascists blocked Nevsky prospect, the city’s main street, holding a banner “Nazis out!” and calling on the public to prevent the disgraceful event.

On the opening day of the Russian Conservative Forum groups of civil activists and antiracists placed antifascist banners outside of the Holiday Inn hotel, held individual pickets, distributed leaflets informing city inhabitants about the nationalist event, which was being held in Saint Petersburg. Attention of both the police and nationalists was captured by an activist samba band, which sang and shouted “Nazis fuck off!” It was the samba band’s performance, which was considered offensive by the police and not the physical attack by one of the forum’s participants dressed in “Orthodoxy or death!” t-shirt against picket participants. As a result samba band musicians were detained by the police and taken to police station, where they had the opportunity to see for themselves what kind of ideas were embraced by the city authorities on the eve of 70th anniversary of victory in the Second World War.

Officers of the anti-extremist unit (Centre “E”) arrived to police station №29 after being informed about detention of activists by the police and started their “responsible work” with the detainees, trying to discover expressions of extremism (probably by analyzing the rhythms of the samba music). Participants of the samba band were taken for individual interrogations one after another, where they were verbally abused, arbitrarily photographed, subjected to psychological pressure and even occasional slaps on the face and head, which all seemed to be part of a “prescribed program” for interrogation of antifascists. It was no coincidence that after some time one of the detainees had to ask for medical assistance, but police officers initially refused to call doctors and, when the latter finally arrived, tried to prevent them from entering police station.

During the night police officers subjected female antifascists to clamant abuses: detainees were forced to fully strip before being placed into a detention cell. Female officer brought with her two random “attesting witnesses”, whom she supposedly found on the street “waiting for the bus” (at was very late at night, when no buses were running), who later claimed in fact that they lived not far from police station and yet later stated that they had been police apprentices. They refused to testify abuse on the part of police officers on the grounds that “our police puts no pressure onto detainees”. However, there were in fact a lot of abuses to be reported and testified: detained female activists were forced to strip right in the corridor of police station under video cameras placed there, while male police officers were watching this, made humiliating comments and laughed. But the female officer, who was present there, found no offense in this and said: “Don’t be ashamed, take off your clothes, they [male officers] will not see anything new for themselves – they see it every day!” It should be noted that stripping is not obligatory during detention and surely doesn’t allow presence of other people or verbal insults.

After spending the night inside the police station, detained activists were taken to the court room, where the judges discovered irreconcilable contradictions in police reports, which had been filled in a very unprofessional manner, and as a result had to be returned to police officers for re-doing. Detained activists managed to get back their drums and sleeping bags, though not at once, as police officers didn’t want to give them back.

In fact, Centre for counteraction against extremism (Centre “E”) gave a very unsophisticated answer to the question which side the state supports in conflict between nationalists and antifascists: “public statements aimed at kindling racial, ethnic or other hatred” were “not registered” on the part of the participants of the forum. At the same time Centre “E” identified “violations of public order… on the part of persons who had protested against holding” of the nationalist forum.

by Inessa Sakhno