Russia: “Why Did They Kill Yuri Volkov?”

Why did they kill Yuri Volkov? (a campaign banner, by Teh_nomad

"Why did they kill Yuri Volkov?" (a campaign banner, by Teh_nomad

The murder of a TV journalist and football fan Yuri Volkov in the centre of Moscow on July 10, 2010, became a widely discussed event in the Russian blogosphere. A complicated topic, dealing with hostile ethnic stereotypes, crime, police corruption and Russian subcultures, has generated nearly 7,000 comments, tweets and blog posts. Two mass street actions were held, gathering from 1,000 to 3,000 people mourning the victim and asking one question: “Why did they kill Yuri Volkov?”

The murder took place near Chistie Prudy metro station at 1 AM on July 10, 2010. According to the version [RUS] of Volkov's friends, a company of 9 friends were on their way back home when one of the offenders pushed one of them and provoked a quarrel. The fight was immediate and short. As a result, Volkov received deadly knife wounds and died. Three offenders – Akhmedpasha Aidayev, Bekhan Ibragimov and Magomed Suleimanov – were detained by the police within several minutes after the fight. The witnesses of the fight recognized them, the police found the knife as well as blood on the offenders’ clothes. The official police version with its Soviet propaganda style mindlessly said [RUS] that it was just a drunken quarrel. It was not.

Volkov was an active fan of the “Spartak” football team [EN]. Football fans, and especially “Spartak” fans, are known for their excessive violence [RUS] and xenophobia [EN]. LJ user yermoloff described [RUS] them this way:

из всех клубов … именно спартаковских болельщиков провожают до метро. именно их держат в тройном оцеплении ментов. именно они мне, идущему в пиджаке с экзамена, разбивают лицо.

of all the football club fans, it's only “Spartak” fans who are being accompanied to the metro [by their peers – GV]. It's only them who are guarded by three circles of the police [during football matches]. It's them who smashed me in my face when I was coming back from an exam, dressed in a suit.

LJ user d2om, however, argued [RUS] that Yuri had been “a responsible and adequate fan.”

At the same time, football fans have a strong feeling of group solidarity and have vast online networks, some of which are hidden from the search engines. It was through the Internet fan forums that a few thousand people were mobilized to come to the streets in order to pay tribute to Volkov. The first and the second commemorations were well documented by bloggers (pictures and videos available here [RUS], here [RUS] and here [RUS]).

The organizers of the commemoration were very strict [RUS] about forbidding any political agenda of the action. The conventional media tried to call it a “meeting of the skinheads” (a common label given to football fans), although the pictures prove it's not quite true. “Skinheads” did indeed join the commemoration, but were not a significant part of it. The violent crime in the centre of Moscow touched both ultra-nationalists and people not interested in politics at all.

Commemoration of Yuri Volkov, photo by Evgeny Valyaev

Commemoration of Yuri Volkov, photo by Evgeny Valyaev

An important detail about the offenders – who are all of the Chechen [EN] origin – put the topic into the framework of complex ethnic relations in Russia, and, specifically, the Russian-Chechen relations [EN]. LJ user varfolomeev wrote:

Если бы убийцами этого несчастного 23-летнего мальчика оказались не чеченцы, а представители какого-либо иного народа, шума и общественного возмущения было бы столько же? И также бы собирались сотни людей, чтобы почтить память жертвы, устраивались бы флешмобы, и авторитетные блогеры писали бы о зачатках гражданского общества, если бы убийцами были, скажем, такие же москвичи как и сам Волков ?

Would it be less of a stir and public outrage if the murderers of the 23-year-old boy weren't Chechens but representatives of some other nation? And would hundreds of people gather in order to mourn the victim, would they make flash mobs, and would popular bloggers write about the emergence of civil society if the murderers were the same Muscovites as Volkov?

Nationalist and neo-Nazi groups of bloggers were happy to join (and, eventually, lead) the discussion of the case, stressing the nationality of the offenders. During the mass commemoration actions, graffiti featuring xenophobic slogans (“Chechens are killing Russians,” “War in your home,” “A Russian killed by the Chechens”, “Moscow is a territory of war”) appeared on the walls of the nearby houses.

A lot of popular bloggers couldn't stay neutral in this story and followed the nationalistic discourse of the story. As LJ user voland-bride wrote:

Много топовых блоггеров среагировали на смерть Юры Волкова, много написали о том, что совсем беззащитным москвичам жить не дают, но никто не удосужился покапать по этому делу поглубже -ведь не все так просто. Вообще, смерть футбольного фаната от ножа “понаехавших” это штука, требующая серьезного журналистского расследования, а не догадок с примесью шовинизма.
За работу взялась пропагандистская машина националистов, а где работает машина, там, как известно, правды мало.

A lot of top bloggers reacted to Yura Volkov's death, wrote a lot about how it's hard to be a defenseless Muscovite, but no one made any effort to dig deeper into this case – because it's not that simple. In general, the death of a football fan by a knife of the “immigrants” is a thing that demands a serious journalistic investigation, but not guesses with admixture of chauvinism.
The propaganda machine of the nationalists had been launched, and where there's a machine, it's well-known that there's little truth.

Another aspect of the story – the corruption in the Russian police – was raised because two of the three offenders had been released from jail (allegedly due to a bribe given to the police). Some bloggers believed [RUS] such a mild measure had been chosen because of the pressure of the Chechen diaspora representatives on the investigation.

Evgeny Valyayev, press secretary of “Russkiy Obraz” (“The Russian Image”) ultra-right nationalist organization, posted [RUS] a screenshot from the forum, where an alleged sister of one of the offenders was trying to gather money for a bribe (250,000 roubles, or $8,200), to “free” her brother from the police (the identity of the author hasn't been verified).

Blogger stroev_sergey commented on both the corruption and nationalist trends of the discussion:

…ЛЮБАЯ диаспора может откупить, отмазать своего члена. Кроме русских. У которых нет диаспоры. Потому что русские всегда жили в симбиозе со своим государством и если это государство оказалось антирусским, то русские оказались людьми второго сорта, за которых НИКТО, НИКОГДА не заступится.

…ANY diaspora can buy out and protect its member. Except Russians. Who don't have a diaspora. Because Russians have always lived in a symbiosis with their government, and when the government turned out to be anti-Russian, Russians became second-class people, for whom NO ONE, NEVER will stand up.

Yuri's girlfriend (her name isn't disclosed) started [RUS] a LiveJournal blog, in fear that the police will soft-pedal the issue due to the pressure from the “diaspora” and the alleged bribes. Popular blogger teh_nomad started a silent flashmob offering people to repost the black picture with a question “Why did they kill Yura Volkov?” The same slogan appeared [RUS] during several football matches.

Yuri's girlfriend wrote:

Я сейчас сижу, пишу это, а мне страшно.
Страшно, потому что я девушка. Страшно, потому что на месте трагедии появлялись по нескольку раз какие-то непонятные личности, которые фотографировали людей и исчезали.
Страшно, потому что если что-то приключится со мной, то все так и увязнет в виде RIP'a на гостевухах.

I'm sitting here, writing this, but I'm scared. I'm scared because I'm a girl. I'm scared because at the place of the tragedy some strange people came, made pictures, and disappeared.
I'm scared because if something happens to me, everything will be just stuck with RIPs on the guest boards.

In the whole case the most underrepresented point of view was of ethnic Chechens. Ramzan Kadyrov, president of the Chechen Republic, posted [RUS] a generic post on the unacceptability of labeling whole nations for the crimes of individuals. Timur Aliev, Kadyrov's adviser, made an attempt to understand the incident:

[…] Один мой товарищ несколько лет назад рассказывал мне, что в Москве невозможно жить без ножа. Иначе легко стать жертвой гопников. Ночью на него напали четверо. Хотели то ли ограбить, то ли избить. Он достал нож и бросился на них. Они разбежались.
К чему это я пишу?
Я не борец, не боксер и не каратист. И лично мне очень не хотелось бы стать объектом избиения. Это, прежде всего, унизительно. Наверное, я бы предпринял все возможное, чтобы не стать этим самым “объектом”.

A friend of mine, a couple of years ago, told me that it was impossible to live in Moscow without a knife. Without it, it's very easy to become a victim of gopniks [aggressive young males]. On one night, he was attacked by four. They wanted either to beat him, or to rob him. He took out his knife and rushed towards them. They fled.
Why am I writing it?
I'm not a wrestler, not am I a boxer or a karate fighter. And, personally, I wouldn't want to be an object of a beating. This is, first of all, degrading. Probably, I would do my best not to become such an object.

The case of the murder of Yuri Volkov isn't the only one in the long list of the numerous ethnic crimes committed both by Russians and non-Russians in Moscow. It provoked, however, one of the most active reactions among Muscovites during the last couple of years. Among other things, it has highlighted a total lack of trust towards police and legal procedures of justice (with the evidence of two out of the three offenders having been released soon after the incident), and a high level of police corruption combined with the reluctance of the mainstream media to cover such a sensitive topic. The case has highlighted the mobilizing power of the football fans’ online networks and the ease of embedding nationalistic narratives into such dramatic events.

1 comment

  • […], podkradyha, and harfang83 share pictures of the soccer fans blocking Leningradskiy prospekt, one of the major Moscow streets, to protest against another murder of their colleague Yegor Sviridov. Killers of Sviridov were released soon after the murder. Most of those who participated in the street action are afraid the criminals will escape the punishment, the same way it happened with Yuri Volkov, another soccer fan killed this summer. […]

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