Maxim Martsinkievich, aka Tesak, Russia’s best know neo-Nazi, died last week — a few thoughts.
In 2008, when I was only tangentially interested in Russian politics, I read an article in the French daily Le Monde, about a double murder in Russia. It made such a strong effect on me that I talked about it with friends and thought about it for some time. It described how two men, one from Dagestan, the other from Tajikistan, were abducted by a neo-Nazi group and taken to an unknown forest. There, under a big Nazi flag, some neo-Nazis slaughtered one of them, and shot the other. They posted on the internet a video of their crime — I still remember seeing the picture of the two captives before their execution. Many years have passed since then, and many, including myself, had forgotten about a crime that was lazily investigated, never elucidated, the bodies never found.
Then, a few days ago, Tesak died. I had forgotten Tesak too, like many, especially outside Russia and Ukraine (his death wasn’t even mentioned by outlets such as The Guardian or Le Monde). Or rather, I didn’t forget about him, I just stopped paying attention, because you can’t really forget who Tesak was. In Russia, he needs no introduction, he was without a doubt the best-known neo-Nazi, at a time where such characters were no rarities. Even his name was unforgettable. Maxim Martsinkievich went by a nickname (one wants to say a brand) meaning ‘hatchet’ or ‘backsword’, from the verb tesat’, ‘to hew, to mow’.
Tesak died in a Chelyabinsk prison, and Russian authorities pronounced his death a suicide. In an interview for the KP tabloid, Svetlana Petrenko, the spokesperson of the Investigative Committee, declared he had a ‘very serious reason’ for killing himself. He had confessed to the 2007 ‘double murder of individuals of non-Slavic ethnicity’ (as one talks about this kind of people in Russian officialese). Since Svetlana Petrenko mentioned the well-known video of the murder, there could only be one crime she was alluding too. Petrenko surmised that he may have been overwhelmed by the ‘gravity and senselessness’ of his crimes. His family, his lawyers do not believe Tesak killed himself, or that if he did, it was with some help.
Did Tesak commit that crime? We may know soon, if the Investigative committee offers some proof — from Petrenko’s interview it’s not quite clear whether Tesak had told investigators where the bodies are buried or was just ready to show them. In any case, one would be happy to know who committed that atrocious crime, one would feel if only relief for the families of these two men.
Feeling pity for Tesak is near impossible. Born in 1984, he was an avowed neo-Nazi, the founder of a group named Format 18. Created in 2005, Format 18 was a group of loosely organised skinheads with the activities common to this kind of people, mainly beatings. All these actions (and many more) were then posted on successful social media feeds. Tesak, like other neo-Nazis before him (but better), had understood that violence, real or staged, filmed and posted on the Internet was the most inspiring propaganda. Writing for Kommersant, Alexander Chernykh considers Tesak the ‘first popular videoblogger’ of the country, collecting money online to support his action. Along his life, he would prove quite successful at financing his activities, from conferences, selling merch, or videos to journalists. Chernykh recalls seeing a video of Tesak beating and throwing an ‘Asian-looking’ man from a moving suburban train — ‘Tesak’s ‘studio’ had many similar videos, I think every teenager from the mid-2000s remember them.’
At the end of the 2000s, Tesak went to jail, on the basis of article 282 of the Criminal code (incitement to racial hatred): with other skinheads he had interrupted a debate in Moscow with some Nazi salutes and ‘Sieg Heil’. Oddly enough, it was not his very physical violence that sent him to jail, and sent him alone, but a few Nazi salutes. He would again be sentenced to jail, on the same basis, this time for the staged execution of a ‘drug dealer’, complete with KKK robes.
Freed from jail at the beginning of the 2010s, Tesak came back to business, with one of the most disgusting political projects to see light in Russia — at a time where such projects were rife. ‘Occupy Paedophilia’ was devoted to hunting ‘paedophiles’. Using fake profiles on dating websites, Tesak and his friends or imitators would lure gay men to meetings. When found, they would humiliate them, if not outright beat and torture them — if you’re interested in the details, they are described in that HRW report. Media speaking, Tesak was no ordinary neo-Nazi, ranting on some dark corner of the Internet. True, he had created his own dark corner on the Internet, but his actions were positively covered by the wholly official Federal channels REN-TV and NTV. He was probably the most media-savvy Russian neo-Nazi, the ‘most talented media-manipulator’ in that subculture. He could count on the Russian medias’ vilest instincts, their not so latent xenophobia, homophobia, crave for scandal and all kind of trash. At the time, at the peak of state-sponsored homophobia, there was an energetic young man ready to take the matter seriously, and to shoot nice pictures.
If you follow Russian politics, even from afar, you’ll have certainly heard that Putin may be bad, evil even, but that there’s worse in that country: Nationalists of all sorts, Neo-Nazis, Chechen terrorists, whatever. It’s true, there’s absolute political evil in Russia, and Tesak certainly was among that sheer evil. It’s true, Putin and his people are lesser evil, compared to Tesak.
Surprisingly, when Tesak died, there were little conspiracy theories involving Putin or the Presidential administration. Tesak was already forgotten, and if we ever know what happened to him, it will most probably be that he was just crushed by the infamous Russian prison system (something quite many people far from Neo-Nazism mentioned) or by the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail. Whether he died of his own hand or was beaten to death by some prison-guard does not really matter.
There weren’t either discussions about a potential protector in the Kremlin, that Tesak might have used when alive and well. Tesak did go to jail, and he was probably not protected by the authorities. He could just count on their passivity, their complacency and tolerance for the most violent xenophobia and homophobia. Between his prison stays, Tesak could resume his bouts of organised and advertised violence. Someday, the lesser evil wakes up, and the absolute evil ends up crushed. This is what happened with most nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, from NSO-Sever (the ‘National-Socialist Society-North’ kiled 27 people) to BORN (the ‘Combat Organisation of the Russian Nationalists’ that killed 11). This is what happened to Tesak. We could find comfort in that, if only the lesser evil didn’t take so long to wake up. If you live long enough, you’ll see the Russian state’s monopoly on violence restored.