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Quartering Quarter (St. Petersburg, Russia)

December 27, 2013

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The “quartering” of a free space in Petersburg: a “raider” occupation, the bandit’s provocations, the last stand of the young people, and the arbitrary rule of the police.

The story of the stand-off between the curators of the art-space Quarter and the property’s owners and the new sub-lessees of 18 Pirogov Alley has become well-know throughout Petersburg, and some are even tired of it. Quarter’s group of young curators rented and repaired a half-destroyed mansion and successfully united a mass of creative initiatives and small-scale, non-commercial cultural and entrepreneurial projects under its roof. But it didn’t manage to convince the business big-wigs of its economic efficiency and profitability (and thus, its right to exist). After all, it’s more profitable to rent out a building repaired with the sweat and blood of others as offices than art studios, alternative galleries, and other youth projects. Going into the details of the judicial conflict is not the kind of thing we anarchists are interested in. This time it’s not just us who recognize that laws can be bent to fit any occasion.

On December 24 at approximately noon some bald-headed, leather-jacket-clad persons reminiscent of extras from Criminal Petersburg broke into the Quarter building. These bandit-looking types forcefully dragged everyone present in the building out into the street (with the exception of one person, who locked himself in and was then locked in a hostel on the first floor by the bandits). Some of the residents were beaten, and the intruders threatened to shoot a local dog. They created a pogrom inside, feasted on food from the cafe, and then locked the doors in front of the robbed and humiliated residents. In general, we have here the full bouquet of black corporate “raiding.”

Towards 5:00 PM a crowd of young people, including Quarter residents, regulars, and friends of the businesses that found shelter under Quarter’s roof gathered in front of the property. There were punks and hard-cores, young people from every imaginable subculture, for the most-part the sort who frequent the vegan cafe of the anarchist collective Chiapas (many of them really had just come to eat at the cafe), anarchists and anti-fascists, students, and other young people. Support came from other “residents” (project participants) from Quarter, along with their friends, in other words, those people who had come to hold this place, it’s atmosphere, and its people, dear during this unusual association’s year of existence.

The bandits didn’t keep them waiting long and came running out of the building, initiating a shoving match that escalated into an all-out brawl during which they sprayed several of Quarter’s defenders with tear gas.

In the photographs (see below) you can see that the only person using an airsoft gun is pointing it in the air above the heads of some young people. This is one of the bandits. The bandits also used flares to scare the young people, waiving fire in their faces. The smoke from the flares also served to prevent those filming from establishing who really instigated and was responsible for the fight. The skirmish didn’t last long. The building and the property in front of the building remained in the hands of the bald guys in leather. Here’s a video of fight: http://topspb.tv/news/news29735/

Quarter’s director Roman Krasilnikov pursued a peaceful resolution, striving to keep the conflict from escalating and working to calm those who had gathered. Most of the residents were of the same mindset. Strangely enough, many of these people who had just been thrown out of the projects they had created just wanted to collect their property, the tools and equipment seized by the bandits. The mass of young people thirsted for revenge and the restoration of justice. But the fight began and was finished before the bulk of our forces could gather, and time was not on our side. Some of the more peaceful and law-abiding Quarter supporters called the police to the place of the incident. But the police didn’t hurry to the place of the incident. And when the police did show up, they didn’t hurry to deal with the bandits. The police stood between the activists and the bandits. The bandits, at first cautious, started to feel more and more confident after their conversation with the cops. And with good reason: a line of special forces officers formed behind the backs of Quarter’s defenders, blocking all the exits (Pirogova Alley dead ends at building 18). The Chief of Police of the Admiralty neighborhood informed those gathered that they were to head to Department Number 2 at 58 Sadovaya Street to file either a claim for a violation of their rights or give a report in their defense.

The Chief of Police confused the testimonies and kept insisting that he was in charge. It was pretty funny to see this enormous, bloated guy running about between thin young men, girls a quarter his size, and teenagers who were constantly asking him whether the bandits in the building would be detained. The guy lied loudly and shamelessly and got caught up in his own arguments… He even seemed to be embarrassed by the presence of press and kept insisting that the people inside the building would be detained, too, only later. At about 7 PM a deputy from the regional legislature from the Yabloko party arrived accompanied by a lawyer and some human rights activists. She demanded that the Chief explain why and on what grounds the building was occupied by representatives of one of the parties in conflict, when the legal proceedings that are to decide the fate of the building were not yet settled. In a faltering voice he sputtered something like, “What am I supposed to do, kick these ones out and give everything back to the other ones? Or do you expect us to leave so that they can go back to fighting?”

Towards the end of the evening I could no longer distinguish between the bandits in leather and the plain-clothes cops. They were so alike that they blended together: their facial expressions, their snickering in unison, their threats… Among the police’s misdeeds it’s worth recalling another lie: some of the people who had been maced by the bandits needed medical help, and the cops ordered the victims to head to the hospital at the end of the block and then walked off to fill out some paperwork. When the victims tried to pass the police line, the cops didn’t let them pass and tried to detain them. To the credit of the doctors and the medical assistants the victims were snatched out of the police’s hands and freed. Attempts were made to detain people from the crowd as well but to no avail: the activists didn’t give their own up.

The situation of the besieged activists was becoming more and more absurd. The sighs of anarchists saying “This isn’t Hamburg” were heard above the crowd. One of the activists found a piece of plywood, wrote “I came to a cultural center” on it, and held a solitary picket. 10 guys and girls who were freezing and didn’t want engage in physical confrontations gave up and voluntarily went to the department to fill out some absurd “documents about what happened” (in the hopes of getting out of there sooner). As it turned out later, at the department almost everyone was fingerprinted and photographed with threats and told that the person who fired the airsoft gun must be among their numbers (they police demanded that he be given up). The moral of the story is simple: never believe cops.

Some members of the crowd at Quarter got away from the place of the action safely by promising the cops to head to the department and file a report right away (RIGHT AWAAAAY!). Others snuck off during the commotion. The police’s vigilance waned and their nerves wore thin. They wanted to settle things as quickly as possible. When the majority of the defenders had wandered off, those who remained watched as the bandits were led away. In this video you can see that the bandits are leaving, supposedly under arrest, but they are so clearly at ease that it seems unlikely that they had really been arrested. More likely than not they were let go immediately.

The activist who held the solitary picket and a few of the more steadfast combatants were detained as well. The activist is awaiting trial at the department for petty hooliganism.

Alas, Quarter is no more. It was a friendly place. Young artists, representatives of various subcultures, punks, hipsters, activists, and apolitical bohemians gathered here. It was one of the few places in Petersburg that wasn’t entirely permeated with market-place mold. Some nitwits defend the side of the new owners of the building, pick at imperfections in the dealings of the tasteless curators. Sure, they were in debt, but they had the talent and the resolve to overcome temporary difficulties: think about it, the building was in ruins for many years (and not needed by anyone for as many years). It was made livable and even dignified in a short time by a few dozen people, many of whom positioned their projects as non-commercial, that is, not organized in pursuit of excessive profit. Many decisions regarding the fate of the project were made at general assemblies of “residents.” Anarchists participated in several projects and, to their surprise, found that without any propaganda on their part, Quarter’s residents had embodied in practice the basic principles of free assemblies. When the restaurant-bar and vegan co-op Chiapas opened, the words “hate hipsters, love punks” were scrawled on the door. Later, the tag disappeared. These very same hipsters turned out to be not coddled aesthetes but people drawn to creative pursuits, including the pursuit of social alternatives. It’s too bad they’re not quite ready for radical action, but it’s a matter of time. These young people showed that in this country and in this city, they’re only wanted in the capacity of canon fodder, livestock, and office plankton. As it turns out, all of their effervescent creative energy doesn’t fit into the city landscape of criminal, bourgeois, bureaucratic Petersburg. Some higher-ups decided that this was an inconvenient phenomenon, even hidden in the run-down, back-alleys of Dostoevskii-esque Petersburg. I hope these young people won’t forget and won’t forgive those responsible for their loss.

Danila Dugum

 

This is a translation of the article originally published in Russian on avtonom.org: 

Приводим перевод одной из статей (https://avtonom.org/news/chetvertovanie-svobodnogo-prostranstva-v-pitere-reyderskiy-zahvat-provokacii-banditov), подходящий для англоязычной аудитории.

 

Photos curtesy of fontanka.ru and avtonom.org

 

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More videos of the skirmish between the Quarter space defenders and the thugs:

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