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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » May 7, 2015
Politics & Society
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From Russia on Motorbikes
May 7, 2015   
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Russia’s most famous (or should that be infamous?) motorcycle gang, the Night Wolves, blacklisted as a criminal organization by Finland and the United States, is planning a ride across Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany to mark 70 years since World War II ended in Europe. The bikers want to reach Berlin May 9 and head to the eastern part of the city in order to lay flowers at the local Soviet military cemetery.

The thought of Russian Hell’s Angels thundering down Polish roads has caused outrage among a number of Polish politicians and some of the public. Far-right groups vowed they would block the Russian bikers, even threatening to physically assault the unwelcome visitors. Polish bikers, in turn, stood up for their Russian counterparts, arguing that the Katyn Ride, a motorcycle trip in which Poles commemorate the massacre of Polish army officers by the Soviet NKVD secret police in 1940, has for years been undisturbed by anyone in Russia. Poles who have taken part in the trip add that their Russian hosts are friendly and hospitable.

In Germany, the authorities have ruled out allowing the Night Wolves to ride through Berlin in an organized column and said the police would intervene should the Russian bikers try to do so.

The Night Wolves have not exactly acted with restraint. After their plans were first criticized in Poland, their leader Alexander Zaldostanov, nicknamed The Surgeon, added fuel to the fire. He has been quoted by the media as saying: “Wherever the Night Wolves are should be considered Russia.” He added that the Russian ride through Poland is being opposed by “the descendants of Polish policemen who served under the German invader in ghettoes.” He also warned that if his people were attacked, the response would be “commensurate with the threat.”

Zaldostanov, 52, is a somewhat mysterious figure. He graduated from a medical school at the age of just 21, and then resurfaced as a security guard at a nightclub in West Berlin. Rumor has it that earlier in Germany he had met Vladimir Putin, then a resident KGB agent in Dresden. Urban legend or not, you can’t help but wonder how a young man who had not even done his military service was allowed to freely travel to the West in the mid-1980s. Today, Zaldostanov is a public figure in Russia and his role, as well as that of his club—which has almost 5,000 members—extends far beyond the biker subculture.

The Night Wolves were involved in the annexation of Crimea, where they “secured government buildings in Sevastopol against possible attacks by Ukrainian militants,” or so it was said officially. In 2013, Putin bestowed the Order of Honor on Zaldostanov for his “efforts to support the patriotic education of young people.” In January this year, The Surgeon partnered with a popular actor, a Federation Council deputy, and a female Russian Mixed Martial Arts fighter to establish a movement called “Anti-Maidan.” The movement aims to prevent Russia experiencing what happened in Kiev, Ukraine, in late 2013 and early 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was overthrown and the pro-European opposition took power.

One can hope there will be no violence in Poland in connection with the Russian bikers and that Zaldostanov, who during his brief medical career apparently specialized in post-traumatic facial injuries, will not get an opportunity to dust off his medical skills.

Witold Żygulski
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