The “Rockers”

Andrei Lapik, What’s Going On?. November 15, 1987

Written by a Moscow State University student.

Original Source: Moskovskii komsomolets, 15 November 1987.

The image of the Rocker created by newspapers and television is so offensive that it stays in the mind. The ‘night riders’, undaunted by the militia, bound together in a romantic brotherhood, are natural heroes. Furious speeds and Incredible stunts are their trade. And what it’ some people can’t sleep because of them, or if they break a law or two? That’s not so terrible. After all, enthusiasm and a desire to be noticed, to show off are all part of being young. They have a hard life. They are put upon. It should be our duty to help them … every one of us should abandon his or her affairs to figure out how to come to the rescue.

Then it was discovered that Moscow wasn’t the only one with motorcyclists who liked to drive around at night.

Leningrad had them, Minsk, Riga… Even the most remote provincial towns began to turn out their own Rockers. Are they indigenous products or is it simply a case of copying Moscow? Or is this phenomenon greatly exaggerated by the town fathers who invent it simply to be able to say: ‘We are dealing with this problem.’ Of course, there follows the danger of suspecting all motorcyclists, even those who ride in the day.

In short, there has been much ado about this matter. The word ‘Rocker’ has become a Russian word.

What do we know about them? Apart from the usual stereotype image of the ‘outsider’ motorcyclists who are ignored by the Komsomol and every other organization except the traffic militia, practically nothing.

A Special Score

The taxi rank at Domodedovo Airport on a foggy day. Cabdrivers stand huddled in groups, chatting as they wait for fares.

‘What associations does the word “Rocker” have for ?” I ask, after explaining that I am writing an article for a newspaper.

“Oh, those…’

They agree to talk to us if we agree that no names will be given. Some vernacular language has been ‘edited out’.

‘I wouldn’t put this in the paper, but we have brushes with them, serious ones sometimes,’ Sergei says.

‘Lately they’ve been scared to muck about with us, but they still do, sometimes,’ adds Victor who is about forty.

:Why are they scared?’

Because we’ve got a special score to settle with them. We don’t like those punks… And when we’ve got something to tell them we make it short and sweet.’

‘You mean you beat them?’


‘And what would you do?’ Sergei asks, getting heated. ‘Once I had this fare: they surrounded me and put their brakes on. You should have seen their ugly mugs… And I had a pregnant woman in the back seat. I told her, “Close your eyes.” Then I stepped on the gas and went straight at them. They made way but then they went after me. Well, I forced the first one into the ditch. Over he went. It was all right, he survived, there was earth there. The others stopped and waved their fists at me… The first one, he was about to hit the windscreen with a chain. Maybe he wanted to frighten me, I don’t know. I didn’t wait around to see. I had a fare, you know…’

I heard a lot of stories that day. Frankly, they were pretty horrifying. It would seem that ‘vigilantes’ are in action. Go to any taxi garage and talk to the drivers. You will hear about clashes with Rockers. And they’ll name names. Of course, if matters didn’t go too far…

Why cabdrivers? Because they work at night.

‘Look how much time the militia has spent on them. How many people they take away from their jobs: doctors, militiamen, mechanics…’

Cabdrivers and traffic militia have a special attitude towards the Rockers. And there’s no doubt what it means: ‘Things have come to a boll.’

What About the Rest of the Population?

‘To the Chairman of the Moscow City Council Executive Committee:

‘Dear Comrade Saikin:

‘Haven’t our Moscow law enforcement bodies fooled around long enough with those “Rockers”? They are really just nasty hoodlums rudely disturbing the citizens and should be dealt with.’

(From a letter)

‘Dear Editor;

‘What have things come to? Gangs of crazy youngsters carry on in the city and we just say, “Can you believe it!” You may think that I’m opposed to motorcycles. The fact is that I got my license in 1947 and became a Master of Motorcycling. True, at the time we didn’t have such fine machines. And we didn’t ride them at night … we didn’t take the silencer baffles out nor did we bother people, we didn’t want to. Now they don’t care.

‘.. I’m sure militia officers have means they can use to control this motorcycle mafia. There’s the Moscow City Council’s decree on disturbing peace after 11 p. m., the article on hooliganism…’

Yes. And there is also another regulation not everyone knows about: the Moscow City Council’s ban on motorcyclists traveling in groups. This is really what started it all. The order was given, the militia said OK. But as it turned out, the job was far from simple. Who the Rockers were, how many they were, what could be expected of them – no one knew. Cruel really, how were they to be stopped ? As in the ‘good old days’, directives were issued:

1. Prohibit until further notice the movement of groups of motorcyclists in city streets and arterial roads.

2. Instruct the Internal Affairs Commissioner to ensure that this resolution is strictly enforced as of 28 February 1987 ‘

That was all!

The objective was set. But how to go about it? The first encounters with the Rockers revealed that they would not obey. They did not stop when flagged down. They openly ignored the police.

The militia were given no additional rights. What could they do?

Change their tactics, perhaps.

The militia a decided to badger them into submission. They started checking every motorcyclist’s papers. The training course in Luzhniki Park was a popular gathering place for dozens of Rockers. As long as they drove around it, showing each other what their Yavas, Chezetas and Hondas could do, no one bothered them: training courses are intended to be used for driving. As soon as anyone left the course the militia asked to see the driver’s license and vehicle registration. For some reason the Rockers did not want to comply and sped off. As a rule the fugitives weren’t caught. Militiamen in cars were no match for the motorcyclists!

‘They’re not criminals, either,’ Lieutenant-Colonel 0. M. Butakhin says. ‘I know a lot of them. I spent a whole month at the course, talking to them, trying to understand…’

The Rockers were supposed to be organized into registered motorcycle clubs which would rule out nocturnal escapades. However, they deliberately zoomed down the Arbat, a pedestrian zone. Not long after that they rode around Red Square.

In short, the attempt to talk things over and find agreement failed.

Then the militia motorcycle platoon appeared on the Rockers’ horizon.

When Captain Sergei Novikov turned up in Luzhniki for the first time on his BMW the Rockers were thrown into confusion. Very respectfully they examined this famous make. Clearly it was ‘one hell of a machine’.

‘Even so you won’t catch us,’ a voice broke the silence.

The Rockers were worried.

‘Okay,’ Novikov said. ‘Race you over there on one wheel. If only one of you can keep up with me I won’t come back. A deal?’

There were a lot of takers. The race began. Novikov came in well ahead, his ‘rivals’ far behind. Quite a few couldn’t keep on one wheel the whole way.

‘We can do it on two,’ Novikov said. But it was more a gesture than a real wager. No one was interested .

‘We won’t be able to get away from those wheels,’ the Rockers thought and their belligerence diminished noticeably.

So don’t try it on,’ Novikov said. ‘You won’t get anywhere.’

It didn’t stop them.

In one of the first encounters they ran over Lieutenant Palchik. He was badly injured.

‘We’ll mow all you creeps down,’ Misha Lo crowed.

But there was not much joy. With their Yavas they didn’t have a chance of shaking off the BMWs. This was the beginning of the end.

What’s at the bottom of this unwillingness, fear even, of having their papers checked ? Most of the night bikers do not have licenses and many do not even have license plates. But why should they risk breaking their necks to get out of paying a ten ruble fine? Something is wrong here.

One keen motorcyclist, a Master of Sports, is up in arms. ‘They show these Rockers on television. But no one is asking where do they get spare parts from. On the black market? Do you know what they cost’? If you used your salary to buy them you’d die of starvation. I say they must be stealing. Maybe it’s not them, who knows’? Whoever steals is a thief -not a Rocker or heavy metal freak. And that’s that.

‘One thing bothers me. A lot of the motorcycles impounded by the militia are never claimed. When they are caught they give false names, pretend to go to get their paper and disappear, leaving their motorcycles behind…,

Now, when democratization has allowed greater freedom, the situation has changed. More and more informal groups are emerging. We need to pay attention to them.

Many violate laws and are provocative. They are detained for identification. That is when the tricks begin. For example, a young man throws himself at the militia’s car windscreen and is taken to hospital. He is seen to be the victim Another kicks in the door of the militia car and breaks his leg. In the hospital he says that the militia broke it, and So on…

This gives rise to rumors of the militia’s ‘brutality’: it is the ‘poor’ Rockers who are being harassed. The rumors spread like wildfire.

Democracy is great. But it has to be learned. Some people see democracy as anarchy, and cherish their rights while ignoring their duties.

The Rockers, who have contributed nothing to society demand every advantage. And we adults are afraid to tell them to behave. After all, that wouldn’t be kind or democratic…

I was interested in the Zakharenkov brothers, especially the eldest, Valerii. I wanted to see him ‘in action’, surrounded by his pals.

The youngest, Albert, was there but he did not take the initiative in the conversation. The lads came in and took seats in the small room. What did they have in common? Valerii will soon turn thirty. He has two convictions, the latest for gang rape. He has spent eight years in jail. What about the rest, how old are they? Seventeen, eighteen, twenty. In their eyes he’s a hero, of course. Because he was probably innocent. Besides, ‘Who said and where’s it written that ex-cons are not people’? They may even teach other folks to keep away from crime…’

‘I teach them not to behave like hooligans, not to steal,’ Valerii says. ‘There’s nothing good about prison. No fun in that…’

But if he works so hard to keep them on the straight and narrow, why has his own brother done time, too’?

I don’t hear anything new and switch off. In any case, no one pays any attention to me. They are spoiled by the media. TV drools over them, film-makers come, hat in hand. They have given several interviews to foreign correspondents. They even thought of petitioning the United Nations Organization.

My interest stirs as Valerii becomes more impassioned. We, Rockers, are the greatest. We are fearless, we are noble. We could teach any driving instructor a thing or two. Leave us alone, give us our freedom, or else we’ll take it ourselves. The others listen to him spellbound, ready to agree with anything he says, ready to go anywhere he tells them. They believe in him. The outcome?

‘June 6th a group of motorcyclists, approximately 100-120 in number, drove into Luzhniki course. At 10:45 p.m., when people came out into the street after the film show and headed for the Luzhniki bridge, the motorcyclists started up their vehicles and, sounding their horns, drove full speed into the crowd.’

(From a traffic control report) ‘…Yesterday I was sitting in the square outside the Brest Cinema. At first I was alone, then a young mother arrived, pushing a pram with a sleeping baby. Suddenly an engine roared and this punk swept down on us out of the blue on his motorcycle… He pulled up alongside the pram and revved his motor. The little boy woke up and began to cry. The woman leapt to her feet, she was in tears… I jumped up and he stepped on the accelerator, choking me with a cloud of gas and took off…’

(From a complaint lodged with the Moscow City Committee of’ the Communist Party)

What about their parents? Some shake their heads in defeat, others think that everything is all right–the kids never moped around the house. And then, Rockers are so varied. The bulk are young workers, technical school students, and idlers.

There are students, office workers and school kids among the Rockers. But in some way they are all very much alike. When I met their parents I suddenly realized what it was: all of them came from bad homes. I do not mean that they lack for anything materially, although I visited some squalid flats where the sheets hadn’t been washed for months and where there were more bottles than books. I mean morally lacking. When the father isn’t interested in knowing where his son got his new motorcycle, and when a mother doesn’t care where her daughter spends the night, you cannot call that a good home -although it may not be short of creature comforts.

People aren’t born bad in this society, nevertheless bad people appear. Because they weren’t taught what’s what at the start. Because they never learned the meaning of the word ‘no’.

Yet it must be said they are not all criminals. It is what they could become. They are ready. It is not at all an innocuous phenomenon.

One out of every ten Rockers has already committed a crime. Without doubt many of the Rockers are good kids, not yet spoiled, who naively believe in the romanticism of the night riders and Rocker brotherhood. The gang idea is a deception.

Zakharenkov breaks the window of the militia car with his head,

So what? He did the right thing. He did it for his fellow Rockers.

They tell a militiaman, ‘Be careful or we’ll write a letter saying that you beat us and we’ll all sign it.’ And the militiaman leaves because neither he nor his partner are accepted as witnesses in the eye of the law.

Can they really be our children ? Why did they come to be like that? We don’t know how to win them. Apparently we don’t even want to. It is so much easier to pay them off: give them what they want, let them do what they please, asking nothing in return just as long as they leave us alone…

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