Wednesday 26 November 2014

Thousands of Russian nationalists rally in anti-immigrant protests

Thomas Grove and Jason Bush

Published 04/11/2013 | 13:16

A girl rides a kick scooter as people walk during a
A girl rides a kick scooter as people walk during a "Russian March" demonstration
People attend a "Russian March" demonstration, organized by the "Russian Coalition of Action" movement
A riot policeman detains a participant for violation of law and order during a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists shout slogans as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
A woman and a girl cross the road, as people participate in a "Russian March" demonstration
Russian nationalists shout slogans as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day
People attend a "Russian March" demonstration
Russian nationalists shout slogans as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration
Riot police detain a participant for violation of law and order during a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists shout slogans as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration
Russian nationalists shout slogans as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration during National Unity Day in Moscow
People attend a "Russian March" demonstration, organized by the "Russian Coalition of Action" movement, on National Unity Day in Moscow
Riot police detain a participant for violation of law and order during a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russia marks National Unity Day on November 4 to celebrate the defeat of Polish invaders in 1612
Russian nationalists hold a banner as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration
Russia marks National Unity Day on November 4 to celebrate the defeat of Polish invaders in 1612
Russian nationalists carry a historic flag of the Russian empire as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration
Russian nationalists carry a historic flag of the Russian empire as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration
Riot police block participants during a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
People are reflected in a puddle as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists shout slogans as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists hold a banner as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists attend a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
Russian nationalists shout slogans as they attend a "Russian March" demonstration
Riot police detain a participant for violation of law and order during a "Russian March" demonstration on National Unity Day in Moscow
An Orthodox believer attends a "Russian March" demonstration, organized by the "Russian Coalition of Action" movement, on National Unity Day in Moscow
Policeman detain protesters during a march to mark National Unity Day, in Moscow

Thousands of Russian nationalists rallied across the country on National Unity Day on Monday, in a sign of the growing strength of far-right political forces galvanised by an anti-immigrant agenda.

Hard-line nationalists have adopted the holiday, which commemorates the liberation of Moscow from Polish invaders in 1612, as an occasion to hold annual "Russian Marches".

This year's rallies were larger and more numerous than in previous years, in a headache for Russian authorities who worry that rising ethnic tensions pose a threat to public order.

At the largest rally, around 8,000 people assembled in an working-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Moscow, police said. Organisers' requests to hold the rally closer to the city centre have repeatedly been denied.

"Moscow has only just woken up, and Russians have only just started to recognise their identity," said Alexander Belov, a nationalist leader and an organiser of the march. "With every day Russian nationalists are gaining more and more support across the country."

Police said they detained around 30 marchers for wearing masks or forbidden Nazi symbols, and for other minor public order offences. No serious disturbances were reported.

Smaller demonstrations, attracting hundreds or dozens of participants, were held in towns and cities across Russia.

Although nationalist organisations attract the active support of only a small minority of Russians, they tap into widespread public concerns over immigration and disenchantment among Russian youths.

Many ordinary Russians are deeply hostile to immigrants from the largely Muslim regions of Central Asia and the Caucasus, blaming them for problems such as crime and unemployment.

A recent survey by the Levada Centre polling agency, taken on the eve of Moscow's mayoral election in September, showed that immigration topped voters' concerns. More than half of respondents said it worried them more than any other problem.

BACK TO THE TSARS

President Vladimir Putin first established National Unity Day in 2005 to replace the Soviet-era commemoration of the Bolshevik revolution.

This year's marches come at a particularly sensitive time, less than a month after thousands of youths rioted in a working-class Moscow suburb, Biryulyovo, following the killing of a young ethnic Russian man.

Police later arrested a citizen from the mostly Muslim country of Azerbaijan for the murder.

Maria, a 15-year-old schoolgirl with dyed red hair, said that she attended Monday's Moscow march - her first - because of the incident.

"After what happened in Biryulovo I couldn't not take part. I want to live in a country where immigrants act like guests, not where they own the place," she said, declining to give her last name.

Many of those marching in Moscow waved black, yellow and white flags, the old monarchist flag of the Romanov dynasty that has in recent years been adopted as a nationalist symbol.

Others carried religious icons, or pictures of the last Romanov Tsar Nicholas I and his family, executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918.

Many marchers carried banners and placards with slogans like "White Power" and "Russia for the Russians".

"We should stop immigrants from coming into Moscow. Give them land so that they live like monkeys, like the Americans did with the Indians," said demonstrator Alexei Shukin, 49, wearing camouflage fatigues.

As the head of a patchwork state with multiple religions and ethnicities, President Putin he can ill afford any escalation in racial tensions, and he has repeatedly called for racial and religious tolerance.

In a bid to head off the nationalists' rising appeal and mobilise public support behind the government, Russian authorities have at the same time adopted elements of the nationalist agenda, however.

For example, the federal and regional governments have recently cracked down on the use of illegal immigrant labour, notably in construction and outdoor markets.

Critics fear that the response may reinforce negative anti-immigrant stereotypes and fuel ethnic tensions.

But such concerns were little in evidence at Monday's Moscow rally, where participants said authorities were doing too little to clamp down on illegal immigration.

"The only way the current authorities, who make money off illegal immigrants, will listen to us is if we move onto the streets," said demonstrator Shukin.

Reuters

Promoted articles

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in World News