Thousands of Russian nationalists have held demonstrations to protest against foreigners residing in the country. Tensions have been heightened by the recent killing of a young Russian man and an ensuing riot.
At the largest rally, a march through a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Moscow, some demonstrators carried black, yellow and white Russian imperial flags and shouted slogans such as “White Power” or “Russia for the Russians.”
One group carried a banner that read: “Young People Against Tolerance.” Police said they arrested around 30 demonstrators for displaying banned Nazi symbols, concealing their faces with masks, or other minor offenses.
Russian nationalists hold demonstrations every November 4, which, since 2005, has been a holiday known as Unity Day. This was established by President Vladimir Putin to replace the Soviet-era holiday to commemorate the Bolshevik revolution.
Heightened ethnic tension
However, the turnout for this year’s marches was much higher than in previous years, as they came amid a rise in tensions between ethnic Russians and migrants from former Soviet Central Asian republics or the largely Muslim Caucasus region of Russia.
This came to a head three weeks ago, after an ethnic Russian man was murdered and thousands of Russian youths ran riot, targeting a vegetable warehouse where they believed the killer worked. Police subsequently arrested a suspect who originated from Azerbaijan. They also rounded up around 1,000 migrants working at the warehouse.
“Moscow has only just woken up, and Russians have only just started to recognize their identity,” Alexander Belov, one of the Moscow rally’s organizers, told the Reuters news agency. “With every day Russian nationalists are gaining more and more support across the country,” he said.
While only a small minority of Russians actively support nationalist organizations, by voicing concerns about immigration, nationalist views also appeal to a much wider audience. An opinion poll conducted just prior to Moscow’s mayoral election in September found that immigration was the top concern on the minds of voters in the Russian capital.
President Putin, meanwhile, marked Unity Day, which commemorates the liberation of Moscow from Polish invaders in 1612, with a speech at the Kremlin.
“Cohesion and solidarity have turned into the bedrock of the Russian state,” Putin said. “This unbreakable national unity has repeatedly helped Russia defend its freedom and national independence, overcoming years of trouble and achieving triumphs,” he added.
pfd/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP)