Thousands of far-right Nazi-saluting nationalists marched in Moscow today in a ‘Take Back Russia’ protest at Muslim migrants.
Resentment is growing over the migrants from Russia’s Caucasus and the money the Kremlin sends to those troubled regions.
Chanting ‘Russia for Russians’ and ‘Migrants today, occupiers tomorrow,’ about 5,000 demonstrators, mostly young men, marched through a working-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital.
Police stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the street, which was blocked to traffic.
Violently xenophobic groups have flourished in Russia over the past two decades, killing and beating non-Slavs and anti-racism activists, and crudely denouncing the influx of immigrants from the Caucasus and from central Asian countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.
They have drawn moral support from nationalism that has been encouraged by Vladimir Putin’s rule as part of the Kremlin’s attempts to rebuild a strong Russian state.
After a clash last December between police and thousands of football fans and other extremists just outside the Kremlin walls, and an unprecedented outbreak of hate crimes, the government has taken a tougher line against the groups.
But their virulent hatred is proving hard to combat for many Russians share the anti-migrant sentiments and even those who would not describe themselves as racist are increasingly resentful of the hefty subsidies sent to the Caucasus, particularly to Chechnya.
The money is intended to bring stability after years of war, but the region remains deeply impoverished while Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov flaunts his wealth.
Among the banners carried today was one reading, ‘Stop feeding the Caucasus.’
‘All Russian people are on the march–football fans, skinheads, national socialists,’ Dmitry Demushkin, who leads a banned group called Russkiye, or Russians, shouted to the crowd: ‘We have to show what our nation is demanding.’
The so-called Russian March has been held annually since 2005 on a new national holiday created to replace celebrations of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
The new holiday was usurped by far-right nationalists, whose first rally in 2005 led to the shocking sight of thousands of skinheads marching through central Moscow with their hands raised in a Nazi salute and shouting obscene racist slogans.
The following year the march was banned, but nationalists marched anyway and clashed violently with police. Since 2007, the Russian March has been relegated to areas outside of the capital’s centre
Meanwhile, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended a National Unity Day ceremony 400 miles from the capital.
They laid flowers at the monument of Minin and Pozharsky, the leaders of a liberation struggle against foreign invaders in 1612 in the historic city of Nizhny Novgorod.