Russian skinheads, hooligans, nationalists, fascists and racists gathered on Moscow's Kutosovsky Prospect to mark National Unity Day on Sunday. They waved flags as they marched in single file along the banks of the Moskva River and to the Ukraina Hotel, across from the White House, the seat of Russia's government.
"Russia for Russians!" the demonstrators shouted in unison, followed by slogans such as "For a Slavic, Russian nation!" or "Slavic, Russian, Powerful!" The demonstrators stretched out their arms in the Hitler salute between slogans. Their loud shouts of "Slavic Russia!" were followed by the sound of drum rolls.
"We are opposed to the immigration of Caucasians and Asians to Russia. Our people must remain pure. Russia belongs to us," 32-year-old Andrey Bukov explains. The trained media expert says he has been "serving" in the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) for four years. He waves its white, yellow and black flag, which features a symbol resembling a swastika.
Nineteen-year-old Sergei carries the red flag of his group -- the "Slavic Union" -- tied around his shoulders. "We Russians are part of the white race," he says. "The blacks -- the Caucasians, the Chechens, the Dagestani -- should stay away," says the Muscovite, a student at the Finance Academy.
Skinheads and Pensioners
The roughly 2,000 demonstrators from the ultra-nationalist scene, who were holding the Russian March for the third year in a row, are a mixed and varied bunch -- a pool of discontented groups and individuals from all classes of society. Elderly women handing out badly photocopied flyers, young female students wearing make-up and high-heeled boots, and parents with small children in colorful snowsuits can all be seen next to skinheads wearing black leather coats, combat boots, SS uniforms or bomber jackets and displaying swastikas. Even young children were giving the Hitler salute.
Pensioner Monika Nikolayeva eagerly passes out flyers portraying oligarchs such as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky as enemies of the people. "These billionaires send their children to school abroad," Nikolayeva, who has a 15-year-old granddaughter, says angrily. "When it comes to our children, there is not even enough money to send them to university in Russia." That is why she believes it is good that young people take to the streets and protest. "Young girls in particular only get limited education!"
The young girls she means are technical university students like Olga and Darya, who are marching beneath the flags. "We're against everything. We're patriots," rants 18-year-old Olga. She and her 19-year-old friend have traveled to Moscow from Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia to attend the demonstration. Asked what they are demonstrating against, she is at a loss for a moment. Then she stutters: "Against the anti-Russian policy in the world -- I can't say it any more clearly."
Nazis are Welcome Bogeymen
Andreas Umland, an expert in comparative fascism studies who specializes in Russia, believes these "organized neo-Nazis" are relatively harmless politically. "It's purely a subcultural provocation," he says. Militaristic fascism has been imported to Russia from the Third Reich, he says, and simply adorned with a few Russian and orthodox symbols. "Within wider Russian society, these fascists are stigmatized," he explains. "This Russian March is more of a protest movement."
Nevertheless the Kremlin allows the ultra-right demonstrators to take to the streets on National Unity Day, a public holiday, and dispatches thousands of security forces to keep the aggressive mob under control. "The Nazis are a welcome bogeyman, an occasion for demonstrating the power of the authoritarian state," Umland says, explaining that President Vladimir Putin uses the neo-Nazis to legitimate his authoritarian political style by suggesting that without it, the far right could take power. On the other hand, Russia's Central Election Commission has banned the "Motherland" party from participating in the elections to the Russian parliament, the Duma.
Later on Sunday evening, four hours after the neo-Nazi demonstrations, a second Russian March took place in Moscow. Again, thousands walked from Kutusovsky Prospect to the Ukraina Hotel. This time, the marchers were members of groups and parties such as "People's Union" -- followers of revolutionary fascism whose ideology is not so much racist as imperialist.
Umland says that this group has little to do with the racist nationalists and their overt Nazism. Generally, says the expert on nationalism -- who has been researching Russia's right-wing movements for 15 years -- groups like the "People's Union" rely on anti-American and anti-European screed to attract followers.
They include the Vice Speaker of the Duma Sergey Baburin and other members of parliament. "More or less all the powerful political parties participating in the Duma elections have made use of these anti-Western slogans -- from the Russian Communist Party to Putin's United Russia," Umland says. But, he adds, there is a complete absence of a significant left-wing party or movement in the run up to the Russian elections.
Russia's leading human rights group, the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, still sees the neo-Nazi march as reason to sound the alarm. In its latest report the SOVA Center says it recorded 270 racially motivated violent attacks against a total of 472 people, 53 of whom have died. SOVA's Galina Kozhevnikova is even expecting an increase in xenophobia during the coming weeks, in the run up to the parliamentary elections in December. "Sadly, we are not surprised," she says. The figure increases by between 20 and 25 percent every year, Kozhevnikova explains. "But this year we are seeing a trend towards the targeting of new enemy groups, such as homosexuals," she adds.
Most incidents described in the report involve drunk young men on the prowl after football or ice hockey games. They beat up Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks or Tajikistanis or attack them with weapons. Usually, it is the very same young men who can be seen giving the Hitler salute at the Russian March.