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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2,000 Moscow Ultranationalists Rally

MTUltranationalists rallying on People's Unity Day at Devichye Pole. The demonstrations, which targeted illegal immigration, were held despite a city ban.
Some 2,000 ultranationalist activists took to the streets of Moscow on Saturday in defiance of a ban to protest against illegal immigration and what they called the persecution of ethnic Russians.

The so-called Russian March-2006, timed to coincide with People's Unity Day, was banned by Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who said such demonstrations "could destroy the unity of our society."

A few hours after the ultranationalist event ended, some 1,000 anti-fascist activists gathered on Bolotnaya Ploshchad in a meeting organized by a coalition of liberal political parties and civil rights groups.

Organizers of Russian March-2006 estimated that 7,000 ultranationalist activists had participated in the event citywide, and that 3,000 had been detained by police.

"They were all released later because there were no grounds for holding them," said Vladimir Tor, a coordinator at the Moscow headquarters of Russian March-2006.

But Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova think tank, which tracks xenophobia and hate crimes, said Tor's estimate of 7,000 was "laughable."

City police could not be reached for comment, but a police source told Interfax that just 200 demonstrators had been detained.

Despite the arrests, Saturday's events were far less tendentious than last year's, when thousands of young people marched through central Moscow, shouting "Heil Hitler" and carrying Nazi regalia.

Organizers expressly warned participants not to use Nazi symbols or chant Nazi slogans, though some demonstrators ignored this directive.

The ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, or DPNI, which helped organize the event, said thousands had rallied in more than 20 cities across the country, including St. Petersburg, Krasnodar, Blagoveshchensk and Novosibirsk.

In St. Petersburg, Governor Valentina Matviyenko banned the ultranationalist march. Some 200 demonstrators ignored the ban and clashed with 40 anti-fascist activists in the city center until police dispersed the crowd with tear gas, Interfax reported.

Saturday's march once again demonstrated DPNI's ability to mobilize large numbers of activists nationwide at a moment's notice.

Carl Schreck / MT
Dmitry Rogozin, left, riding a metro car packed with ultranationalists and journalists to a demonstration Saturday.
Using web sites and text messaging, DPNI kept march participants abreast in real time of where riot police were congregating and sent out phone numbers for police precincts where demonstrators had been detained.

Sova's Verkhovsky said, however, that this year's Russian March signified "no progress" for the ultranationalist cause.

"There were fewer participants this year than in last year's march, and city authorities overall did a good job controlling the situation," Verkhovsky said.

In Moscow, organizers of the demonstration avoided Luzhkov's ban by calling on activists to meet at Komsomolskaya metro station. By 10 a.m. Saturday, roughly 1,000 people had gathered on the platform. Several hundred then piled into a train and rode to the Belorusskaya metro station, where they met Dmitry Rogozin, former head of the Rodina party and a leader of the event.

The activists then boarded a train and made their way to the Park Kultury station. On the way, a pensioner remarked that she had joined in because "the world community is trying to kill off the Russian people."

"The fact that Luzhkov banned the march is a direct challenge to us Russians," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Emerging from the metro, the activists were greeted by several hundred riot police, who allowed the crowd to make its way along the Garden Ring to a sanctioned rally at Devichye Pole. They chanted slogans such as "Russia for the Russians" and "Kondopoga is a hero-city," a reference to the Karelian town torn apart by ethnic riots in September.

Michael Eckels / MT
A demonstrator at Saturday's rally
"I came to support the Russian people," said Alexander, 26, a march participant who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals. "Everybody has rights here in Russia except Russians themselves."

State Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin told the crowd at Devichye Pole that the "future of Europe and the future of the world depends on Russians."

"Glory to Russia!" Baburin said.

At the smaller anti-fascist meeting on Bolotnaya Ploshchad, Nikita Belykh, head of the liberal Union of Right Forces, said: "This is not a day of unity. It is a day of xenophobia and anti-xenophobia."

A series of speakers blamed the government for exacerbating racial tensions. The crowd was made up of young liberals and old-style democrats, a number whom wore homemade labels that read, "I am a Georgian." Others carried pictures of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

"It is a national holiday for fascists," said Alexei, an activist from the unregistered International Workers Party, saying he did not want to give his last name because the Federal Security Service had called his institute and told them to expel troublemakers.

Numbers were much lower than at an anti-fascist march last year that was held in response to the original Russian March.

"There aren't many of us. If there are 4,000 fascists, then there should be a minimum of 400,000 anti-fascists in a city of 12 million," said Anatoly Rekant, 72, from Civil Society, a civil rights group.

The small numbers created a sense of unease among the demonstrators, who were warned not to walk to the metro alone after the meeting.