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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unity Day Generating Division and Defiance

People's Unity Day seems to have done anything but promote unity.

At least five cities, including Moscow, have banned anti-immigration marches, ultranationalists are vowing to march anyway, and Moscow City Hall -- in a rare departure from tradition -- will not splash out money for celebrations Saturday.

When the country marked People's Unity Day for the first time last year, President Vladimir Putin touted the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate the solidarity of all Russians.

Senior pro-Kremlin politicians on Thursday urged police to crack down on anyone who ignored the municipal bans. "Law enforcement bodies should pay special attention to such provocations," State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said. Several nationalist Duma deputies have pledged to participate in a Moscow march.

Police should act "as harshly as needed, considering the possible dangerous consequences," said Vladimir Vasilyev, chairman of the Duma's Security Committee.

The Movement Against Illegal Immigration and several other ultranationalist groups insisted Thursday that they would march despite the bans. "They ban it, but I allow it," said Alexander Belov, head of the Movement Against Illegal Migrants.

Moscow City Hall spokeswoman Galina Sugak said law required march organizers to notify the Mayor's Office, not to obtain permission. Still, Mayor Yury Luzhkov has banned the march.

Marches were also banned by authorities in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Krasnoyarsk and Chita.

Up to 5,000 ultranationalists marched in central Moscow on Nov. 4 last year. Some carried signs with swastikas, and shouted "Heil Hitler."

This year, the ultranationalists are split. Those who support the Russian Orthodox faith will meet on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad for a rally authorized by the authorities. The others, whose march was banned by Luzhkov, plan to gather in the Komsomolskaya metro station and head to an undisclosed location to march.

The Russian Anti-Fascist Front, which is comprised of human rights and civil liberties organizations, said Thursday that it would hold a rally at 2 p.m. at Bolotnaya Ploshchad.

The City Hall spokeswoman said Moscow had no plans for any events, an unusual shift from Luzhkov's habit of celebrating public holidays with expensive extravaganzas. A Kremlin spokeswoman could not say whether Putin planned to address the nation or do anything special for the holiday.

People's Unity Day is supposed to commemorate the liberation of the Moscow princedom from Polish invaders in 1612. The holiday replaced another national holiday, the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution that was celebrated on Nov. 7.