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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Far Right Rallies in Central Moscow

MTDmitry Rogozin, left, under a sign bearing an anti-Semitic statement at an ultranationalist rally in Moscow on Sunday.
Some 400 ultranationalists gathered on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad in downtown Moscow on Sunday in a rally marked by bitter anti-Kremlin invective and blatant anti-Semitism.

Authorities and the state-owned media presented the event as nothing more than a demonstration in support of prisoners' rights -- the purpose indicated in paperwork filed by the organizers.

On a brisk afternoon in downtown Moscow, however, the speakers showed little interest in the rights of the incarcerated. They focused instead on savaging the country's leadership, people from the Caucasus and Jews.

"Are you ready to tear the heads off the douche bags who are hiding behind the Kremlin walls," Alexander Belov, head of the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, shouted from the pedestal of the Vladimir Mayakovsky monument.

The crowd of mostly young people responded with loud applause and fiercely anti-Semitic slogans.

Journalists and druzhinniki, or members of civilian patrols, were as plentiful at Sunday's rally as the activists. Some 2,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops were deployed for the event.

The demonstration was officially organized by a number of ultranationalist organizations to show support for what they called political prisoners, including the four men charged with attempting to kill Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatoly Chubais, military officers currently on trial for the killing of Chechen civilians, and a handful of ultranationalist activists convicted of inciting ethnic hatred.

Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the event amounted to "a form of chauvinism and militant xenophobia."

Brod said rights activists had filmed the rally and would provide the recordings to the authorities.

The event's organizers, including the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and the National Imperial Party, claimed that similar events were held in 20 cities around the country.

Speakers at the rally, including several State Duma deputies, called for bolstering the power of ethnic Russians and putting a halt to what they called the "genocide" being perpetrated by Jews and peoples from the Caucasus.

"We have gathered here in Moscow to defend Russians in Russia," said Dmitry Rogozin, former head of the nationalist Rodina faction in the State Duma. "Isn't it clear that for Russians this is the last stand?"

Rogozin, once a widely popular, mainstream political figure, said most nationalists persecuted by the authorities were military officers, a trend he explained as an attempt to eliminate anyone capable of resistance.

He called Colonel Yury Budanov, who is currently serving a 10-year term for the murder of a young Chechen woman, a "model Russian officer."

Duma Deputy Nikolai Kuryanovich, who was expelled last year from the Liberal Democratic Party, called for the elimination of prison sentences for the crime of inciting ethnic hatred.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Banners from the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and the National Imperial Party seen on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad on Sunday.
"We call it the Russian article [in the Criminal Code], because only Russians are prosecuted under it," Kuryanovich said.

Kuryanovich ended his remarks by claiming that "the only thing the Russian leadership fears is the growth of a nationalist consciousness among the Russian people."

A police spokesman told Interfax that four people had been detained during Sunday's rally for attempting to speak out on issues not originally announced by the organizers. The spokesman also said "radicals could not join the rally to advance their nationalist slogans."

This official version of events had little to do with the reality on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, however.

Belov of the the Movement Against Illegal Immigration called for Russians to obtain firearms and to prepare for the day "when people from the Southern Federal District come to take away your homes."

"We have a right to hatred," he said.

Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the Sova think tank, which studies nationalism and xenophobia, said Sunday's rallies across the country were not a major success, since no new organizations turned out along with the usual suspects.

"The rallies were nothing more than a reminder that these groups exist," he said.

The real test of the Kremlin's tolerance of ultranationalist groups will come when the authorities decide whether to press charges against the day's most inflammatory speakers, Verkhovsky said.

The Kremlin itself has both responded and contributed to the rise of nationalism and xenophobia in society by, among other things, tightening immigration laws and beginning to exclude foreigners from the retail trade.

Shortly after a deadly conflict between ethnic Russians and natives of the Caucasus in the northern town of Kondopoga last year -- which galvanized the ultranationalist fringe -- President Vladimir Putin instructed the Cabinet to take steps to "protect the native population," a term frequently used by many ultranationalist activists.