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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Heavy Police Presence Keeps Unity Day Quiet

MTYoung Russia activists holding up the names of famous Russians and the dates of war victories on Wednesday.

President Dmitry Medvedev trumpeted ethnic diversity during the People’s Unity Day holiday on Wednesday, as tens of thousands of police officers hit the streets of major cities to make sure that fights didn’t break out between rallying youths.

The only fight erupted in St. Petersburg, where several nationalists attacked a small group of anti-fascist activists who had unfolded a banner reading “Fascism kills,” the news web site reported. Police detained several participants of the fight.

In previous years, nationalist young people left the government red-faced by marching through central Moscow while chanting racist slogans and raising their arms in Nazi-style salutes. This year, city authorities confined the nationalists to the Lyublino district in southeastern Moscow, where an estimated 7,000 marched peacefully.

People’s Unity Day was established by former President Vladimir Putin in 2005 to replace the Soviet Union’s biggest holiday, the Nov. 7 anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. The new holiday, which most Russians view as little more than a day off work or school, commemorates the liberation of Moscow from Polish invaders in 1612 by Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin.

Russian Orthodox believers also celebrate a religious feast Nov. 4 in honor of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, which they believe helped Pozharsky in the 1612 victory.

Medvedev congratulated Russians on both holidays Wednesday while attending the opening of a chapel dedicated to Pozharsky in the Moscow region town of Suzdal.

Referring to the 1612 victory, Medvedev said, “I am sure that events of this kind … give us reason to believe that we are truly a united people capable of solving the greatest problems,” the Kremlin’s web site reported.

More than 40,000 police officers and soldiers were to be deployed nationwide to maintain order among the more than 203,000 people expected to rally for the holiday, Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Sukhodolsky said in a statement Tuesday.

In Moscow, more than 6,000 police officers and soldiers patrolled 20 big rallies Wednesday, city police spokesman Maxim Kolosvetov told The Moscow Times. He could not say how many people had participated in the rallies, saying the figure would only be available late Wednesday night.

The pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group appeared to stage the largest rally, with about 30,000 people attending its so-called “Russian March” on Naberezhnaya Tarasa Shevchenko, according to its web site,

“Nov. 4 is the day when Russia remembers its great history. All those with a Russian passport, who know Russian, who study the laws of our country … are invited irrespective of ethnicity,” Nashi said in a statement ahead of the rally.

For the past four years, the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, or DPNI, has staged what it also called “Russian Marches” on Naberezhnaya Tarasa Shevchenko on Nov. 4. But this year, Nashi managed to ask City Hall first for the location, and DPNI received permission to rally in the Lyublino district.

About 7,000 DPNI supporters took part in this year’s march, the group said on its web site.

Leaders of Russia’s four state-recognized religions — Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, chief rabbi Berl Lazar, chief mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin and Moscow’s top Buddhist monk, Sanjai-lama — led a column of thousands of youth activists and military servicemen from Kazan Cathedral in Red Square to the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall, RIA-Novosti reported.

Before the march, the patriarch offered a divine liturgy in honor of the feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God at the cathedral. Afterward, he opened an Orthodox exhibition in the Manezh.

United Russia and its youth branch, Young Guard, gathered about 7,000 people for a pro-Kremlin rally titled “Go, Russia!” at Poklonnaya Gora in western Moscow, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported on its web site. “Go, Russia!” is the name of Medvedev’s recent article calling for Russia’s modernization.

Liberal Democratic Party supporters held a rally on Pushkin Square, while the Communist Party, which refused to recognize the holiday, said it would hold nationwide rallies Saturday, on the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution.

About half of the 2,000 activists from the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Russia and the Russian Union of Rural Youth who showed up on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad formed a pyramid on a platform, each holding a piece of paper with the name of a famous Russian or the date of a Russian military victory.

A rally participant, Vladimir Urazov, 20, said he had come to support United Russia.

“United Russia supports the youth,” Urazov said, eating steaming buckwheat porridge and meat from a plastic plate distributed for free by rally organizers.

Urazov said People’s Unity Day united Russia’s numerous nationalities and he supported it because he was “not a nationalist.”