Russian nationalists protest against illegal immigration in Irkutsk

Dozens of Russian nationalists have been protesting against illegal immigration in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. Members of the National Bolshevik party called for tighter migration regulations against Chinese nationals.

They also demanded the dismissal of some officials from the Federal Migration Service for their failure to control the flow of illegal immigrants.

Party representatives claimed some protesters had managed to break into the Migration Service building and burn torches on the roof.

However, local officials denied this and said two protestors had been detained.

Meanwhile, the issue of xenophobia in Russia grows in prominence as the number of attacks on ethnic minorities in the country increases.

Nationalist sentiment is even gaining popularity in some political parties, despite President Putin's recent condemnation of xenophobia.

“Russia for Russians” is a slogan often used by radical nationalist groups, neo-Nazis and skinheads to justify their violence. Despite the traditionally multi-ethnic society, the phenomenon is growing in the country.

The Nationalistic Slavic Union movement numbers 5,000 members in Moscow alone. It trains skinheads, football fans, bikers and radical youths on how to stand up for what they call the Russian cause.

“There is genocide against Russians, the core population is dying out and migrants are pouring in. Our faith, our culture, our national idea are being oppressed. Russia will belong to core ethnic Russians, and if somebody doesn't agree with us, it's their neck on the line,” says Dmitry Demushkin, a national socialist.

480 people were victims of racially motivated attacks in 2006, and 54 of them died, according to the Sova research centre – almost twice as many as the year before. The fact that more cases are being recognised in court as racially motivated, and the perpetrators are being punished accordingly, doesn't seem to be stopping many from bringing their hatred into the open.

An Armenian teenager was stabbed to death at Pushkinskaya metro station in central Moscow during rush hour in April last year. The case shocked the public, but not enough to change the way they tolerate the intolerance. According to opinion polls, 60% of the Russian population agrees with the “Russia for Russians” slogan.

With such crimes happening just a stone's throw from the Kremlin and the Russian State Duma, the question is how far nationalist ideas will travel to get into politics? 2007 will see Parliamentary elections in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has urged the Federal security service to protect society from attempts to bring ideologies of extremism, ethnic, and religious intolerance to the political field in the context of the December elections. The issue also came up at Mr Putin's annual press conference for the world media

“Leaving it [lack of regulation in labour market and immigration] unresolved is harmful to everyone's interests, both those of the foreign workers and those of our own citizens. Among other things, this situation also contributes to the emergence of xenophobia and nationalism. This is not the only cause, of course. But whatever the reasons, we first need to eradicate the causes and fight their manifestations. I very much hope that we will do this together with the public organisations, with the media, and of course, with the state itself, with the state authorities,” the president said.

But in remote parts of Russia, there is little guarantee candidates won't use nationalist ideas in their campaigns to gain popularity.

Nikolay Kuryanovich, a current State Duma deputy and member of the security committee, spoke openly with us about his agenda

“The future belongs to Russian nationalists. Once the Russian nation is raised off its knees, all of these alien groups who are taking advantage of Russian generosity will fly off Russia's backbone,” he says.

Neo-Nazis are confident that after the December elections, they'll have close to 300 deputies, who are openly sympathetic to their ideas. The question is will there be enough resistance to counteract the radicals.