Nationalist rally for ‘Unity Day’ prompts wide condemnation

Participants in the Civil March, a rally held by nationalists.(RIA Novosti / Iliya Pitalev)
A wave of protests has emerged after Moscow City authorities said they would sanction the next rally of Russian nationalists scheduled for November 4.

Initially the Moscow Mayor’s Office said they would allow not one, but two Russian Marches. One about 10,000 strong would take place close to the city center, near Gorky Park. The other, with up to 20,000 participants, was to be in the remote district of Lyublino, near the monument to “warriors–internationalists” – Soviet soldiers who fought in various wars outside the Soviet Union.

However, as the decision was announced, many people and organizations voiced their alarm, saying rallies of nationalists can lead to conflicts and are a threat to Moscow’s many migrant workers from Central Asian states and Russian citizens from the Caucasus republics.

The fact that the city authorities are allowing the nationalists and skinheads to hold their marches in the city can destroy the fragile peace that currently exists in the society,” the Federation of Migrants stated.

The head of the federation, Muhammad Amin, told media that the district of Lyublino hosts a lot of migrants, and allowing nationalists to rally there was a provocation and a sign of an irresponsible approach by officials. The activist also addressed the migrant workers with a request to be especially careful on November 4 – the recently instituted Day of National Unity of the Russian Federation.

The move also drew criticism from the state officials. Senator Ruslan Gattarov (of the Chelyabinsk Region in the central Urals) asked the Moscow Mayor to move the march from the city center to a different location.

Nationalist marches contradict the sense of the Day of National Unity, they are aimed at demonstrating the position that rejects the unity of the people of Russia,” Gattarov wrote in his letter to the mayor.

The citizens have the right to celebrate in a calm and civilized environment as they walk through the city center on November 4, without watching the protest against unity,” he added.

Gattarov also noted that it was possible that the participants of the Russian March would demonstrate some Nazi symbols which, in his view, was unacceptable.

Veteran Russian Human Rights campaigner and head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseyeva shared Gattarov’s fears. The activist said that Russian March will be a “nationalist and possibly even a Nazi Sabbath” adding that the authorities were deliberately inspiring confrontation between the aggressive masses and pro-democracy opposition.

The nationalists replied to Gattarov’s initiative by filing a request to the Central Investigative Committee to launch investigation into the senator’s alleged abuse of office and opposing a legal rally, both of which are criminal offences in Russia.

The Day of National Unity was instituted as a national holiday in 2005 as a commemoration of the victory of the Russian army over the Poles in the 17th century. The holiday was celebrated in Tsarist Russia, but was canceled in 1917 as the Bolsheviks preferred to mark the anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution on November 7 (a shift of 12 days according to the newly-adopted Georgian calendar).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the new Russian authorities decided to reinstall the holiday as an attempt to bring unity to the society and bring down the ethnic and class divisions.