Large rallies took place across Russia in various interpretations of the country’s National Unity Day holiday on Wednesday.
In Moscow, an estimated one thousand anti-fascist activists gathered on Chistoprudny Boulevard for a rally they called “Russian Patriotism Against Fascism and Xenophobia.” According to speaker Maksim Stepanov, the goal of the demonstration was “to express protest against the neo-Nazi demonstrations” taking place elsewhere in the city that day.
“While they say they’re only fighting against illegal immigrants, there are enough fascist flags at their rallies, and they say their idol is Hitler,” he added.
Stepanov called those gathered to action. “If you see a fascist inscription – paint over it; if you see a person with Nazi insignia – tell him to his face that fascism is not acceptable!”
While the demonstration itself was without incident, Kasparov.ru reports that an eyewitness saw police and men in plain clothes detain several anti-fascist protesters near the Kitai-gorod metro station hours after the event.
In the southeastern outskirts of the city, around two thousand people attended the ultra-nationalist “Russian March.” Many participants brandished flags with swastikas and chanted anti-Semitic and other xenophobic slogans. Detailed instructions on how to acquire firearms were distributed amongst the crowd. Dmitri Demushkin, leader of the Slavic Union, said that soon in Russia “only two things will hold true value – food and ammunition.” The march, sanctioned by city authorities, was held in the Lyublino region of Moscow, where many migrant workers have recently relocated after the closing of a large market complex in June.
Across the river from the Kremlin, an additional concert was held by the ultra-nationalist organization “Russian Image.” The concert, also sanctioned by authorities and attended by approximately 700 people, featured the openly neo-Nazi groups Kolovrat and Khuk Sprava.
The city’s largest rally was held by the radical pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, often considered Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s version of the Soviet Komsomol. More than fifteen thousand people gathered for a rally and concert. Leaders of the group preached tolerance to the crowd, chanting “Russia for All.”
The holiday, which traditionally celebrated the liberation of Moscow from foreign occupiers in 1612, was reintroduced by then-President Putin in 2005 after being abandoned in 1917. Most Russians are unaware of the holiday’s historic roots, and it has been largely latched onto by ultranationalist organizations since being reintroduced. Despite condemnation from Russian leaders, nationalistic sentiments are held by a growing percentage of the population as well as many politicians.