The former leader of the now-banned “Russians” opposition movement as well as the outlawed skinhead gang Slavic Union (Slavianskii Soiuz), Dmitry Demushkin, was placed under house arrest by the Russian authorities on October 21. Ostensibly, the move was connected to an ongoing legal case against the infamous nationalist for inciting ethnic and racial tensions (Article 282 of the Russian criminal code) by posting extremist content to social media sites in 2011 and 2013. But the timing of the move renders this rationale suspect. Demushkin himself noted that the detention came after he submitted a request to the government to hold the annual Russian March in Moscow on November 4 (Interfax, October 21). The application was filed simultaneously with those of other nationalists and asked the authorities to condone a march of 10,000–15,000 people around the Lublino area of Moscow as well as a concert for 5,000 people afterward. His detention means he will not be able to participate in the annual protest, meet with journalists, or even use the Internet freely; his personal page on the popular Russian social media site Vkontakte has been blocked (Newsru.com, October 21). At the time of writing, the Ministry of Culture had not responded to the request to hold a march in Moscow.
The Russian March has become a staple feature on the calendar of nationalist protest and takes place on the November 4 state holiday—National Unity Day (see EDM November 1, 2013). The nationalists seem determined to make a statement this year: plans were submitted for a march in the city of “Konigsberg” (Kaliningrad) to go from “the Imperial Bridge to the statue of the Holy Nicholas along the embankment of the river Pregel” (Rusnsn.info, October 20). While the Russian March in Ekaterinburg is being debated by a local organizing committee (Rusnsn.info, October 17), there were also appeals for assistance in organizing parallel marches in the cities of Vladivostok, Izhevsk, Kaluga, Penza, Tomsk, Tula, Ufa and Chita (Vk.com, October 20). These late calls for help suggest the regime’s strategy of increasing repression on nationalists in anticipation of the Russian March is having some effect on impeding the movement throughout Russia.
As such, it makes it all the more remarkable, therefore, that Russian far-right nationalists are persisting in their determination to hold another march this year. The Russian March organizers are currently mulling over a list of unofficial slogans to formally adopt for this year’s demonstrations. The proposed slogans interestingly include (Rmarsh.info, accessed October 25):
- “Russian Pride Is Stronger Than Repression! We Stand!”
- “Freedom to Russia!”
- “Russia Is Europe!”
- “Russia for Ethnic-Russian Power!”
- “Cancel 282 [referencing Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code against inciting ethnic and racial tensions]!”
- “Freedom to Political Prisoners!”
- “The Footsteps of the Russian March Tell Guest Workers to Leave!”
- “We Support a Visa Regime!”
- “Down With Immigration, Support the Freedom of the Russian Nation!”
Together, many of these slogans openly express opposition to certain major policies pursued by President Vladimir Putin’s government—not least of which being Moscow’s acceptance of guest workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Russian authorities clearly perceived enough of a political threat originating from the Russian March to restrict the freedom of one of its most infamous organizers.
A number of leading nationalists or nationalist-leaning opposition figures have weighed in on the implications of Demushkin’s house arrest. Anti-corruption blogger and former Moscow mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny, for example, said in sardonic fashion that “it is not permitted to be a conservative and not love Putin.” He continued, “You can go on a talk show and say there that the most important interests of Russia are the wars in Ukraine and Syria. That it is necessary to take money from health and education, to donate your last shirt just to help [Bashar al-] Assad. After that you can go to rallies and meetings… in support of V.V. Putin and his wise policies. But going to ‘Russian marches’ and protests on other topics is forbidden” (Artpolitinfo.ru, October 23). By mentioning the war in Syria, Navalny brings up a leading complaint of the nationalist movement and its supporters—namely that the war is a colossal waste of Russian money, which could be better spent addressing what they see as the real needs of the Russian nation.
Another organizer of the Russian march, Yuri Gorski, raised an even more frightening scenario arising from the repression of Russian nationalists. Commenting on Demushkin’s house arrest, Gorski wrote that “if [the authorities] try to outlaw all such Russian marches, the ban is unlikely to succeed in covering each one separately. Therefore, those who disagree will gladly join the official [government sponsored] event, but with their own slogans and demands. I say it will figuratively be thus: the [ruling] party ‘United Russia’ and others on the side of Putin are at risk of finding hundreds of physically strong young men [subverting official government-sponsored rallies], whose appearance might tarnish the official holiday. This is how it was in 2005 on the occasion of the first Russian march” (Artpolitinfo.ru, October 23). Gorski is reacting to the regime’s practice of holding simultaneous Russian marches with the nationalists in order to defang the latter, raising the specter of subverting them into anti-regime events. While it may sound hyperbolic to forecast the beginnings of a revolution in this manner, there is a growing sense among some increasingly politically minded sections of the Russian population that regime change is necessary to prevent years of stagnation in Russia. Even without its infamous icon, this year’s Russian March promises to be interesting.