The “Russian March” may have made relatively few headlines in 2013 and may not have seen any major incidences of violence, although there were plenty of those in Moscow in October. But its continued presence and increased popularity in both geographical and social coverage demonstrates the central role that nationalism will have to play in any serious opposition movement to Putin. And as the ethnically exclusive “Russian March” further institutionalizes itself on a holiday invented by the Kremlin to celebrate civic diversity, those nationalist voices will only become louder.
By Richard Arnold
The “Russian March,” which took place on November 4—Russian Unity Day—passed off without a major violent incident this year, but the most interesting feature for observers of Russian politics is how central the nationalists have become to protests against the government and opposition in Russia in general. Based on the evidence of the Russian March, one might go so far as to say that the Far Right has won the ideological battle for the “hearts and minds” of the protest movement and is now the main non-systemic opposition. Any individual who wishes to unite the opposition to Putin, such as Alexei Navalny (who did not attend the March in 2013 but has done so for the four previous years—https://lenta.ru/articles/2011/11/04/navalny/), will have to make at least surface concessions to the extreme nationalists and even neo-Nazis.
The 2013 Russian “March” was in reality a large number of marches happening all over the country. According to Dmitry Demushkin, one of the organizers of the March, there were processions in about 100 cities (https://www.ng.ru/politics/2013-11-06/3_march.html). While this claim awaits precise verification, the social networking site VKontakte.ru certainly featured pictures of nationalist marches in a large number of cities (https://vk.com/rusmarsh2013). For example, there were such demonstrations in the industrial city of Podolsk (Moscow Oblast), St. Petersburg (Leningrad Oblast), Tver (Tver Oblast), Krasnoyarsk (Krasnoyarsk Oblast), and many more (https://vk.com/topic-41267360_28690283). The fact is that the Russian March, previously an event restricted Moscow and a few other cities, has now become a truly national event. That it could become so is testimony to how acceptable nationalism appears to have become in the Russian Federation.
Not only was the March more widespread than ever before, but participation in the March increased to include a broader swath of society as well. Nationalist leader Vladimir Tor said that “the usual participant in the Russian March was a young man of approximately 25. This time, especially in the beginning, there was a better balance of the population—from young women to young children” (https://www.ng.ru/politics/2013-11-06/3_march.html). These statements are at least partially confirmed by photographs and videos of the event. The March in Moscow drew between 10,000 and 20,000 people. Estimates vary according to the source of the reporting. The March, which was sanctioned by the authorities, saw metal detectors and scanners at the gathering place in the Moscow suburb of Lublino, in a bid to ensure the safety of those in attendance. The Moscow march was led by nationalist Dmitry Demushkin and the nationalists were joined by Cossacks and bikers (https://www.interfax.ru/russia/txt.asp?id=338687&sw=%D0%F3%F1%F1%EA%E8%E9+%EC%E0%F0%F8&bd=8&bm=10&by=2013&ed=8&em=11&ey=2013&secid=0&mp=2&p=1). The turnout for the march was even more impressive due to the heavy rain, which also decided to be present for the event.
Yet the March retained some of its original nature. First, the “slogan” used for the March—“We must secure our Russian land for the future of our people and the future of Russian children!”—is a modified form of American racist David Lane’s “14 words.” Indeed, in a possible overture to the more democratic portions of the protest organization, the same webpage holds a poll asking for opinions around the “14 words” of the Russian March. As of November 6, over 80 percent of respondents had given favorable opinions of the phrase (https://vk.com/rumarsh). While this impromptu poll can hardly be called scientific, it is further anecdotal evidence that the idioms of the Far Right are becoming used by the mainstream opposition. Second, the Moscow march featured a large number of neo-Nazi elements, openly mocking Islamists for being terrorists and throwing Nazi salutes (https://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/varlamov_i/1191168). The danger is that where the March makes the form of neo-Nazism respectable to ordinary Russians, the content of that ideology may follow also.