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Demonstrators rally in defiance of ban against Russia’s National Unity Day November 5, 2006

Posted by C.A.R.D in Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Police, Racism, Racist.

Saturday was supposed to be Russia’s “Day of National Unity,” a holiday being celebrated for the second year.

But instead, the tension in society spilled out onto the streets, reports CBS News correspondent Beth Knobel from Moscow.

Nationalists and extremists rallied all across Russia. Several thousand people turned out in Moscow, even though their protest against immigration was banned by city authorities.

Police moved to block the demonstrators rallying in Russian streets, arresting hundreds who gathered in defiance of a ban on far-right demonstrations.

Police in one Moscow street encircled groups of young men and hauled them off into buses, said Lidia Mikhailova, a spokeswoman for Dmitry Rogozin, a nationalist politician who had been involved in organizing the event.

Mikhailova told The Associated Press that she had seen dozens detained in this way and, citing other witnesses, estimated that several hundred people were taken into police custody.

Interfax news agency quoted a law enforcement source as saying that police detained more than 200 activists. A police desk officer in Moscow, who did not give his name, denied there were arrests.

Several hundred police, some wearing black helmets and carrying truncheons, surrounded a central square where up to 2,000 people rallied near a Russian Orthodox convent. Demonstrators waved flags from radical parties while some held religious icons.

Triumphant music played over loudspeakers. At one point, many in the crowd stretched out their hands in a Nazi-type salute.

For these demonstrators, “Russian unity” means kicking out all the country’s minorities, particularly the Muslims from Central Asia and the Caucuses, as well as Russia’s Jews.

“Most of our population supports the idea of ‘Russia for Russians,’ which means for ethnic Russians, not for Russian citizens,” explains Alexander Verkhovsky of Moscow’s SOVA Center, which monitors and studies hate crimes.

The public display is a sign of how Russian nationalism is getting stronger. Not only are extremist organizations growing like never before, but so is the number of Russians who share their views.

According to opinion polls, more than half of Russians hold racially intolerant views.

“Of course, this majority won’t go to the street. They’re passive,” explains Verkhovsky. “But they support the same ideas. That is much more dangerous.” Verkhovsky says that many police and some members of the government are sympathetic to the nationalist cause.

The political and economic turmoil that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union generated hostility toward foreigners, especially millions of migrant workers. The trend has worsened in recent years despite a rise in incomes and political stability as authorities failed to crack down on extremist groups and hate crimes.

According to SOVA’s statistics, 31 people were killed in racially motivated attacks in 2005, and at least 413 were the victims of a hate-based attack. The actual number of those attacked is probably even higher, Verkhovsky told Knobel, since some incidents are never publicized.

Demonstrators complained of the presence in Russia of dark-skinned migrants from other former Soviet republics, whom they derisively refer to as “blacks.”

“I came here to remember that I am also a Russian man. I live well, I earn well, I have a family, but the blacks, they spoil my life,” said a 32-year-old man who identified himself only as Pavel.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov forbade Saturday’s procession, saying that ultranationalists had used the Nov. 4 Day of People’s Unity last year to express extremist views.

“Don’t confuse German fascists with Russian patriots,” said a banner held up by a young man with close-cropped hair.

In Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, police broke up a fist fight between several hundred far-right activists and antifascists. They detained dozens of ultranationalists for participating in a banned rally there, as well as a number of their leftist opponents, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, liberal politicians and rights group held an authorized counter-rally in Moscow to protest the rise of xenophobia and to promote tolerance. About 500 people gathered holding flags with the words “Russian Anti-Fascist Front” and banners that read: “I am Russian and therefore not a fascist.”

One group that is taking part in this movement against immigration is the National Socialist Organization, reports Knobel. This skinhead group takes its name from Adolph Hitler’s party — and holds up the Nazis as role models.

Their members beat and sometimes even kill at will, with little fear that they’ll be caught. They even film their exploits for use in short videos, which are spread by internet to recruit new members.

The NSO provided CBS News with several dozen internet files it has prepared as advertisements for its actions. Many of the clips show groups of skinheads attacking dark skinned people as the victims wait for buses, walk on the streets, or ride the subway. All of the attacks are unprovoked, and in most cases, several ultranationalists attack a single man.

“We are tens of thousands of well-trained young men, who are ready to kill,” said Dmitri Ryumantsev, a leader of the group. He says their ultimate goal is the overthrow of the Russian government. “It will be hard to stop us,” he predicts.

But the Russian government sees immigration as a way to stop the nation’s population slide. President Vladimir Putin has invited Russian-speakers from nearby countries to move to Russia, no matter what their ethnicity.

And that puts the government on a collision course with millions of its own citizens.

Racism is a part of daily life now in Russia — and Putin’s government may be facing its toughest battle yet in trying to bring it under control.

Source: CBS News

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