Neo-Nationalist Violence Targets Central Asians In Russia

Thousands of Russian fascists and nationalists marched in the capital for National Unity Day, shouting anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant obscenities and flashing the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute.

Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty

On Monday afternoon, Russian nationalists and fascists marched in 15 well-organized blocs down Moscow’s streets in honor of national Unity Day. Their leaders said some 20,000 people turned out to agitate in the Russian capital; officials put the number lower, around 8,000. They shouted demands that ranged from “A Visa Regime for Central Asian and Caucuses migrants!” (currently, immigrants from the region do not need visas to work in Russia) to race-based obscenities. The angriest group, comprised mostly of teenage boys and men in their early 20s, damned the Caucuses using the rudest verb in Russian slang. Some even humiliated the name of Allah.

Each year, these rallies—called Russikiy March—have been getting bigger and bigger. The tradition got started in 2005, when thousands demonstrated against the presence of foreign migrants in Russia. This year’s march was haunted by the shadow of a recent victim: an Uzbek migrant worker, who was attacked and killed yesterday by a group of 10 teenagers in the Rybatskoye district of St. Petersburg. The attackers stabbed the 51-year-old man 14 times, according to the Fontanka.Ru agency, which cited a police report. The attackers fled from the scene of the murder, but security cameras showed a group of young boys dressed in heavy military boots with white laces—the uniform used by radical Russian neo-nationalists in the past. “It looks like the youth pulled off the shelves their older brothers’ ‘kits’,” an anonymous police source told the news agency, calling the new wave of violence a “brown threat.”

Tensions between Russian and non-Russian ethnic groups have been at an all-time high this year all across the country. For years, Russian nationalists have been complaining about the North Caucasus and Central Asian diasporas for supposedly taking over businesses, controlling markets, being too loud, too organized and too aggressive towards Russian girls. Last summer, authorities began an anti-illegal migrants campaign that involved hundreds of arrests across the country. The recent riot in the Biryulyoovo district of Moscow demonstrated that ordinary Muscovites are ready to fight against foreigners: after a killing in the capital was blamed on a migrant from Azerbaijan, a pogrom against immigrants erupted.

“This year we have already monitored 19 victims killed by radical nationalists, that is the same as the total we had for the entire 2012,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, the leader of Sova, a group researching issues with racism in Russia. “Violence is on the rise as a result of the anti-migrant campaign by authorities. I do not believe that it was the Kremlin’s original intention, but that was the policy’s result,” Verkhovsky said.

Meanwhile, at the Moscow March, columns of nationalists moved around Lyublino district. Some banners called to confiscate wealth from Moscow’s rich and share the money among the poor, a familiar idea in Russian history. “Moscow has the highest population of thieving billionaires in the world while we, young people don’t benefit from our natural resources—we call for a coup,” said Ivan Nesterov, a young man in a black hood, carrying a flag with a grenade on it.

Another block of marchers in multiple rows, numbering a few hundred nationalists, waved black banners and wrapped themselves in black flags depicting skulls and the Kolovrat, a Russian Slavic symbol similar to the swastika.

Most of participants looked as if they were concerned about being identified by law enforcement: they had black hoods on, faces covered in ski or medical masks and their eyes hidden under black sunglasses. Some in the group called themselves Black Bloc, others Social Nationalist Bloc; one of their leaders, Maksim, said in an interview to the Daily Beast that his group “declared a war on the Kremlin for selling Russia to foreigners.”

Some of the Black Blocs believed they were anarchists, others yelled “Sieg Heil!” and extended their right hands to eye level, as in the fashion of Hitler’s army.

Before long, police begin arresting the radical youth. Just a few minutes later, nationalists in masks were running in all directions, throwing their black flags on the ground and stepping over them in such despair, it seemed they thought somebody was about to shoot. The police still managed to grab about 30 of them. “They are not ready for the real war, they broke all possible rules and cowardly fled on seeing just one police unit—Hitler would have executed all of them right on the spot,” said the ideological leader of Russian March, Alexander Belov. He added: “some think by these radical methods they will defend Russia. But to defend Russia, we need a powerful and well organized nationalist party”