Staunton, November 5 – Only a tiny fraction of Russians took part in Russian Marches yesterday, and only a fraction of that expressed a vicious hostility to all non-Russians. But the nature of the holiday itself and the dramatic slogans and signs of the radicals set the tone and have generated fears among non-Russians and some Russians about the future.
The November 4 holiday, as President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill reminded everyone, marks the anniversary of the expulsion of the Poles from Moscow, an archetypical anti-Western act. And many who participated did so in ways that suggested the Russian March has become a march against non-Russians (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=52777A8FB2555).
One Kazakh asked whether Russia is “the country that defeated fascism or the country in which fascism has triumphed.” A Buryat said in reaction to the Russian March that “racism in Russia has taken on absurd forms.” And Kyrgyz demonstrators carried signs saying that “the Third Rome is [Becoming] the Fourth Reich.”
(For surveys of these and other reactions and of some of the statements and slogans that provoked them, see nr2.ru/asia/468625.html, facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=245667908924491,
facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=219435428214406&set=a.207646839393265.1073741833.103817093109574&type=1&theater, 4-november.livejournal.com/303914.html tatar-centr.blogspot.com/2013/11/blog-post_5510.html, nazaccent.ru/content/9597-osobennosti-nacionalisticheskoj-akcii.htmltatar-bozqurd.livejournal.com/23103.html and echo.msk.ru/news/1191176-echo.html.)
Three things are noteworthy about these exchanges. First, the anger that many Russians taking part in the marches expressed seemed to be directed almost equally at non-Russians who are citizens of the Russian Federation and at non-Russians in the former Soviet space and at the West as well.
At the very least, that was how many non-Russians in both places viewed it, and such a reaction suggests the disintegrative role Russian nationalism played at the end of Soviet times is now both further alienating Russia’s non-Russian neighbors and undermining the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation itself.
Such attitudes will only add to Moscow’s difficulties in dealing with both groups by depriving it of what little remains of its soft power, the much-ballyhooed “friendship of the peoples” left over from Soviet times. That loss in turn may lead the Kremlin to try to get it way by force alone, something that could trigger even larger disasters for Russia in the first instance.
Second, non-Russians were hardly alone in being appalled by the Russian Marches and what they say about the current state of Russia. Many Russians are horrified by the open racism of some of their co-ethnics – see, for example, the slogans of those who took part in the March Against Pogroms in St. Petersburg (http://lenta.ru/news/2013/11/02/marsh/
themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/russias-march-toward-ruin/488924.html). And still others either voted with their feet by not taking part or carried slogans of a very different time (dallol.ru/news-i409.html and islamnews.ru/news-142605.html).
If Russians who feel this way act on it, both by denouncing the xenophobia of their co-ethnics and the complicity of the Russian government in promoting or at least exploiting it, then this November 4 holiday could become a positive turning point. But if they remain on the sidelines as they have in the past, then the extremists will continue to set the weather.
And third, both those who oppose the xenophobic messages of the Russian March and those who support them are seeking to build coalitions to promote their views. In Tomsk for example, the KPRF and Russian nationalists came together to discuss how to oppose what the xenophobia threatening their country (globalsib.com/18722/).
Many non-Russians in Tatarstan and elsewhere talked about how to respond, and both non-Russians and ethnic Russians came up with tactics designed to turn the Russian March on its head: A Chuvash group celebrated unity day by recalling the Bulgar defenders of their land against the Mongol advance 777 years ago (irekle.org/news/i1450.html).
And Russians in Chelyabinsk used the day to call for getting rid of a more recent attack on the rights of the peoples of Russia. Demonstrators there urged that Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, the paragraph that punishes people thought guilty of “extremism” and anti-state activities, be abolished (nakanune.ru/news/2013/11/4/22329975/).
Both during the run-up to the Russian March and on the day it took place, it was easy to find articles and blog posts offering apocalyptic visions of the future. (See, for example, kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5276B1C61EA3F.) Those may prove true. Indeed, the vehemence of opinions expressed make them more likely than not.
But the real message of Russia’s Day of National Unity is this: Russia remains a deeply divided country, and instead of trying to overcome those divides, the Kremlin and the Patriarchate are deepening these splits, a strategy that promises no good whether Russia and the former Soviet space disintegrate as seems likely or not.