Thousands shout racist slogans in 'Russian March'
Thousands of Russian nationalist sympathisers on Friday shouted slogans against immigrants and the Northern Caucasus in a mass rally that exposed racial tensions in Russia on its day of National Unity.
The marchers shouted "Russia for Russians, Europe for Whites!" and "Glory to the Russian Nation!" at the officially-sanctioned rally in the the district of Lublino in southeast Moscow.
But in a first they also shouted mantras against the ruling United Russia party of Vladimir Putin like "Down with the swindlers and thieves!" and were joined by Russia's best-known whistle-blowing blogger Alexei Navalny.
The November 4 Day of National Unity has been celebrated since 2005 when Russia's then president Putin created the holiday to replace the November 7 commemoration of the 1917 October Revolution.
The holiday marks the ousting of an invading Polish-Lithuanian force from the Kremlin in 1612 but its origins are understood by only a tiny proportion of present day Russians.
"Patriotism, citizenship and love for the fatherland are fundamental values which have always bound together the multi-ethnic Russian state," President Dmitry Medvdev told a ceremony in the central city of Nizhny Novgorod.
The audience there included not only Putin but religious leaders from Russia's substantial non-Christian religious minorities including Muslims and Buddhists.
However the Lublino march gave a different picture with protestors loudly complaining that the government was giving too much money to the conflict-torn and predominantly Muslim Northern Caucasus.
Racial tensions in Moscow have increased sharply after a native of the Northern Caucasus shot dead a hardcore fan of the Spartak Moscow football club last year, prompting an unprecedented riot by nationalists outside the Kremlin walls.
"We already know well it is time to stop feeding the Caucasus and how we are humiliated and it is time to take power in our own hands," said Georgy Borovikov of the group Russkiye (Russians).
Marchers chorused "Send the Caucasus down the toilet" and used racist terms for its residents.
Organisers had predicted 25,000 people would show up for the march. But a police spokesman told the RIA Novosti news agency that around 7,000 took part.
"I think that illegal immigrants who hinder us and bring crime and drugs should be deported. The Russians should be the masters on our land," said Mikhail, a builder from the southern city of Sochi, who declined to give his last name.
The event, organised by a number of nationalist groups, appeared to have larger ambitions than similar rallies in previous years.
A prominent and controversial participant was Navalny -- a blogger who has become a hero for many liberals by exposing widescale corruption at top Russian state firms.
Defending his appearance at an event with clearly racist overtones, he told AFP: "Of course there is radical youth here. Our task is to teach radical youth and make the Russian March better."
"One of the main slogans of the Russian March is 'down with the party of swindlers and thieves'," he said, referring to United Russia. "I came with this slogan and it was heard."
Yet he also reaffirmed his backing for the campaign to cut funding to the North Caucasus, Russia's most deprived region.
"Constant inflows into the North Caucasus only lead to a growth in social tension," he told journalists, saying corrupt officials syphoned off the funding.
In a less contentious event, pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (Ours) -- known for its ability to mobilise large numbers -- said 15,000 people turned up in northern Moscow for its event, also called the "Russian March".
"The Russian March is when the different peoples living in Russia come together. Our country is blessed with different peoples and cultures," Nashi official Maria Kislitsyna said in a statement.
© 2011 AFP