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Normalizing Russian Nationalism

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This week’s Russia! Magazine column, “Mainstreaming Russian Nationalism,” was posted a day before the Levada Center released a poll on the popularity of the Russian March. The march is scheduled for Monday, on so-called Unity Day. According to the poll, support for the Russian March is growing: 40 percent of respondents support the idea in varying degrees. While such polls should always be taken with grains of salt, it does suggest that the idea of a rally in support for Russian rights is gradually gaining steam. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include this survey in the article.

On 26 October about 5-10 youths of “Slavic appearance” attacked a Moscow-Dushanbe bound train as it sat at Ternovka station in Voronezh province. Yelling nationalist slogans, the gang smashed about 20 car windows with rocks. Passengers received minor injuries. “I can’t exactly say why a group of people attacked our train,” a source from the Tajik Railroad toldGazeta.ru. “It’s possible that it’s connected to the intensification of anti-migrant sentiment in the Russian Federation.”

This incident is the latest in a series of nationalist inspired attacks on migrants in Russia. While commentators sought to identify the reasons for the Biryulyovo race riot, little attention has been paid to the apparent increase in nationalist activity since the government’s anti-migrant campaign in early August. True, while many nationalist attacks are not connected to any organization (the Russian nationalist movement is variegated, decentralized and often spontaneous), there has been an uptick in organized activity. Indeed, two weeks prior to the Biryulyovo riot, the nationalist gangs Moscow Shield and Stop Drugs stormed a migrant dormitory in Moscow’s Kapotnya District. The raid, part of which you can view online, saw of youths roaming floor to floor wielding clubs and traumatic weapons to root out illegal migrants. But migrant raids are only one form of nationalist activity. The Sova Center, which monitors extremism, has recorded a number of incidents in which nationalists declared “white” only buses and trams, staging “people’s assemblies” to protest migrant crime, and individual physical attacks on non-Slavs. In its September report on racism and xenophobia, the Sova Center stated that “the public activities of the far-right are notably higher than in the summer.”

What is important about Russia’s far rights, though, isn’t just its increase in public activity. More telling is that this activism comes alongside a concerted effort to move nationalism into the political mainstream.

Read on . . .

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