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Strange Allies March Together in Moscow
Friday, 16 December 2011 19:36
What does it say about the social fabric when opposition members join the nationalists' march? 

The annual Russia March has for some time been a fringe event and a rallying point for the disenfranchised, the alienated and the perverse -- skinheads in black masks, Orthodox fundamentalists with icons and neo-Nazis carrying the flag of the SS Division Totenkopf.

This motley crew marched through a distant corner of Moscow earlier this month chanting anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, anti-Chechen and anti-American slogans, amid other sundry prejudices.

And this year, they were joined by -- of all people -- a few liberal democrats. 

While most Russian liberals remain revolted by the Russia March, Alexey Navalny, a prominent opponent of the Kremlin, decided to join in. He explained his participation to some bewildered supporters as an attempt to make common cause with nationalists to broaden the coalition of those disillusioned with the Kremlin's monopoly on power.

"I am certain that more or less any large nationalist organization, if allowed to develop legally, would have leaders that would ultimately evolve to be no more radical than any right-wing European politicians," Navalny said. He said the "Russia March talks about existing problems, and all historical allusions to Nazi Germany are irrelevant in Russia."

A few other liberals echoed that sentiment. "We trust in moderate nationalists," said Vladimir Milov, the leader of the Democratic Choice party. Along with Navalny, Milov and some other opposition figures such as Eugene Roizman and Boris Nadezhdin of the Right Cause said they want to collaborate with nationalists to "solve the real problems in Russia."

The liberal flirtation with nationalism is extraordinary, but it is a measure of the stasis in Russian politics at a moment when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former president, is about to become president again, succeeding his protégé who will replace him as prime minister. 

"Give Russia back to the Russians" was a typical slogan as 7,000 protesters, some carrying Czarist-era flags, marched through a bleak suburb of Moscow under the watchful eye of columns of police. And the march, normally dominated by young people, had a noticeable complement of the middle-aged.

The SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, which specializes in monitoring xenophobia in Russia, reported that the participants shouted slogans inciting ethnic hatred, which is a punishable offense.

Navalny explained his participation as a reaction to "power and usurpation." 

Navalny's participation in the rally has divided his former allies. Ludmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that that Navalny should be prosecuted for violating the constitution. Evgenia Albats, editor in chief of New Times, an opposition magazine, said Navalny "may be the first real politician in post-Soviet Russia who practices real, not speculative, politics and deals with real people." 

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