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Russian Nationalists Stage Marches Marking Unity Day Holiday


People gather at the Military Glory of the Pacific Fleet memorial to mark National Unity Day in the eastern city of Vladivostok on November 4.
People gather at the Military Glory of the Pacific Fleet memorial to mark National Unity Day in the eastern city of Vladivostok on November 4.

Nationalist groups held demonstrations in Moscow and a handful of other Russian cities, as the country marked the annual National Unity Day holiday.

The holiday, held November 4, was established in 2005 by President Vladimir Putin as a replacement for Soviet-era commemorations of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

Russian officials have tried to promote the holiday, which formally marks a battlefield victory over Polish forces in 1612, as a way to bolster patriotism.

Right-wing, nationalist, and monarchist groups have used the day to stage xenophobic and anti-immigrant marches, and past holidays have seen scuffles between protesters and riot police.

Several hundred people marched under nationalist flags and banners in a southern district of Moscow for a demonstration known as the "Russian March." However, participants were outnumbered by police officers; organizers reported several detentions for reasons not immediately known.

Dmitry Dyomushkin, a former leader of a nationalist group called Slavic Union and an organizer of the Moscow event, complained that law enforcement agencies were suppressing turnout. He said two other organizers had been detained in a Moscow jail on extremism charges, which he said were trumped-up.

Earlier, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin for the first time since the holiday's inception refused to issue a permit to the organizers, instead authorizing an alternative demonstration in the same location but under a different slogan: "Right March." Participants in that demonstration, which included several dozen people, heard speeches demanding that Russia unify with parts of Ukraine.

In the northern city of Pskov, about 20 people participated in a protest march, chanting "Free Political Prisoners!" Marches were also reported in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Saratov, and Yekaterinburg.

A poll by the state-funded Russian Public Opinion Research Center published on October 31 found that 37 percent of Russians believe in "national unity," while 54 percent of respondents disagree.

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