Elena Omel’chenko and Nastya Min’kova, MYPLACE team members at Centre for Youth Research, Higher School of Economics (St Petersburg) write about developments at this year’s National Unity Day in Russia.
For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE
Russia’s ‘National Unity Day’ (4thNovember) passed off somewhat unusually this year. This national holiday, imposed in 2005 to replace the annual celebration of the October revolution leaves most Russian citizens rather bemused and to date has been embraced fully only by movements of a nationalist persuasion.
So, on 4thNovember 2011 many Russian cities played host to what have become the traditional ‘Russian Marches”. Despite their nationalist tone, permission by local governments was granted for the marches without exception and journalists got their nice footage of Nazi-saluting youth. Nobody else much was bothered by the ‘Russian March’.
But this year the ‘Russian March’ took on a new hue; it became a political ‘brand’. First of all Alexei Naval’nii, used the occasion of the march to make a stance against corruption and the Kremlin, declaring that he would march under the slogan ‘Down with “United Russia”- the party of thieves and swindlers’ ( http://www.snob.ru/thread/153#entry_42365 ). Next to have their attention drawn by the Russian March was the actor and Orthodox priest Ivan Okhlobystin ( http://kp.by/daily/25777/2760907/ ), who was temporarily released from his position in the church to facilitate his participation in the march. Both are well known and popular figures among young people and the liberally-minded public.
It did not take long for a response to emerge. On the 4th November in Moscow two ‘Russian marches’ took place. To counter the 7,000 nationalists herded into Liublino by mounted police, the ‘Nashi 2.0’ movement led a march of 15,000 young people from across Russia to the National Exhibition Centre. In Liublino teenagers shouted anti-government and anti-Caucasian slogans and set off flares. Meanwhile, at the National Exhibition Centre, traditional Russian food was prepared and an attempt at the record for the largest mass national dance was organised. The nationalistic slogan ‘It’s time to stop feeding the Caucasus’ competed against the pro-Kremlin call of ‘The more the better’.
Notwithstanding claims by the organizers of the ‘Russian March in Liublino that a record number of participants – 25,000 people – had gathered this year ( http://www.dpni.org/articles/vazhnoe/27106/ ), the ‘Nashi 2.0’ counter-action appeared more effective (http://nashi.su/news/37582). This is evident from photographs uploaded to the internet ( http://www.ridus.ru/news/8652/ ). ‘Nashi’ has extensive experience in organizing large-scale events and the theme of ‘tolerance’, which they made pivotal to the Russian march, is their signature tune. At the very start of the ‘Nashi’ movement, in 2005-6, activists of the movement organized ‘friendship lessons’ in schools. What was demonstrated at the National Exhibition Centre on 4th November 2011 was similar, but on a much grander scale.
In addition to ‘Nashi’ other social and political movements loyal to the authorities – ‘United Russia’, ‘Young Russia’, ‘Young Guard’ – colonized city squares and public spaces ( http://www.molgvardia.ru/video/2011/11/07/36962 ). Even the Russian Orthodox Church did not stand by passively, proposing a religious procession as an alternative to the nationalist demonstrations. Until this year, the only possible form of public mobilization on National Unity Day had been that of the nationalists. Perhaps 2011 marks a new dawn for this new holiday?