People who were wondering what Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had on his mind when he voiced his support for the leadership of Vladimir Putin should have witnessed the nationalist demonstration in Moscow on Sunday. In November Russia celebrates Unity Day to commemorate the uprising against the Polish invaders in the 17th century. The celebration is also meant to substitute for the anniversary of the Russian Revolution that was a hallmark of the Soviet calendar.
Sunday's March by Russian nationalists featured black shirted militants with Nazi insignia who cried Russia for the Russians. They also expressed their loathing for Vladimir Putin. Alexander Belov, a leader of the Movement against Illegal Immigration called Vladimir Putin and enemy who drank the people's blood.
When the Soviet Union broke up a little over 20 years ago some Russian nationalists actually cheered the breakup. Under the Soviet Union they were afraid that Russians and even Slavs would become a minority in their own country given the higher birth rates in the Muslim republics of the former USSR. Russia although smaller argued some nationalists would be more homogenous in terms of population. This calculus neglected the fact that non-Russian minorities continue to inhabit Russia.
Vladimir Putin, who actively competes for the mantle of defender of Russian nationalism and the Russian Orthodox Church, nevertheless argues for a cultural unity based on Russian culture. On National Unity day he was accompanied not only by Russian Orthodox prelates but by Moslem, Jewish and Buddhist religious figures.
The Russian leader is performing a delicate balancing act of elevating Russian nationalism while giving the minorities a sense of belonging as well. As extremists Muslim influence penetrates the Muslim regions of Russia (as can be seen by a recent series of assassinations carried out against Muslim religious leaders who are employed by the state) the need to preserve loyalty is compounded.
Russian nationalists oppose the migration of non-Russians into the Russian cities. During the Soviet Union one required a special permit to reside in Moscow, but today there is greater freedom of movement. The demonstrators also claim that the government is subsidizing the Caucasus in order to buy peace.
Not all Russian nationalists are thuggish, but the fear remains that a Russian Spring will not usher in a government run by the fractious and impotent liberals but that the replacement would be nationalist skinheads with their message of hatred for minorities.