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© RIA Novosti. Iliya Pitalev

When the Russians go marching in

by Anna Arutiunova, RussiaProfile.org at 10/11/2011 20:53

There is a saying here that dates back to the Soviet times: “In Russia, you get punched in the face, not in your passport” (a reference to the “nationality” line that all Soviet citizens had in their passports). Essentially, this means you can get beaten not for who you are, but for what you look like. But the “nationality” issue has also been ascribed increasing importance over the past few years: according to Levada Center poll data, 48 percent of Russians want the “nationality” line to be put back in passports.

This self-identification anguish culminates in the annual so-called Russky March, the latest installment of which took place last Friday.

What more appropriate way is there to celebrate the ludicrous “Day of National Unity” holiday than with an absurdist theater performance, complete with a marching band and a masquerade? When they took to the streets, the Russian nationalists also marched straight through RuNet and the Russian blogosphere: the only place where the event could actually be announced and promoted, as well as openly ridiculed and criticized with no fear of immediate physical reprisal.

“The Russky March are aggressive f**kheads who have nothing in common with Russian national interests. As you can tell from the photos, the ‘Russian’ march has degenerated into fascism. Only the ugliest of beasts or a paid provocateur can think that fascism is compatible with the Russian people,” wrote LiveJournal user woodiewoodpeker.

“The reactions are sad to watch,” wrote LiveJournal user v_jdanov from the opposite camp. “So much noise has been made, but now all that will be covered is that a journalist was beaten and that they screamed ‘sieg heil.’ People don’t understand the point of this march.”

Others made a pass at some deeper analysis: “Have you ever thought what these ‘Russian’ marches get organized for? Someone really needs to demonstrate how scary ‘Russian’ fascism is, in order to have an excuse to ‘tighten the screws’ on the unruly people,” wrote LiveJournal user louchsveta. The same discussion takes place every year.

Indeed, the contingent that marched down the streets of Moscow’s working-class neighborhood of Lyublino was a classic sample of the typical audience of the most popular Russian social networking site, VKontakte: teenagers so high on testosterone it makes their brains incapable of processing any notion more complex than “black isn’t white.”

Occasional babushkas could also be spotted in the crowds, but that I blame on senility, which makes you forget the price you paid for a world free of fascism. The real catch was the parade commanders who stood on the sidelines – the Gray Cardinals directing the flow and the chants.

In Russia, the term “nationalism” itself may be beyond saving (just like the term “opposition”) – its meaning has been marred by its practical application. Few rational people want anything to do with what is so closely associated with xenophobia. “As positive and important as aristocratic nationalism, which imposes a certain set of responsibilities upon a person (I’m a Russian, I was born in this country, thus I should serve this country) is to me as disgusting as the nationalism of the ‘white trash,’ which claims ‘I am Russian, therefore I am great,” wrote Yulia Latynina in a column on Ej.ru.

The elitism of this attitude doesn’t escape me either. I don’t mean to say that everyone who attended the Russky March was “bydlo” (a derogatory Russian term used for members of the working class), but I have to say that I went to the Russky March expecting to be frightened. Instead, I was saddened, especially by the future prospects of these people. I didn’t hear anyone there chant “we want better education!” or anything that would have to do with “healthy” patriotism. Thoughtless revolutions never did anyone any good. And that makes me wonder: Who is Russia really for?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and not necessarily those of The Moscow News.

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