MOSCOW (Feb. 2)
A neo-Nazi march through the streets of Moscow has brought condemnation from several Russian leaders — as well as promises to prosecute the march’s organizer.
A presidential commission meeting on Tuesday discussed the march, during which 200 members of Russia’s largest ultranationalist group, Russian National Unity, marched in the capital with their Nazi-style armbands and stiff-armed salutes.
The commission should be given a broader mandate to help it curtail the recent rise in political extremism in Russia, said Russian Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, who condemned the march earlier this week.
Moscow city prosecutors, said they would press criminal charges against the leader of the group, Alexander Barkashov. The comments followed Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s promise to crack down on political extremism.
In the wake of the march, Russia’s prosecutor general resigned. It is unclear what prompted Yuri Skuratov’s move, which still has to be approved by the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, but he has come under growing criticism for his inability to prosecute extremists.
The march also increased calls for legislation to be drafted that would combat extremism. But most observers agree that such legislation would not pass the Communist-dominated Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament.
The demonstration came after a series of confrontations between Luzhkov and Barkashov, which began in December after Luzhkov banned a planned meeting of the group.
City prosecutors recently turned down Luzhkov’s lawsuit against Barkashov, whom the mayor claimed threatened him with violence during their verbal sparring.
During the march, the police briefly detained some of the neo-Nazis but then released them and allowed them to continue. Indeed, a local police official was shown on television apologizing for the brief arrests.
In a move aimed at combating the dissemination of extremist propaganda in Moscow, Luzhkov last week banned the sale of neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic newspapers at a central Moscow square that sits a block away from the Kremlin.
In a related development, a group of youths chanting the name of Stalin and making Nazi salutes disrupted a convention of a liberal party held in Moscow over the weekend.
The incident took place when the leader of the Democratic Choice of Russia, former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, spoke out against recent manifestations of anti-Semitism among the leadership of the Communist Party.
Some delegates attending the meeting helped to forcibly remove the youths from the hall. A television report showed Alexander Osovtsov, a party activist who is also executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, fighting with the youths.
The Communist speaker of the Duma, Gennady Seleznyov, defended the youths, calling them “good fellows,” and labeling Gaidar as a “major extremist.”