Thursday, February 17, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Banning DPNI as Extremist May Radicalize, Unite Russian Nationalists, Activists Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 17 – The Russian government’s decision to ban the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) as extremist, a step that organization’s leaders say reflects Moscow’s fear that an Egyptian-style revolt could happen in Russia, will only serve to unify the broader Russian nationalist movement.

Vladimir Yermolayev, the chairman of DPNI’s national council, says that the ban reflects the fears of Moscow leaders in the wake of the December 11 Manezh demonstration and the revolts shaking the Arab world that “the [Russian] crowd will acquire a sense of itself and that there will emerge leaders and organizations that will assume responsibility and lead it.”

Consequently, he said yesterday, the powers that be have decided to cleanse the field” of anyone who might oppose them. But Yermolayev suggested, both the timing and the motivations of the authorities in fact highlight the strength of Russian nationalism, attract more people to its banners and lead to its radicalization (

Charges that DPNI is extremist are something many ordinary Russians would agree with. The organization routinely issues statements about immigrants which most fair-minded observers would describe as xenophobic or worse. But at the same time, many of the same people are concerned about official suppression of yet another “independent Russian social organization.”

That is an attitude DPNI leaders have been playing to, arguing that they are one of the few voices speaking out on behalf of “the oppressed” ethnic Russian majority of the country at a time when “inter-ethnic problems in the Russian Federation are growing and conflicts and terrorist actions are becoming ever more numerous with each passing year.”

According to Yermolayev, “the leadership of Russia does not want to consider the realities of the situation, does not want to correct [its] errors] and does not want to recognize the failure of its policy in the North Caucasus.” The DPNI, whose leaders are “normal, healthy people,” Yermolayev argues, simply wants to pressure the regime to change.

But if the organization is banned, he continues, “there will appear new, radically inclined and aggressive autonomous groups whom no one will control. And in the case of mass risings which are inevitable if the current course remains unchanged, then there will not be anyone to negotiate with.”

Moreover, he adds, “in the case of a ban, members and supporters of DPNI have formulated the view that the existing regime must be changed as quickly as possible and by any available means,” an indication that the group, never the most moderate at the best of times, is itself being radicalized by what officials are doing.

According to Dmitry Demushkin, a leader of the Slavic Force movement, there is little chance that the authorities will back off or that the courts will fail to agree to their demands that DPNI be banned as extremist. Indeed, he said, there is no reason to offer a defense: “the charges [will be] so absurd that even the special forces guarding the courtroom [will] laugh” just as they did in his case last year.”

Konstantin Krylov, the president of the Russian Social Movement (ROD), agreed. “Over the course of many years, Russia justice has been destroyed. Now things are normal that five years ago would have been impossible. And what will follow next is difficult to predict. Russia is not a democratic state and this must be recognized.”

Krylov said that “the powers think that if they ban [the DPNI], then the Russian movement will disappear somewhere.” But that won’t happen, he insisted. “The Russian movement is not only and not so much the ROD, the DPNI and other organizations. [Instead, as recent events have shown,] it has become a mass and popular one.”

The ROD leader added that official moves against DPNI may lead to proposals for the formation of a new “union of nationalists,” something that he suggested makes sense in the current environment and that he and his colleagues would “all participate in.” Consequently, banning DPNI may have just the opposite effect the powers in Moscow appear to be hoping for.

But this latest move by the authorities to try to rein in Russian nationalists may have yet another result, one that could prove even more important politically. Yermolayev said that now “nationalists are prepared to cooperate not only with those who share their views” but “more actively work with all political forces which seek regime change.”

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