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Seeing no evil?

File Photo of Arm and Torso of Person in Brown Sweater Placing Paper Ballot into Ballot Box
Ahead of the December 4 elections, Russian nationalists are joining some other prominent opposition movements in urging voters to cast their ballots for anyone but the ruling United Russia party - but even as United Russia sinks in the polls, nationalist leaders say they remain realistic about the prospects of immediate change in the country. "I'm thanking United Russia for uniting the nation - everybody hates them," Konstantin Krylov, an icon of the Russian nationalist movement, told an anti-United Russia rally held in front of the Government House in Moscow last Saturday. The protest against "the party of crooks and thieves," as United Russia has been dubbed by opposition, brought together nationalists, liberals and Communists, which would have seemed inconceivable just a couple of years ago.

With over half of their legal organizations banned this year, nationalists are radicalizing and aligning themselves with other political forces in an attempt to subvert the government in the current election campaign. Their rhetoric has come to focus on social and political issues recently. "The country's main problem is its corrupt and anti-nationalist government, which oppresses Russians," Krylov told The Moscow News.

Another leader of Russian nationalists, Vladimir Tor, agrees with Krylov: "The government with its police and prosecutors is perceived as a threat to society," he told The Moscow News.

Both nationalist leaders noted that the government and the ruling United Russia party are skirting around the issue of nationalism, which only serves to heighten tensions in the country.

In a report published earlier this month, a renowned expert on European nationalism, Andreas Umland, Associate Professor at the Ukrainian Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, said that Russian officials and mass media have eagerly berated neighboring countries for their alleged support of "fascist" tendencies, ignoring far more serious extremist trends here.

Administrative measures against nationalists are on the books in Russia. Natalia Yudina, an expert with the Moscow-based SOVA NGO, which monitors xenophobic activity, told The Moscow News that "nationalism is banned by law, but the government has made an exception for one party - LDPR, whose rhetoric is regarded as moderately nationalistic."

Tor, meanwhile, does not mind it when other political forces take up nationalist rhetoric, because they are helping promote nationalist ideas. "LDPR is allowed to say whatever it wants, but is limited in what it can actually do," he said. "Communists are in limbo: They don't really know how to combine this powerful political tool [nationalistic rhetoric] with the idea of internationalism they have always upheld."

Umland estimates that LDPR may get the second best federal election result in its history when Russians go to the polls on December 4. "The party got 23 percent in the 1993 elections and may get around 13 percent on December 4, 2011 since the relevance of nationalism has grown in Russia's population at large" he told The Moscow News.

However, Umland does not see any relevant political force that may adequately address the issue of rising racial hatred in Russia. "Instead, all political parties are playing with ethnic stereotypes to blame domestic or foreign critiques of Russia's current regime," he said.

Repeatedly knocked back in their attempts to register a political party, nationalists are seeking political participation through municipal elections. "We need legislative representation," Pyotr Miloserdov, an ideologist of the nationalist movement, told a press conference earlier this month. "The very fact of our participation will be a good means of propagating our ideas."

As for their tactics in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Tor and Krylov call their supporters to vote for any party but United Russia. "We understand if they want to destroy their ballots or take them home, but it'll be no use - in this case their vote will go to United Russia," said Tor. He is certain that vote results will be rigged and is planning to gather his supporters for a rally at Moscow's Revolution Square on election day after polling stations close.

Neither Tor nor Krylov believe that the regime will change following elections. At the same time, neither thinks that the government can be toppled by street protesters. "Russian nationalists are not plotting an uprising," Tor said. He thinks the country will be instead hit by a disaster, which will cause a crisis the government will be unable to control. "Chernobyl once prompted the collapse of the Soviet Union," Tor said. "A disaster similar to that at Fukushima can easily sweep a weak regime."

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