MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday urged a crackdown on far-right nationalists, the latest government effort to curb neo-Nazi movements after Moscow saw the worst racial clashes since the fall of the Soviet Union. Neo-nationalist movements have been gaining ground and boosting their membership over the past year, shocking authorities and many ordinary Russians. At rallies, some tout swastikas and chant slogans such as “Russia is for Russians!”
“Recall the unfortunate example of Nazi Germany. This ultimately struck a blow to German nation,” Medvedev told top lawmakers. “All Nazis, independent of where they come from… they simply undermine the cultural foundations of our state.”
In December Moscow saw the worst nationalist riots in its post-Soviet history, with police unable to stop some 7,000 aggressive youths who gathered near the Kremlin from beating people of non-Slavic appearance.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the unrest, calling it “xenophobia.”
In remarks shown on state-run television, Medvedev said: “Intolerance, aggression and closed-mindedness are phenomena that, as a rule, occupy the lowest levels of culture.
“These developments must be countered with a serious response…Inter-ethnic peace and harmony is important for everyone.”
The racial violence was sparked by the December 6 killing of Yegor Sviridov, a Spartak Moscow soccer fan, during a fight between a group of ethnic Russians and migrants from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, Russia’s most volatile region.
About a fifth of Russia’s 142 million people are Muslims.
Last week a heavy police presence managed to mute a neo-nationalist rally in the center of Moscow that organizers said would protest against people from the North Caucasus.
Critics say the Kremlin is to blame for the rise in neo-nationalist movements, arguing they have been allowed to flourish in recent years.
Unlike many human rights activists and the country’s marginalized gay community, neo-nationalists have been allowed to hold rallies — a right guaranteed by the Russian constitution.
Early last year a Russian judge who sentenced neo-nationalists for hate crimes, Eduard Chuvashov, was shot dead in the stairwell of his apartment as he left for work. His attackers remain at large.
The violence and the frequency of racist incidents involving Russian fans have raised concerns about security during the 2018 World Cup, which Russia will host.
(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing by Mark Trevelyan)