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The Best Way to Deal With Nationalists

The Russian government virtually handed nationalists their own special holiday on a silver platter by establishing People’s Unity Day on Nov. 4. The nationalists have their own interpretation of Unity Day. For many of them, the holiday is not only a celebration of Russia’s “cleansing” of the Polish invaders, but of all of its perennial enemies.

Although the state-run television channels ignored the Russian March, the nationalists’ main public demonstration on Unity Day, this does not change the views or intentions of its participants or the people who watched it in approval. There is nothing worth panicking about here, but ignoring the danger would be a mistake.

What should be done?

First, an education campaign against nationalist extremism needs to be instituted. Of course, everyone should understand that there can be no quick-fix remedies to the problem. The Americans were able to radically change race relations in the United States over the course of a generation by using everything under the sun: Ending racial segregation in schools, showing white and African-American police officers partnering up in the heat of battle for justice for hours and hours on television and much more.

The same can be accomplished in Russia. Our country has never had a single ethnicity or religion, while all victories and advancements have always been linked with openness and tolerance. Take a look at the list of Soviet heroes from World War II, or of those who created the atomic bomb and prepared Yury Gagarin’s landmark space flight. Glance at the policies of Catherine and Peter the Great. Look at the names of commanders from the War of 1812 with Napoleon. It is clear from Russia’s history that the country is made up of people from various faiths, nationalities and backgrounds.

Second, the nationalists should have their own political representation, just as their cohorts do in the majority of European countries and just as the Communists do in Russia. It is pointless to act as if they don’t even exist. If they have their own political party, one that is regulated by the law, then it will be possible to debate with them on a public platform and build unions and coalitions to fight them.

Once there is a public debate with the nationalists, I am convinced that the vast majority of Russians will reject their doctrine. Having an image of being persecuted or banished will only add to their popularity. Hostile ideologies, such as fascism and communism, needs to be confronted face to face.

Third, nationalist declarations and actions that violate the Constitution should be prosecuted according to the law. This will be easier to do if the nationalists have their own party because they will be more open and intelligible.

Another problem is that many people in the country’s law enforcement agencies sympathize with the nationalists. Given the country’s poor record on protecting human rights, it is very important that the police don’t end up serving the nationalists’ interests. Member of Russia’s law enforcement agencies are trained to follow orders, and it is very important that the wrong orders are not given in the first place.

Leonid Gozman is a co-founder of the Right Cause party.

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