According to police, roughly 35,000 people in downtown Moscow took part in a mass demonstration on Saturday, February 21, put together by the so-called Anti-Maidan movement. Marching all the way to Revolution Square, just outside the Kremlin walls, the rally included an array of different organizations, from the veterans’ group Officers of Russia to billionaire Nets-owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s liberal opposition party Civil Platform. The rally’s MCs, Anti-Maidan leader Nikolai Starikov and singer Vika Tsiganova, called the EuroMaidan movement “the embryo of Goebbels, transplanted into human form, dancing in a church.” Ilya Azar, who attended the march, reports for Meduza.
“If we don’t come out in support of Vladimir Putin, then we’re all dead. We’ll be rotting in the trenches, not having understood that the fascists are coming for us. They’ve declared war on us,” said one man, wrapped in a flag the colors of the patriotic St. George's Ribbon, explaining his participation in the march.
The main slogan of the rally, which took place on the first anniversary of EuroMaidan’s victory’s in Ukraine, was the phrase “We won’t forget and we won’t forgive.” Beaming down from outdoor big screens, special videos explained what was so unforgivable.
The videos summarized the history of the revolutions in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Ukraine (all allegedly organized by the West), showing these countries’ economic performances before and after the coups. For example, they said the value of the hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency, fell three times after the victory of EuroMaidan. (Tactfully, they said nothing about the weakening of the ruble.)
Most of the demonstrators seemed to know the culprit for all this chaos. “Throughout history, America has needed war,” one woman in the crowd said gravely to her friend.
“Maidan hasn’t brought anything good to Ukraine,” repeated a pre-recorded video from singer Grigory Leps, who didn’t actually attend the march. “I’m against Maidan in all its manifestations. I’m for a great and a free Russia.”
Organizers handed out posters with various recurring clichés: “Maidan today, war tomorrow?”; “No to fascism! No to Maidan!”; “The Bear won’t ask anybody’s permission, and he won’t surrender his taiga to anyone!” (a reference to a public remark by Vladimir Putin in December 2014); “Russia is the kind of country that fears nothing”; and so on.
Carrying posters with the words, “Putin and Kadyrov won’t allow a Maidan,” the Chechens chanted the names of their idols in turns, “Ramzan!” “Putin!”
After the Chechens came the delegations from Ingushetia and Dagestan, who happily shared their flags with other demonstrators. Two elderly women carrying the Ingush flag turned to me, offended when I asked where they got them, saying “We’re from Vladivostok, so what? It’s all one Soviet Union!”
Most of the march’s participants, who filled Petrovka Street en route to Revolution Square, wore the symbol of Russian military valor: the St. George's Ribbon. By all accounts, there were few individuals who came to the rally of their own accord. Buses arrived earlier in the day, delivering people from rural areas outside Moscow, and local students also made no secret that they’d been forced by their universities to attend.
“The march won’t go on for very long, and we don’t even have to go all the way to the end,” one young woman said, trying to calm her friend.
“But we have to find the right moment [to leave], so we’ll keep going a bit further,” the friend answered.
Those who signed up for the march at the website Massovki.ru earned 300 rubles (about $5), but many students driven to the event were happy just to get a free Russian flag.
“I’m a satisfied man. I won’t be going home empty-handed, and I’ll have something to show, when my mom asks where I’ve been,” said one young man, waving around a Russian flag.
“Are we going to Mickey D's after this?” his friend asked.
“No. We’ve got to be patriots,” he answered sharply.
The day before the march, Anti-Maidan’s leaders promised that more than 100 organizations would take part in the event. In addition to the factions that usually show up at pro-Kremlin rallies (like Officers of Russia, Combat Brotherhood, and LDPR), there were also some unexpected groups. For instance, members and supporters of the opposition party Civil Platform joined the march. Their sponsor and founder is billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, whom almost 6 million liberal Russians supported in the 2012 presidential election. Marching in the party’s standard-issue scarves (and without St. Georges’ Ribbons), Civil Platform activists explained why they see nothing strange about a liberal political party participating in a patriotic, anti-opposition rally.
“Under Rifat [Shaykhutdinov, who replaced the more liberal Irina Prokhorova as Civil Platform leader after Crimea’s unification with Russia], our course has changed, and the party now supports Russia’s foreign policy and advocates for changes in the economy. I support such a course, and I’m certainly not going to the [opposition] rally on March 1,” one woman from Civil Platform told me.
A well-dressed young man in her group was less comfortable, however. “I’m not really sure what I’m doing here,” he told me, shrugging.
Andrei Bogdanov, the former leader of the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) and a grand master freemason, also showed up at the Anti-Maidan march. As a pro-Kremlin strategist, Bogdanov has helped create dozens of spoiler political parties. He’s currently busy building up the Communist Party of Social Justice (known as “KPSS”—the same acronym used by the Soviet Communist Party), hoping to take away votes from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the country’s number-two party, in the next parliamentary and regional elections.
“Do you remember how, just a few years ago, you held the DPR’s congress in Brussels under European Union flags and the slogan ‘Russia is Europe’?” I asked Bogdanov, as he marched with a St. George’s Ribbon pinned to his chest and a red KPSS flag in his hand.
“Of course! And nothing has changed,” he said, without any embarrassment. “We’re for a united Europe, where Russia plays a leading role. I was in Italy and in France, and the communists there want Europe that stretches from Vladivostok to the English Channel.”
City officials permitted Anti-Maidan’s organizers to set up their main stage between the Moskva hotel and the State Historical Museum, in the heart of Moscow, just outside the Kremlin. (The mayor’s office relegated a liberal opposition protest on March 1 to the residential district of Maryino.) Conspirologist writer Nikolai Starikov and singer Vika Tsiganova led the rally, beginning the event with an emotional, lyrical enumeration of EuroMaidan’s many sins.
“A burial party has come to power in Kiev. Maidan is a festival of death,” Starikov said.
“Maidan’s main weapon is lies, which have resulted in thousands dead, hundreds of thousands of wounded, and millions of elderly people and children in deprivation,” Tsiganova added.
“Maidan is the embryo of Goebbels, transplanted into human form, dancing in a church,” said Starikov, who was only getting started.
“Maidan is the concentration of everything anti-Russian under Nazi flags and [musician Andrey] Makarevich’s songs,” Tsiganova added.
“There will be no Maidan in Russia!” Starikov and Tsiganova then chanted together, though almost nobody in the crowd joined in.
“Damn you to hell, Maidan!” Tsiganova yelled finally, almost in tears.
After these opening remarks, the crowd listened to a group of Anti-Maidan supporters from Odessa—parents whose children died in the May 2 Trade Unions House fire. “My son’s death ripped my heart in two. It’s impossible to forget,” one mother said from the stage.
Of course, the rally’s speakers couldn’t resist drawing attention to the leaders of the Russian opposition. In the crowd, for example, activists from United Russia’s youth division carried posters attacking “Navalny the Thief.” Alexey Balyberdin, a worker from UralVagonZavod (a tank factory in the Urals that once threatened to break up a liberal opposition rally by force), also discussed Russia’s “traitors.”
“In 2012, it seemed the opposition met its end, but now it’s revived again! These traitors are an insignificant few, but we must remember that they are arrogant and cynical people who will stop at nothing to destroy our country. Three years ago, we wanted to drive a tank to the opposition’s rally, but today I think a bit of strong language would be enough to put them in their place. And we’re ready to deliver it,” Balyberdin said.
Next, the crowd was treated to a performance by pop musician Yulia Chicherina, whom Starikov called a “star of Russian rock.” Chicherina pointed out that Kiev labels her a terrorist because she held a concert in separatist-controlled Lugansk. “And those who kill their own people en masse and turn their cities into ruins, they call heroes. We must save our own country from such madness!” Chicherina said, before performing one of her songs.
The rally ended with a speech by Russia’s favorite biker gang leader, Alexander “The Surgeon” Zaldostanov, who said, “I call on all of you to rally around the Russian President, as we we did in that crucial hour in Sevastopol and Crimea. Looking into your eyes and seeing how many of you there are, I know in my heart there will be no Maidan in Russia. Let this orange weasel break its crooked, little poisonous teeth on us!”
Here, the rally ended, and people began to disperse. One group of demonstrators carried on a stretcher a dummy dressed in an orange jumpsuit, stuffed with dollars and wrapped in the American flag.
Nearby, Duma deputy and leader of the right-wing National Liberation Movement Evgeny Fedorov addressed a small gathering of his supporters, summarizing the takeaways of the rally.
“We’ve done a very important thing today! We’ve set in motion the liberation of Russia and the purge of the ‘fifth column’! The spring is being set, and it will end in either a coup or Russian sovereignty,” said Fedorov, who believes Russia is currently enslaved to the United States, and considers Vladimir Putin the leader of an ongoing national-liberation movement.
“I’m from Vladivostok myself,” said one of Fedorov’s supporters. “Tell me, what can people in my region do to help?”
“For now, there’s nothing. But there will come a time when the highest powers activate their resources and they’ll send a plane to bring you to Moscow,” Fedorov reassured the man.
“Motherland! Freedom! Putin!” the people around Fedorov started chanting.
“In six months, there’ll be a million of us, and we’ll have our victory before the year’s end. Thank you for carrying this load! For pushing Russia forward!” Fedorov concluded, and walked away.
Attentively watching Fedorov’s speech was a man carrying a portrait of anti-war rock musician Andrey Makarevich, inscribed with the words, “An organizer of Maidan.” There were other people with other portraits, too. Some carried pictures of Putin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former politicians Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov, and other oppositionists.
“Why are you showing everybody a picture of Makarevich?” said an approaching man. “He just needs to be forgotten and erased from memory.”
“Forgotten?! He’s the main organizer of Maidan!” the young man answered.
“Yeah right. We don’t even know if he was ever at the Maidan protests,” reasoned the second man.
“Are you a Makarevich supporter or something?” snapped the young man.
“No, no. But he’s just a pawn.”
“Well, it’s clear that the main organizers are the Americans, but still…” said the young man, calming down.
It was at this moment that an old woman wearing a purple shawl walked up to the young man, bent down to the photograph, and said very quietly, “You’re a scoundrel, you Judas.” Then she turned and walked away.