Public Unrest Rises in Russia
Sorry, I’ve been quite busy last week and had little time to blog. Some interesting things are happening these days in Russia. They may (or may not, who knows) have a serious effect on the political situation in Russia.
1. Solidarity is finally here and the Poles have nothing to do with it. At last, Russian democratic opposition managed to unite in its struggle against the authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. The new organization, whose 13 strong Bureau includes people like Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, Ivan Starikov, Ilya Yashin, and myself, unites nearly all democratic forces in the country.
The creation of Solidarity was taken very seiously by the authorities judging by the scale of counteraction. On the first day of the movement’s convention about 50 of its organizers and leaders had their phones overwhelmed with endless robocalls (this technology has already been used against some SPS officers on the election day last year). Several fake buses were used to confuse the delegates and bring them to different locations. The real buses with the delegates were stopped by the police on their way to the venue. Right after they arrived at the Olimpiyskiy hotel in sub-Moscow Himki, a disgusting provocation was organized, allegedly, by Youth Guard, United Russia’s youth branch:
There were more provocations on the day two. More Kremlin-sponsored activists tried to disrupt the convention: they dressed like monkeys, shouted, threw leaflets etc. When the event already finished and its participants went to Moscow (some had train or airplane tickets to go home), their bus was blocked by several trucks and police cars. Armed riot police surrounded the bus and forbade to proceed. No legal reasons were provided, of course.
So, the government appears more than worried by appearence of the new movement. The question is whether we’ll be able to fulfill Putin’s fears and people’s hopes. I’m sure we’ll do our best.
2. On Sunday, the very next day after Solidarity was created, many of its members participated in Dissenters’ Marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Moscow march had been illegally banned by the authorities. They said that somebody else had applied for the same place and time before we did. It was lies since our people brought the application to the mayor’s office on the first day and first minute when it was possible by the law. We had the official stamp and video of how it was done. But as usually, the government didn’t give a damn. They’ve got the police, so why worry about the laws?
Yes, they’ve got lots of police. Riot police vans, army trucks, special prisoner transports (“autozaks”), heavy vehicles lined up for hundreds of meters through the city’s main shopping street, Tverskaya, more of them hid in sidestreets. 2500 riot police from 11 regions were brought to stop the March, not to count thousands of regular police officers and the army. Hundreds of secret service operatives had to recognize activists and organizers even before they arrive at the scene or do anything. Phones were tapped, leaders tailed from their homes, some were seiged in their flats from the very morning. Sadly, there was no possibility to hold an action.
But it was held. Many people went there knowing that they’d be arrested and beaten. Dozens of retired high officers, from colonels to generals, wering uniform with medals gathered to protest awful government’s attitude to the veterans and degradation of the Russian army. They were all arrested by the riot police, dragged violently into autozaks and held in the custody for hours where the police humiliated them.
Some 90 people were arrested at Triumfalnaya Square, where the March was officially planned. Some of them, like Sergey Aksenov, went fearlessly before the police lines holding Constitution above their heads. Others shouted slogans like “Freedom to politcal prisoners!” or argued with the police. Some were arrested just because they were in the secret lists of opposition activists. Two young protesters already after being arrested, managed to escape from an autozak through a ceil manhole and shouted slogans from the car’s roof. They were immediately assaulted by the riot police, one young man was pushed out of the roof, fell on the ground and broke his leg. The police didn’t even care to call the doctor, they just put the men back into the autozak.
About 30 protesters organized another action right near Kremlin. They brought the Constitution with them and wanted to get inside to present it to Dmitry Medvedev. However, Federal Guard Service met them instead of the president. 18 were arrested, several were severely beaten. More people were arrested at different spots of Moscow. Three Oborona activists got to the police right from a McDonald’s restaurant together with three passersby for “holding an illegal demonstration” (right in McDonald’s?!). An Oborona activist Maksim Kirsanov was arrested for standing in the street and holding a placard demanding that the government obey the Constitution.
Another group of protesters, which I joined, managed to fool the police. As the government’s forces were waiting for the March at North-West of the Moscow center, 100 to 150 people gathered in South-East and marched freely through the city. People shouted “We need other Russia!”, “This is our city!”, “Russia without Putin!”, “Freedom to political prisoners!”, cars beeped in support. We didn’t meet a single policeman on our way, they were all waiting for us in a different place. The march lasted for some 20 minutes, its participants immediately dispersed. Riot police arrived there 10 minutes late. Nobody was arrested.
Moscow authorities appear to be outraged by the Sunday’s events. Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov has already ordered that the police “zero” the protests. He expects more social unrest as the economical crisis deepens in Russia.
3. By the way, the crisis is already beginning to affect the people. Andrei Illarionov (a prominent Russian economist, former Putin’s advisor on economics) publishes the official figures of industrial recession that he calls “disastrous”. Industrial output fell by 6.7% in November alone, which makes 13% in last five months. This is the worst monthly decrease since the beginning of the devastating World War II. It is even worse than in early 1990s (that are considered to be a synonym for nightmare in modern Russia) or during the 1998 crisis.
The gold rivers are dry for the first time since Vladimir Putin came to power and his government doesn’t seem to be prepared. Salaries and pensions are not paid in time anymore. In some regions elderly people only got half of their pension two weeks later and they don’t know when they receive the rest. The government tries to get more money from the people and raises tariffs, taxes and duties. This begins to cause discontent among the citizens. In Vladivostok, several thousands car drivers blocked all the main roads protesting a significant increase of customs duty for foreign cars. They demanded cancellation of the proposed reform and resignation of Vladimir Putin. Their next protest is scheduled for this Sunday.