Posts Tagged ‘Dissenters’ March’
Yesterday I made a speech at Youth Involvement in Demonstrations and Riots conference in Tallinn. I talked about the recent history, present state of, and prospects for, the protest movement in Russia.
I won RUR 10,000 (about $300) at Tverskoy District Court yesterday from the Russian government for my illegal 13-day detention at a Dissenters’ March last year. This is the first case when the state is obliged to pay a compensation to an opposition activist arrested at a rally. Of course, the amount is hillarious and I will surely submit an appeal, first to the Moscow City Court and then, if needed, to the European Court for Human Rights.
Music by Rannee Slaboumie, video by myself
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.
The Moscow City Court ruled that my 13-days-long detention in May was illegal. Men in plainclothes arrested me while I was walking on the street before a Dissenters’ March planned for May 6. Without explaining anything, they put me and several dozens of other activists in am armored truck and brought us to a police station.
The next day I was sentenced to 13 days in jail for “disobeying police orders”, the sentence was based on controversial and false documents and perjury from an OMON sergeant. Neither testimonies by numerous witnesses, nor photos of my arrest didn’t change the sentence: the judge simply ignored it. Ironically, this farce was taking place at the same time as Dmitry Medvedev was addressing the importance of rule of law in his inaugurational speech.
I started a hunger strike in protest. Police tried to hide my location and denied my attorney to see me. Opposition activists held pickets and painted graffiti in my support. They even organized a celebration of my birthday, which I had to celebrate in jail. After I was released, I spent several days in hospital due to health problems because of the hunger strike.
Now, I’ve been acquitted. However, this doesn’t mean that the story won’t repeat again on a next rally.
Here is my latest publication, a column for the leading Russian website Yezhedevny Zhurnal. It’s the first time that institution has published my writing, and the expert translator David Essel, who translated Boris Nemtsov’s review of the Putin years, has kindly agreed to translate it for me into English.
The Dissenters March: a Postscriptum
June 5, 2008
It has to be admitted: the March of the Dissenters on 6 May was a failure, first and foremost because of us, the organisers. The organising committee got together once or twice and never decided anything much. After that, matters were left to take their own course and the individual member groups each did its own thing. Disastrously little money – to all intents and purposes none whatsoever – was spent on the march’s needs. Handmade National Bolshevik stickers and a few Oborona graffiti weren’t going to make a mark, and the issue of the United Citizens Front (OGF) newspaper didn’t come out in time for 6 May.
Furthermore, no attempt was even made to involve other organisations, as was done previously, in the preparations for the event. The prize in the disorganisation stakes has to go to the appearance at Chistye Prudy of Denis Bilunov to announce that the event had been cancelled at the very time that activists from Oborona, Smena, the OGF, the National Democratic Union of Youth (NDSM) and the National Bolsheviks were trying to break through to the march. Bilunov did of course try to save the situation but the end result was basically an admission that we had failed. One of the really special things about the Dissenter’s March was that it was going to take place no matter what, regardless of pressure from the authorities. When its organisers voluntarily cancelled it, that could only be taken as an admission of defeat.
The failure of the 6 May event was in some ways a foregone conclusion. We lost interest and drive; the enthusiasm that existed during the preparations for previous events was not there. As a result, after the well-known spring demonstrations of 2007, the number of events we held went down and down while interest in them dropped as well. The early Dissenter Marches were some of the most outstanding and most discussed political events in the country. As time has passed, however, they have become more routine sorts of events, almost like May Day Communist demonstrations. Worst of all, new people have stopped joining in.
I am sorry to say this but I think that this demo-march format has lost its relevance. Each demo is going to be weaker than the preceding one until the very concept of “Dissenters’ March” becomes totally discredited. To hold them purely for the sake of getting a few fresh photos of OMON cops arresting participants is fairly pointless: there are years’ worth of such photographs on the internet already. The cops too are getting better at dealing with our demos. What we need to do now is something different – and that is to get as many people as possible involved in resistance against the authorities, help then get over their concerns and fears about doing so, and teach them how to peacefully defend themselves on the streets.
For example, we could set ourselves the task of holding the largest mass meeting of recent years this autumn, perhaps in the form of a concert or festival. It does not matter much where it would be held – even Tishino will do so long as it is possible to get together somewhere. An event of this kind will need serious resources and take months of time and effort to organise. However, if we make a success of it, it will be far more useful and important than three hurriedly organised Dissenters’ Marches of a few hundred people in each. An event of this kind could be arranged under the banner of The Otherand perhaps even be the first ever event in support of the National Assembly. The main things is that we need to attract new people – people who did not previously join opposition demos – and show that we can do more than just present our backs to the police so that they can beat them with truncheons.
On May 1 in St. Petersburg Oborona activists, along with other opponents of the status quo in Russia, held a “march for freedom and justice.” The participants paraded along Nevsky Prospect, the main street of the city and other principal streets of the “Northern Capital”, carrying a banner that boldly called for “CHANGE!” (see photo above) and then held a rally at Pioneer Square. The dissenters chanted slogans such as: “We need another Russia!” and “Putin, go skiing in Magadan!”and “The Plan of Putin is Russia poverty!”and “This is our city!”
The event ended with a concert hosted by actor Alexei Devotchenko, a member of the United Civil Front (FSI). He invited opposition leaders express themselves in the language of music, calling Putin’s regime “illegitimate” and condemning the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the activities of state. He followed Garry Kasparov, who said that United Russia was “looting” the country. Andrei Illarionov also spoke, asking those assembled to remember those who could not be present because they had been incarcerated, and calling for freedom for all political prisoners of the Putin regime.
To watch video of the protest march, click here.