Other Russia reports their recent protest march in St. Petersburg (pictured left). It seems they are making progress, having managed to keep Putin’s stormtroopers at a distance this time.
What wasn’t said by the chants and the banners held by the marchers was clearly spoken by the massive police presence in St. Petersburg today for the latest Dissenters’ March. “Russia Without Putin”, “We Need Another Russia”, “This Is Our City”, “No Police State!”. Radio Ekho of Moscow reported that between 8,000 and 10,000 police had been brought in from other part of the country to St. Petersburg, which is hosting an International Economic Forum this weekend. Garry Kasparov, on of the Other Russia leaders at the event, said afterwards that “the energy was enormous. Now we know the regime is right to be afraid of us.”
There was nothing like the police brutality that occurred at the St. Petersburg rally on March 3. Today the police acted correctly and there were few incidents. Instead, they lined the path of the March in an attempt to prevent people joining once it was underway, but did not act when the sheer number of marchers inevitably overflowed the pedestrian walkway into the street at several points. Despite the intense security force presence, the number of marchers clearly surpassed the unrealistic 500 limit set by the authorities. Being forced to march nearly in single file at some stages made it difficult to count the number of marchers. Based on how many eventually arrived at Suvorva Square, they exceeded two thousand, and there were roughly three thousand attending the meeting in the square. Speakers represented the United Civil Front, Yabloko, Republican Party of Russia, and many other groups.
At the meeting, Garry Kasparov criticized the plans for ‘Gazprom City,’ the new headquarters for the state energy goliath which include a massive tower that will dominate the historic St. Petersburg skyline. Kasparov called it “a symbol of the thieves in Putin’s regime.” Former Putin economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said that the difference in police behavior indicated that things are changing. “The choice today,” he said, “is not between political courses, but between civilization an barbarism.”
Kasparov pointed out the contradictions and hypocrisy of the Kremlin’s policy and statements about the Other Russia marches. “They tell us we can only have 500 people and warn us what will happen if there are more. Then the Kremlin propaganda tells Russia and the world that we are an insignificant minority, radicals with no support. The Kremlin tells everyone how popular Putin is, but they continue to actively suppress any attempt at dissent or criticism. They say no one wants to join us, but every time we organize they bring out thousands, even tens of thousands, of troops from all over. Clearly they don’t believe their own words and they are afraid our protests will gain momentum if they don’t keep increasing the pressure.”
Other Russia leaders Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov were briefly hassled en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg this morning, but were allowed to travel. (Unlike when they tried to attend the Samara rally.) This was not the case with Vanguard of Red Youth leader Sergei Udaltsov, who was detained at the Moscow airport and missed his flight.
A second march was scheduled for yesterday in Moscow. Other Russia reported:
The June 9 March of Dissent in St. Petersburg (1700 local time) was officially sanctioned by city officials, but only in the pedestrian pathways and with a maximum of 500 people. These restrictions, which seem impossible for organizers to manage, leaves the door open for police involvement. Far more than 500 people are expected, despite the illegal confiscation of 150,000 copies of the Other Russia newspaper by the authorities. No charges were made, no one will admit they were taken; they were simply stolen. Other news from St. Petersburg is that Vasily Yakemenko and his Kremlin-sponsored Nashi thugs have arrived in town, no doubt to begin their usual provocation and harassment of Other Russia marchers. The situation around the June 11 Moscow March of Dissent (1600 local time) is even worse. The authorities sanctioned only a single public meeting from our application for a meeting, march, and concluding rally. The march was not approved and the bid for the second meeting was simply ignored. Officially, only a meeting of 500 people in Pushkin Square has been approved. They called us (nothing in writing) and said they could help us have a rally in another district, but we would have to submit another bid. Yesterday they responded to our letter of complaint, saying they had offered an alternative route, which is a lie. They said that since we had declined that (nonexistent) offer, they would only approve the meeting for 500 at Pushkin Square. Standing firm with our rights under the Russian constitution, we will march regardless.
Here is OR’s report on the second demonstration in Moscow:
Nearly 2000 people came out to the Other Russia rally in Pushkin Square in Moscow today. They listened to human rights and political leaders from across the broad ideological spectrum of the Other Russia pro-democracy coalition. They included Alexei Navalny of Yabloko, Garry Kasparov of the United Civil Front, Eduard Limonov of the now-banned National Bolsheviks, and Sergei Udaltsov of the Vanguard of Red Youth. En route to the rally Udaltsov was picked up by police in the subway and taken to the police station. At the rally he said that “the Other Russia won today because in the police station the officials said they supported us and released me!” (Perhaps this is the reason the regime is careful to bring in thousands of more hardened troops from the regions.)
Kasparov (right) pointed skyward and said, “This is the ninth time we have marched and always under a shining sun. Even nature wants us to win!” Navalny said, “We are with you, whatever our differences, we must be united. How can it be that Russian citizens are treated like wild animals and aren’t allowed to travel freely to another city to participate in an event?” Eduard Limonov: “The authorities have not been able to intimidate us out of existence. We continue to hold up our heads proudly and to speak openly in dissent.” Oleg Kozlovsky: “Each of us alone could not achieve anything, but together we can. This is our country!” Yuri Chervinchuk referred to Putin’s regime as “Pinochetism” and that it would collapse as do all dictatorships.
A massive police presence locked down the square and prevented anyone from attempting to begin the march organizers had hoped for, despite not receiving approval from the city authorities. (”Only” 1000 were seen in the square, but the side streets all around the plaza were full of troops ready for action if we attempted to leave.) They also prevented anyone from joining the rally after the event had begun. According to the law, approval for a march is not required, only notification, but they declared our planned march illegal regardless. According to official sources, there were 720 police officers, not counting the many soldiers brought in. We counted at least 20 trucks belonging to the National Guard of North Ossetia as well as buses from six or seven regions.