Red Poppies vs. St. George’s Ribbons

Remembrance Poppies versus St. George’s Ribbons
Sergey Chernov
Special to The Russian Reader
May 8, 2015

Petersburg police detained two activists and a photojournalist near Park Pobedy metro station on May 8 as pro-Kremlin provocateurs attempted to prevent Democratic Petersburg activists from handing out buttons and leaflets dealing with the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The Democratic Petersburg coalition, which opposes Russia’s current Second World War victory symbol, the St. George’s Ribbon, claiming it is “distinctly militarist,” passed out buttons featuring the red remembrance poppy, a European symbol for war victims, and leaflets explaining its meaning.

In 2014, Ukraine had rejected the St. George’s Ribbon, used by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and Russian officialdom, choosing the remembrance poppy instead.

The buttons the activists handed out were emblazoned with the red poppy and the phrase “1939–1945 Never Again,” in Russian and Ukrainian, while the leaflets, which quoted John McCrae’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” described the symbol’s history and meaning.

Poppies-4892Buttons reading “1939–1945, Never Again” in Russian and Ukrainian

“We believe the St. George’s Ribbon, which has a distinctly militarist message, should also give way in Russia to the red poppy, the universal symbol commemorating those who perished in the most terrible war.”

Activists said Victory Day should be commemorated on May 8, because Russia was part of Europe, rather than on May 9, in keeping with Soviet tradition. According to them, what Russians have usually called the Great Patriotic War was in fact part of the Second World War and was launched in 1939 by both Germany and the Soviet Union, rather than in 1941, when Germany suddenly attacked its formal nominal ally the Soviet Union.

The pro-Kremlin provocateurs, mostly young people, who were apparently led by two older men, were already waiting outside the metro station, sporting St. George’s Ribbons, when the Democratic Petersburg activists arrived to hand out leaflets. The provocateurs approached them and started an argument, justifying Joseph Stalin and promoting what they saw as the Kremlin’s current interpretation of the war’s history. Some of the provocateurs took photos and videos as the argument proceeded. However, when asked, one of the young provocateurs said he was “just passing by,” denying he had come deliberately with the others to harass the Democratic Petersburg activists.

Poppies-4925Pro-Kremlin provocateurs harass democratic activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev

Within minutes, police had arrived at the scene, led by a colonel, the head of Precinct No. 33, whose beat includes the Park Pobedy station. The colonel argued with the activists before detaining 76-year-old activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev and, seconds later, our correspondent, who had attempt to photograph Andreyev’s arrest.

While the two detainees were held in the police room inside the metro station, police detained Anton Kalinyak, an activist who had been wearing a large red poppy on his lapel, allegedly for “using coarse language in public.” According to Democratic Petersburg, one of the provocateurs filed a false complaint with the police against Kalinyak, while the police officers at the scene corroborated his accusations.

Poppies-4999Andreyev detained by police

The detainees were taken to Precinct No. 33, where they were charged, correspondingly, with “smoking in a public place” and “using profane language in a public place.” After about two hours in custody, Kalinyak was fined 500 rubles (around $10) on the spot, while the formal written charges against the other two detainees will be sent to their respective local police precincts. They face small fines of between 500 and 1,500 rubles.

All photos by and courtesy of Sergey Chernov

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The Bolotnaya Square Case: The Third Anniversary

Here are a few photographs, from a longer, excellent photo reportage by David Frenkel, of pickets in Petersburg held this past Wednesday, May 6, in support of the political prisoners now serving time in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case.

Three years ago, on May 6, 2012, a peaceful, permitted anti-Putin demonstration in Moscow was blocked and partly kettled by police, resulting in a scuffle between some marchers and police, hundreds of arrests and, in the years after the “riot,” dozens of convictions of people who were there that day.

Some of the defendants have been recognized by prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, and many observers have argued that the police attack on the peaceful march was Putin’s deliberate revenge on those freethinking Russians who had the temerity to protest his “electoral victory” on the eve of his re-inauguration.

Bizarrely, three years later, the investigation and the arrests continue. Less than a month ago, for example, civil rights activist Natalya Pelevina was questioned as a suspect in the case and had her apartment searched.

frenkel-2“Renat Fatkhutdinov was a [Kazan] policeman who threatened to rape and torture arrestees. He got a three-year suspended sentence. Denis Lutskevich was a student who was beaten by the riot police for trying to defend a young woman. He got three years and six months in prison.”

frenkel-3

“Ten people are still serving prison terms for the fact that on May 6,  2012, they went to a peaceful demonstration that had been permitted by the authorities.”

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Anatoly Serdyukov, the defense minister, embezzled 3 billion rubles and was amnestied. Maxim Luzyanin, an businessman, scratched the enamel on a policeman’s tooth an was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Release the Bolotnaya Square prisoners!”

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Igor Aranson, head of the local council of deputies [in the Moscow Region town of Uvarovka] [and member of the ruling United Russia party] severally beat up two men he did not know [because they had crossed in front of his car on a crosswalk], but the court declared that Aranson had been the victim of the crime. Sergei Krivov, a Ph.D. in Mathematics and Physics, grabbed a police officer’s truncheon. He was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. Release the prisoners of May 6!”

Thanks to David Frenkel for permission to reproduce these photographs here.