“We Don’t Want to Live in a Country Where the Regime Robs Its Own People”
March 28, 2017
High school and university students talked about why they went to the anti-corruption rallies and whether they feared a crackdown.
A huge number of university and high school students attended the anti-corruption rallies in Russia. It was the first time many of the young people had gone to a protest rally. Some protesters even wound up at police stations along with their older comrades. Some high school and university students told our correspondent what had made them take to the streets.
Kristina, 16, tenth-grader from Gatchina
This was my first protest rally. I came to the Field of Mars because, like most of the people here, I wanted to get through to the regime. After watching the film by the Anti-Corruption Foundation, many people had questions. Besides, I see how my relatives, acquaintances, and friends get along. We are often cheated. For example, a relative was illegally sacked from work, and campaigning for United Russia goes on at my school. There are party flags in the health and safety classroom. I argue about it with my teacher all the time. He says he’s a member of the party.
Have you heard the recording in which teachers give high-school students in Bryansk a dressing-down? Basically, the same thing happens at our school. I get D’s and F’s when I talk like that, and I’m sent to the principal for “disrupting class.”
I was wondering how many people would come to the rally. My parents tried to persuade me not to go. They said, “There will be ten people there, and you’ll waste your time.”
I went to the rally with my boyfriend. We made a placard about Shuvalov’s dogs. We drew Welsh corgis against a backdrop of clouds and wrote, “Happiness if flying like a bird in the sky but without wings.” A man on the Field of Mars asked to look at our placard and was surprised we hadn’t unfurled it.
I had never seen such a huge crowd before. I was even a bit scared we would be trampled.
When we went to Palace Square, I heard the roar of sirens. I saw the riot police (OMON) in all their glory for the first time on the square. They formed a line and advanced on the protesters.
A policeman approached us and asked for our papers. We replied by asking him to identify himself and show us his badge number. He looked away from us and went over to detain a man holding a placard. I was ready to be detained. I had read all the posts on the topics and memorized all the articles about what to do when you’re detained by police.
When we went to the Legislative Assembly, people broke up into groups. Some demanded freedom for Oleg Navalny, others talked about what was happening with St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and still others chanted anti-corruption slogans. Then there were people who went to the subway or to a café.
After hanging out at the Legislative Asssembly, we had decided to go home, when we were again approached by a police officer. He asked to check our papers and wondered whether we had been at the rally. We answered that we had.
“Good going!” he said. “I would have gone myself, but I was on duty and I’m afraid of losing my job.”
We were stunned, but it was nice to hear.
My parents knew where I had gone. They followed the news. When I got home, we joked about what would have happened if the police had nabbed me.
I don’t want to be compared with truant schoolchildren (shkolota). The rally was not entertaining in the least, and we had to go to it. We realize this is our future. We keep a close eye on grown-ups. They regard what’s happening with desperation. It doesn’t scare me if the order comes down to give lectures in the schools about the current political situation. I expect it to happen. I love discussing the topic. It’s fun to argue when you are well versed on the subject. Although maybe I won’t be invited to these lessons. The thing is we had a session of the Leningrad Regional Youth Parliament at our school to which regional MPs were invited. The teachers rehearsed the event with us, and the questions were prepared in advance. But when I was going to ask my question, I was politely shut up. They realized I could cause a conflict.
Ivan, 16, ninth-grader from Kolpino
This was my first protest rally. I made the trip from Kolpino to Petersburg by myself. I was curious how folks would react to Alexei Navalny’s exposé film. I wondered whether people cared or didn’t care about what the powers that be were up to. I didn’t bring a placard with me, but I shouted slogans with the other protesters, although it felt awkward at first. When somebody chanted a slogan from far off, I kept my mouth shout. But I plugged into the process when people next to me shouted.
There were lots of young people, so I didn’t feel alone. At first, police dispersed the people who had climbed atop the memorial next to the Eternal Flame, but then they gave up. When the rally on the Field of Mars was over, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep going
When we marched towards Palace Square, I didn’t hear any negative feedback towards us. On the contrary, individuals supported us by smiling, laughing, and photographing us, while drivers honked their horns. Only the police were upset. They asked us why we had come out.
I felt more confident on Palace Square. I even started some chants first.
The “cosmonauts” (riot police) made their first appearance on the square, but they were very few in number. They didn’t do anything. It was only when the crowd pressed against them that they asked us to disperse, but no one was listening to them. Generally, the police behaved decently.
When we walked towards Insurrection Square, we were followed by police cars and paddy wagons. The arrests took place on the approach to the square. A lot of people were kettled opposite a building on Nevsky Prospect.
I want to watch the arrests, and then go home, but I accidentally bumped a riot cop with my shoulder. He said something about my being broad-shouldered. I probably did the wrong thing. I said to him, “Yeah, I’m broad-shouldered.” Right then, three paddy wagons drove up too the crowd. The cosmonaut grabbed me and put me in one of them. It was my first arrest.
Our ride to the police station was cheerful. No one was upset. We were taken into the station. We stood for around in a hour in the hallway, and then we were led into this weird basement. We were allowed to make a phone call. We chatted with the policemen about whether we had done the right thing by taking to the streets or not. They weren’t aggressive.
The voyage to the police station revved me up. At the precinct, I met a lot of kids. Human rights advocates helped us. They found the precincts where we’d been taken, brought us food, and advised us on how to behave. It was a tremendous feeling of support.
Then Mom came to get me. She and I left the station at 10:00 p.m. I was told only to write a statement, and I was given a report that I had been delivered to the station.
My parents had known I was planning to go to the rally. They told me I might be detained. When I telephoned Mom from the precinct, she was a bit peeved, but there no heavy discussions at home.
I don’t think there will be any blamestorming sessions at school. Most of our teachers say that Russian isn’t a very good country. I think they would have supported my trip to the rally.
The high school students who went to the Field of Mars shouldn’t be dubbed “truants.” Spring holidays had begun. There are lots of dissatisfied young people, so that was why, apparently, they attended the rally. We think about our future. We don’t want to live in a country where the regime robs its own people. But people who are older could not care less anymore, it seems. They’re too lazy to go outside in bad weather.
Mikhail, 16, tenth-grader, Moscow
I had already been in the Boris Nemtsov memorial march and the protests against the Yarovaya package. Like any sensible person, I don’t like the fact our official steal, accept bribes, and build themselves enormous castles in Italy and palaces in Russia. The corruption schemes in Russia are no different from the ones used by the now-ex-president of South Korea. She also laundered money through charities.
The authorities have not reacted to the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s investigation. All that happened was Medvedev banned Navalny on Instagram.
After watching Navalny’s film, I had questions and I wanted answers to them. The Anti-Corruption Foundation argues that the rally was authorized in keeping with the Constitutional Court’s ruling. I consider my arrest illegal, although I was ready for it to happen.
I was walking down the street with my friends. We weren’t shouting slogans, but we were carrying placards featuring Zhdun and the Rubber Duck. Apparently, I was arrested for carrying a placard. My arrest sheet said I had been waving my arms, grabbing people, and running out into traffic. But they wrote that in everyone’s arrest sheet. The only thing they changed was people’s names. Eleven hours passed from the moment of my arrest until I left the police station, although I’m a minor. I should have been released as quickly as possible.
No one told my parents I was at the police station. I telephoned them myself. The police charged me with me violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Procedures Codes (“Violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march or picket”). There will be a court hearing. I imagine the verdict will be guilty. I will appeal it to the European Court of Human Rights.
My parents knew I was going to the rally. They reacted differently to my arrest. My father took it lightly. He remembered his brother, who back in the day had been involved in the events outside the White House. But Mom was upset because I was unable to go to a relative’s birthday party.
I’m glad so many people showed up to the rally. People realize that corruption is an evil, that something has to change. I hope the teenagers who went to the rally will keep involved in civic activism and fight to make our country law-abiding. I don’t think this is the last time you’ll see young people taking to the streets.
As for the consequences, I don’t think there will be a crackdown at my school. I hope the Moscow Education Department doesn’t apply any pressure.
Svetlana, 17, first-year university student, Petersburg
This was the first protest in my life. I had wanted to attend the rally against transferring St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church, but it didn’t work out. The reason I attended the rally was Navaly’s exposé film. I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines.
I saw lots of indignant people at the Field of Mars. Initially, I didn’t want to stand out. I even felt uncomfortable chanting with everyone else. Then I went and stood next to some young activists. I felt comfortable with them. Of course, I didn’t want my university to find out I’d been involved in the rally. They don’t like it when students start “uprisings.”
When we were walking down Nevsky Prospect toward Palace Square, I was already in the front. I took the subway to Insurrection Square. When I came out, I saw the police had blocked the road. I didn’t see any of the arrests myself. Friends told me about them.
There is nothing extraordinary about the fact that young people came out for the rally. It’s not the first time they’ve been called a driving force. It is always young people that kick everything off. Lots of people are now talking about what happened. I was pleased to be involved in the beginning of the big fight against corruption.
Victoria, 18, 2nd-year university student, Petersburg
I used to go to rallies mainly dealing with educational problems. I had been to rallies in defense of St. Petersburg State University, the Publishing and Printing College, and the European University. As a student, I take this issue to heart. I wouldn’t want to find myself in a situation in which my university was being closed.
As for the topic of the March 26 rally, corruption is on everyone’s minds. There is corruption in Petersburg’s universities and colleges, too. Everyone has seen Navalny’s exposé film. It was no longer a question of going to the Field of Mars or not. I had to go. Naturally, I realized the police could nab us, but I didn’t go looking for trouble. I didn’t provoke the police indiscriminately.
I don’t understand, for example, why people had to climb on the monument. But painting one’s face green was a completely innocent gesture.
What I liked about the rally was the spirit of unity, the sense of belonging to a common cause. Ultimately, I went with everyone else from the Field of Mars to Palace Square, and then I went home. I was freezing.
I don’t think there will be crackdowns in the schools and colleges after something like this. First, the teachers and lecturers are themselves dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Second, none of them wants to find themselves in the role of the Bryansk schoolteachers. After all, high school and university students record all preventive discussions and then post them on the internet. No one wants to be a laughing stock on the web.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Except where indicated all photos courtesy of Alexander Polukeyev/Rosbalt. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up
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Background info for those of us unfamiliar with the conditions our Russian comrades are struggling in: http://www.rferl.org/a/why-these-protests-were-different/28394224.html