For several days, Iranians have been openly protesting the corrupt system in their country. They have been protesting not only in the capital Tehran but also in at least fifty other cities. They had been promised more freedom and openness in terms of how the country’s budget is spent, and prices for food have been skyrocketing.
In Russia, the authorities have not promised anyone anything for a long time, and people have been staying at home, looking forward to the upcoming presidential elections.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Anatrr Ra for their kind permission to reproduce their remarks on my website. Photo courtesy of correctlydesign.com
June 12 is a public holiday, Russian Sovereignty Day [sic]. Certain people have been trying to use our national holiday to destabilize the situation in the country. Alexei Navalny has called for Russians to take to the streets of their cities in protest against the current regime.
The administration of Saint Petersburg State University of Film and Television asks you to approach the question of involvement in such events responsibly, not to yield to such calls and other provocative proposals whose objective is inveigle young people in unauthorized mass actions and marches aimed at destabilizing public order, calls and proposals that are transmitted via social networks and other sources of information. We cannot let these people achieve their political ambitions illegally.
So, 658 people were detained [in Petersburg]. Minors whose parents were able to come and get them and people with disabilities have been released. Nearly everyone else will spend the night in jail.
There will be court hearings tomorrow. Everyone who can make it should come. The hearings will take place at the Dzerzhinsky District Court [in downtown Petersburg]. The first detainees are scheduled to arrive at the court at 9:30 a.m. Considering the number of detainees, we will probably be there into the night.
I was invited to speak at the rally on Sakharov Avenue. I planned to talk about why it was important to support the anti-corruption campaign despite our political differences. In short, in order to put a stop to reaction, dissenters need to be represented on a massive scale, so the elites would not even think about just trampling them or not noticing them. Everyone has the same goal right now: resurrecting political freedoms. The contradictions among people are secondary. Considering the scale of protests nationwide, things turned out quite well. You can see that people have stopped fearing crackdowns, and that intimidation no longer works. In Moscow, switching the rally to a stroll down Tverskaya was an absolutely apt response to the Kremlin’s behavior. Everyone who wanted to avoid arrest had the chance to do that. There were downsides as well, but given the colossal confrontation, they don’t seem important.
Of course, one cannot help but welcome today’s protests on a nationwide scale. We are witnessing the continuing rise of a new protest movement that emerged on March 26. This movement is indivisible from Alexei Navalny’s presidential campaign and owes both its virtues and weaker aspects to that campaign. Despite the fact that Navalny’s campaign could have launched a broad grassroots movement, on the contrary, it has been built like a personalistic, vertical political machine in which decisions made by a narrow group of experts and approved by the leader are mandatory for the rank-and-file. This raises the majority’s political consciousness to the degree necessary at each specific moment of the campaign. The leader’s political strategy, his objectives, and the meaning of decisions are not up for discussion. Navalny must be believed like a charismatic CEO. What matters is that he is personally honest and “he has a plan.” On the eve of the protest rally, authorized for June 12 in Moscow, the rank-and-file found out a new particular in the plan: everyone had to go to an unauthorized protest march, which would predictably end in arrests and criminal charges along the lines of the March 26 protests. The rationale of the organizers is understandable. They have to pull out all the stops to keep the campaign moving at a fever pitch, keep it in the public eye, and use the threat of riots to pressure the Kremlin. Moreover, this radicalization in the media reduces the complicated picture presented by Russian society to a simple confrontation: the thieves in the Kremlin versus the honest leader who has united the nation. This set-up renders all forms of public self-organization and all social movements secondary and insignificant, and their real interest ultimately boils down to making Navalny president. However, even Navalny’s most dedicated supporters should pause to think today, the day after June 12. Would his campaign be weakened if it were opened up to internal criticism, if horizontal discussions of his political program and strategy were made possible, and the political machine, now steered by a few people, turned into a real coalition, where differences did not get in people’s way but helped them agree on common goals?
“Sakharov Avenue is out,” Navalny said in his morning video message.
Navalny’s adviser Leonid Volkov put it more democratically.
“The hypocritical scum who dreamed up the ‘opposition rally on Sakharov’ will fry on a separate frying pan.”
The rally on Sakharov happened anyway. It was mainly attended by opponents of Moscow’s new law on the large-scale renovation of residential buildings: urban activists and residents of the buildings slated for demolition, as well as defrauded investors in residential building projects, foreign currency mortgage holders, and other victims of the construction sector. Many fewer of them came out, however, than on May 14, even considering that some of the outraged Muscovite anti-renovation protesters followed Navalny over to Tverskaya. Protests rise and ebb like the sea, and this time round the excitement was muted. These people—old women, families with children, old men—were not suitable for getting arrested at an unauthorized protest. Although they realize that Moscow’s problems are merely one logical outcome of the Russian political system, they are in no hurry to support Navalny and other inveterate oppositionists, for what is at stake are their housing and property, not supreme civil liberties.
Meanwhile, on Tverskaya, young folks realized that A.C.A.B. Around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and the social networks were flooded with even more photographs of derring-do amidst the so-called cosmonauts [riot cops]. The ultimate damage from the protest might be acknowledged only over time, when we know whether there will be new criminal cases, and if there are, what charges are laid against the protesters. But everyone loves looking at riot porn (and being involved in it), although this hobby devastates and dulls the senses as much as watching ordinary porn. This is the danger of protests “for all things good,” of protests focused on a certain political agenda or figure: neither fat nor thin, neither old nor young, neither socialist nor nationalist, but generally sweet and better than the old protest rallies. In this case, protest risks degenerating into a social order in which everything is decided by Sturm und Drang. Not the worse prospect, some would argue, but others would argue it would be a disaster. But whether you like it or not, “Russia has thousands of young people dreaming of revolution,” for the time abstractly encapsulated in the slogan “Dimon must answer for his actions,” and they have been taking to the streets.
Two worlds did not in fact meet in Moscow today. One world is the world of people who are mostly old, people whose property is threatened with eminent domain and who imagine politics as a way of building an urban environment. The second world is the world of bold young people (and their slightly older idols), who are hellbent on regime change. It would not be a bad thing if these worlds met and acted in concert. This is the only way for a democratic politics to emerge from this.
Notes from the field (the Field of Mars). Putting aside emotions:
1. It’s true there were lots of young people. And they are not afraid of anything.
2. There were many young families, who are likewise not afraid for their children.
3. “We’re fed up” is the key phrase.
4. There were slogans about healthcare, infrastructure, and pension. Well, and about corruption, too.
5. The out-of-town students came out because “it is wrong to drive the regions into a pit like this.”
6. There was a sense of support and public acceptance.
7) The people who came out were true patriots genuinely worried about the country’s future.
8) A spirit of freedom . . .
P.S. On the Six O’Clocks News last night, BBC Radio 4’s Moscow correspondent had the temerity to refer to yesterday’s protest march on Tverskaya as “illegal.” Is this the new tariff for keeping one’s press accreditation under Putin’s perpetual reign? TRR
So far it’s been a fairly rough spring in Petersburg, ex-capital of All the Russias. When it hasn’t been snowing, it’s been sleeting or raining, and the sun has mostly been in hiding.
Recently, my friend and comrade anatrrra took advantage of a rare stretch of sunshine to snap these photographs of the world’s most beautiful city and some of its denizens, many of whom were also outside to catch a few rays before (as at the end of anatrrra’s complete album) the snow made its hasty return.
My thanks to anatrrra for permission to reproduce these photographs here. TRR
Bolotnaya Square Defendant Alexei Gaskarov Released from Prison
Ekaterina Fomina Novaya Gazeta
October 27, 2016
Alexei Gaskarov was released from Penal Colony No. 6 in Novomoskovsk today. He had served his entire sentence: three and a half years in a medium-security penal colony. Gaskarov was twice denied parole.
“I don’t think it was possible to change anything under these circumstances. I said at the trial that if our way runs through prison, we have to go. Personally, everyone who went to prison lost a lot. But if you compare that with the public interest, someone had to go through it, someone had to have this piece of ‘good’ luck,” Gaskarov said after his release.
“The risks are clear, but I don’t think there is an alternative. I don’t think that the path, the values that were professed on Bolotnaya Square can be put on the back burner. Yes, these are complicated times, and we have to wait them out somewhere, but I don’t think you can impact this vector by intimidating people. When I was in prison I read about a hundred history books. Everyone had to go through this. We are just at this stage,” he added.
“The point of my attitude is this: don’t be afraid, guys. Our little undertakings will merge into a river that will lead us to the right path. Prison is not the end of life,” Gaskarov concluded.
Gaskarov was accused of involvement in “rioting” and being violent towards police officers. However, Gaskarov claimed he had himself been assaulted on Bolotnaya Square. During the mass arrests, an unidentified policeman pushed him to the ground, beat him with his truncheon, and kicked him.
In October, citing a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the arrest and imprisonment of Bolotnaya Square defendants Ilya Gushchin and Artyom Savyolov had been illegal. Earlier, in June, after a complaint had been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court declared the arrest of Leonid Kovyazin, a defendant in the same case, illegal.
Anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov awaits trial in a pre-trial detention facility. According to police investigators, he was violient toward lawful authorities and “tried to destroy a portapotty.” Buchenkov himself claims he was not in Moscow during the so-called March of the Millions.
Maxim Panfilov is also awaiting trial. He was charged four years after the opposition rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow—in April 2016. He is the thirty-sixth defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case. In October, Panfilov was declared mentally incompetent.
This stunning photograph was taken in our neighborhood by our friend and fierce comrade anatrrra. See the rest of their breathtaking album of snapshots of Petrograd in early spring on their LiveJournal. TRR
Since February 20, Russian truckers have been carrying out a nationwide strike against the newly introduced Plato mileage tolls system, a strike scheduled to end tomorrow, March 1.
Yet another truckers’ protest camp has been set up, this time in the Tyoply Stan district of southwest Moscow.
More than forty regions of the country have been involved in the strike, but Dagestan has been leading the way. The wave of protests started there, and this was no coincidence. Conditions in Dagestan are very difficult for truckers. There are too many taxes, the shipping rates are too low, corrupt officials at different levels demand tribute payments, and so the strike is simply a matter of survival for Dagestani truckers.
The media blackout that has affected all the striking truckers has taken on more rigid forms in Dagestan than in other regions of Russia. As far back as this past autumn, a local TV channel was forced off the air for two weeks after it broadcast a story about the protesting drivers.
Truckers were working themselves ragged as it was, but the Plato tolls system will completely ravage the incomes of their families.
As one trucker remarked, “It’s not our trucks that ruin the roads, but the roads that ruin our trucks.”
And in fact, a good part of the money truckers earn is spent on spare parts and repair.
The truckers need support, and they are open to dialogue. Would you like to ask them a question? Don’t be shy! There are big rigs parked outside the MEGA Centers in Khimki and Tyoply Stan, and you can go there and talk with the truckers any time of day. It is certainly a hundred times more informative and pleasant than watching TV.
P.S. A telltale incident occurred on the subway yesterday as a friend and I were traveling to Tyoply Stan to meet with the striking Dagestani truckers. I was telling my friend about them, and I was not whispering, of course. We were standing next to the doors. Suddenly, we heard the disgruntled shout of an irritated lady, around fifty-five years in age, sitting next to us. She demanded I shut up. I was talking loudly, sure. So noise can be tolerated but not conversation?
My thanks to anatrrra for letting me translate the preface to their photo reportage and permitting me to reprint several of the photos on this website. The rest of anatrrra’s visit to the striking truckers’ camp in Tyoply Stan can be viewed here. You should also read all my previous posts on the draconian Plato haulage tolls system and Russian truckers’ protests against it. TRR
Boris Nemtsov was murdered exactly a year ago. Some of the men who organized and carried out his murder have been caught, but the name of the person who ordered the killing remains a mystery.
On February 27, at least 20,000 people in Moscow took part in a march in memory of the opposition politician, who was murdered right outside the walls of the Kremlin. Apparently, the march’s organizers did not expect such a large number of attendees, counting, apparently, on a more intimate event for Nemtsov’s friends and supporters. There was, accordingly, almost no political rhetoric on display except for ritualistic slogans such as “We remember,” “Russia will be free,” and “Free the political prisoners” (inescapable in the current circumstances).
However, the anti-crisis march Nemtsov himself had planned for March 1, 2015, consequently did not take place, and no one from his entourage contemplated doing anything like it during the year that followed his death.
For the second year in a row, the event was a memorial. The slogan on one placard, “I’m speechless,” was the apotheosis of this helplessness. The crowd was mostly silent. Only here and there did marchers sing the Marseillaise or shout anti-Putin slogans, but almost no one among their fellow marchers repeated the slogans. The homemade placards were even fewer than usual, although the sunny pre-spring weather clearly lifted people’s spirits.
The demonstrators, however, had not come to downtown Moscow just for a stroll but to express their mutual disagreement with something that, alas, no one bothered to articulate. Today’s Nemtsov memorial march resembled a political rally without a political agenda.