Sunday, March 26, 2017

Protest Rallies

By Stephen Wilson
Moscow -- "I wouldn't advise you to attend this rally. It has been declared illegal. The riot police will arrest everyone . You'll be deported", warned a student. Despite tense rumours, hearsay and threats that anyone going to the rally would be asking for trouble, thousands of people braved the unsanctioned rally in the city centre of Moscow as well as 100 cities throughout Russia in mass protests against corruption.
Before the rally small posters had been pasted on walls with the following:
'Where do they get their mansions and yachts?' and 'Free medical care could be yours if 70 billion rubles wasn't wasted on mansions , yachts and vineyards', and 'Where does the Prime-minister get his yacht and mansions ? From your
pensions and the taxation you pay ! ' The indignant angry tone of the posters refers to recent revelations or rather , allegations that the Russian Prime-Minister accepted lavish bribes through a 'charity foundation' run by 6 close friends and classmates. With this money, the Prime-Minister went on a lavish spending spree where he treated himself to four grandiose mansions, an Italian vineyard, and yachts. The opposition are calling for the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister. 

But this scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. According to the Guardian and an investigation by Novaya Gazeta, as much as 700 billion rubles has been illegally taken out of Russia through a complex and sophisticated scheme which
implicates both politicians and officials at the highest levels, from 2011-2014! (This amounts to almost 22 billion dollars) .
Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary, retorted that Navaly's call for an unsanctioned rally represented 'a provocation'. Neither the president or prime minister has responded to the allegations of corruption. The pro-government supporters claim that the government has not banned any 
demonstrations but only insisted they take place in other locations such as Sokolniki park.
When I set off to observe the demonstration beginning at 2:00pm in Tverskia ploshad I anticipated a crowd numbering a few hundred supporters grossly outnumbered by riot police. I misjudged the situation. On the contrary hundreds of people were swarming along the pavements all the way from Okhotny rad to Belorusskaya metro. A helicopter was hovering and watching us from above while more and more police buses and trucks were driving up to the square.
Around Tverskai square hundreds of beaming faces were wandering up and about where Navalny was due to speak. However, there was a huge formidable police force. Shortly after Navalny made his appearance, I noticed that a squad of helmeted riot police were marching behind me about to enter the square intending to make arrests. The main adjacent streets were lined with long blue and white police buses full of black-clad policemen in riot gear. When Navalny was arrested, his supporters surrounded his bus attempting to set him free. Navalny appealed to the demonstrators to back off assuring them he was safe and in good form.
The significant size of the rallies indicate that the opposition might be down but it is not out. Although some prominent leaders have been killed, forced to flee abroad, imprisoned and intimidated, it is still a force to be reckoned with. This
may come as scant consolation at a time when opinion polls suggest 80% of Russians support President Putin. And even Putin's lowest ratings in 2012, at 60%, is a popularity which western politicians can only dream of! The current ratings of Trump are hovering below 40% and the British Prime-Minister can scarcely muster a popularity above 30 % never mind 40%!
However, Russians are not calling for the resignation of Putin but the largely unpopular Prime Minister who by his statements about teachers (if you don't make much from teaching go into business) demonstrate a person who lives in
a distinctly different planet. The members of the Duma and officials have become so used to an opulent and affluent life style that they don't have imagination to grasp the hardship of many Russians. For instance, the Deputy Prime Minister was shocked to discover that some Russian teachers in regions in Russia had not been paid for months. What is common standard knowledge amongst ordinary Russians, represents an astonishingly deep revelation to them!
Mass protesting is unlikely to fade away or dissipate after a few arrests, assassinations or throwing zelyonka (green medical ointment) at your opponent's face. More and more Russians are starting their own grassroots campaigns to
end not only corruption but wrongful arrests, torture and all kinds of other abuse scarcely mentioned by the Russian media.
This Sunday has shown that many Russians still retain the courage "to dare to use their own reason".

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