Monday, June 19, 2017

Day of Protest

By Stephen Wilson

"What day was it ? " and "Where do we meet ?" were the questions which sprung to
mind when I woke up this on the 12th June. A further question which should have been
asked at a deeper level is not so much 'Who is to blame ?" and "What is to be done?"
but "What are the exact aims of this protest ?" I was not alone in this confusion . A
rally against corruption had been called on the 12th of June because it coincided
against on the celebration of 'The Day of Russia'. "They can't arrest people on this
day because there is no contradiction between gathering in the city to celebrate on
this day and a protest against corruption. "it was presumed. Besides, when Navalny,
announced the place of the demonstration had been abruptly changed from the officially
approved Prospect Sakhalova to Tverskaya square and that : "Your rights are
protected under the Russian constitution and the European Convention on Human
Rights ," it did not sound convincing. An estimated 866 people were arrested in
Moscow alone.

Practically half of Russians are unaware that on the 12th June they are supposed
to celebrate 'The Day of Russia' according to a recent Levada poll. If you ask Russians
what is Navalny's political stance even more ignorance arises. Most people don't know.
Even most protesters can't offer me a straight answer other than; "he is against corruption''.
The most important point is that he is not a fascist but a relatively moderate Russian
nationalist who believes that the main cause of Russia's economic ills is due to the loss
of money via corruption. The money which could be saved on corruption could be
used to regenerate the economy assuring wider prosperity. He is center right in his politics.
When I got out of the metro station Mayakovsky the atmosphere was claustrophobic.
You had to squeeze past a never ending line of riot police and and reconstruction sites.
All the pavements from this metro to the city center were under massive construction.
As we walked on single -file past another line of people leaving in the opposite direction
we noticed hundreds of riot police were running in formation and halting along our path.
They were mainly fresh young faces who had a kind of bemused look on their face betraying
they were raw. Many wore green helmets and bullet proof vests and resembled soldiers
so much one protester asked 'Have they brought in the army?'' We were almost surrounded
by the police. I tried to take a short cut to the square but noticed every alley or road was
either a dead end or blocked by police. While doing this I encountered Monica Spibak
whom I had interviewed during the protest against Demolition. 'I warned her :"You are
likely to get arrested . It is like walking into a trap." She answered : "If I get arrested I'll
tell you all about it." You could see many buses along the way ready for the detained.
I thought they intended to arrest everyone on the demonstration.

What followed assumed a dreamlike surreal situation which was unreal. The riot
police began to arrest people shortly after 2.p.m. But who could they arrest? Most
of the protesters were not carrying placards and some people carrying flags were
celebrating 'The Day of Russia ' . The police chose the option 'Arrest and later find out'.
One man who was being escorted to a police bus by a policeman complained ; "I just
wanted to get a cup of coffee ! " It must have been an expensive cost of coffee. He
could have been fined 10,000 rubles ! The funniest incident was when a Putin supporter
came up and was being filmed by a T.V. crew. He started to complain : " Those riot
police are not doing their job. They should be arresting protesters yet they are either
letting them go by or even letting them go..... When Putin is reelected next year we
will all be better off." Just after he said those lines two Russia riot policemen grabbed him
and took him away to the police station. This example serves to indicate that the arresting
was not so much indiscriminate but inconsistently sporadic.

Reenactment groups who were dawning Viking costumes to perform on this day claimed
"Our day was ruined by this demonstration."

Not all the opposition agrees with the decision by Navalny to change the location of the
demonstration. They thought it needlessly provocative . Critics stated that very little
thought was given on how to secure the release of those arrested. Many of the families
of those arrested also face the predicament of having to pay hefty fines from 10 to
20,000 rubles or days in detention.

A maths teacher , Dmitri Bogatov who was arrested in a previous protest has had his
detention extended until the 30th June. He faces serious charges of inciting disorder
through the internet under part 3 , article 212 of the law of the Russian Federation ' and
more ludicrously of encouraging terrorism. The protest movement should take more
steps to defend his case and rethink its tactics. The aim of most opposition movements
is to avoid arrest and not to make themselves sitting ducks for the riot police.

If the government had any sense it would not arrest anyone on this demonstration.It would
let sleeping dogs lie and there would be very few, if any unpleasant scuffles or disorder.
However, every time mass arrests are made , more and more people ,feeling indignant,
join the protests. Not all the police in Russia used heavy handed tactics against the
protests . In Omsk where 3000 gathered to protest, no one was arrested. And
in Magadan where about 100 gathered, nobody faced detention at all !

In one village in the Arkhangelskaya region , seven protesters were left alone by the police
No arrests were made. In fact, the police shook hands with the protesters to show there was no ill-feeling.

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