Protests in Russia: ‘I haven’t seen this since the 90s’

Screen grab of Tuesday's protests in Moscow.
 
Russian protesters have called for a third day of mass demonstrations to be held on Saturday, as the anger over widespread allegations of fraud during this weekend’s parliamentary elections refuses to die down. According to our Observers, who participated in protests in the capital Moscow, it is the first time Russia has seen this kind of public outcry in years.
 
Russian police acted swiftly to crush demonstrations on Tuesday evening after a few hundred people gathered in the city’s central Triumfalnaya Square for a second day of protests, arresting around 200 people, according to media reports.
 
Video posted on YouTube by UrsaMajorFilm.
 
Russian authorities have said that between 51,500 police and 2,000 security forces have been deployed to Moscow since Sunday’s election.

“They’re allowing us to protest because they have to”

Ilya Budraitskis lives in Moscow, and describes himself as a politically active member of Russia’s socialist movement.
 
These last two days have been really important not just because of the size, which is quite big for Moscow, but also because of its spirit and the maturity of the people who were there. It showed people were ready to act.
 
In Russia, it’s very difficult to organise a mass protest like the ones we’ve seen over the last two days because in order to do so, you have to have a permit. To get a permit, you have to apply to the local authorities, who will often find an excuse to say no.
 
Three years ago, I did a project on this theme. I went around to a number of different political groups who applied for permission to hold a mass assembly, and collected all the official rejection letters they had received in response to their request.
 
The authorities gave any reason they could think of to say ‘no’. The rally would be too noisy, it would cause too much traffic, it posed too many safety risks…
 
Photo of a rejection letter used in Budraitskis' project. Photo courtesy of www.mishamost.com.
 
On Tuesday, there was no legal permit to hold a mass protest. It was just a call on the Internet to gather in downtown Moscow, so less people turned out than on Monday.
 
There’s another protest scheduled for Saturday, which has been approved by the authorities. They’re allowing us to protest because they have to – they have to give us the space and opportunity to express ourselves. I think it will be the biggest protest we’ve had yet. I hope that it will change things – that something really big will happen like it did in Egypt”.

“The protesters in Moscow want to show they know they have been scammed and they don’t like it”

Misha Most is an artist who lives in Moscow. He was present at Tuesday night’s protests, which took place not far from his home.
 
I was really surprised when so many turned out for the first night of demonstrations on Monday. When there are protests in Moscow, they’re usually very small and the people who go to them are very political. Over the last few days there’s been a very different kind of crowd.
 
Everybody came out. Students, workers, truck drivers, artists, filmmakers… A lot of people who live here, who know that the situation in Russia is really awful, and who care. This doesn’t happen often. The last time we saw something like this was in the early 90s.
 
‘We know that it’s impossible to get rid of Putin’
 
You have to keep in mind that the situation in Russia is not like the situation in Egypt earlier this year, when they were calling for Mubarak to leave. The protesters in Moscow want to show they know they have been scammed [in the Sunday’s parliamentary elections] and they don’t like it. We know that it’s impossible to get rid of Putin. Besides, there’s no one that we can count on to take his place.
 
Video courtesy of Misha Most.
 
Russia is a rough country, and the police are very tough. When protests were called again on Tuesday night, they were afraid there was going to be too many people, so they brought out security forces in addition to the police. They reacted to the situation very harshly considering that the protesters were just standing there – it wasn’t like they were breaking windows of burning cars”.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Rachel Holman.

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