How many Russian policemen does it take to monitor one man as he takes a solitary stroll through town? No, this isn’t a joke – though it started out as one. To poke fun at a harsh new law that puts greater restrictions on public gatherings, a young man in the city of Yekaterinburg sent a letter to the police notifying them that he was going to organise a "walk with friends".
The man, a blogger named Rostislav Zhuravlyov, explained in his letter that this gathering would include five participants, and gave a detailed route of where their walk would take them. He posted this letter on his blog, and figured he would never hear back from the police.
Much to his surprise, the next day, he received a call from a police officer informing him that his gathering had been given authorisation. On Sunday, he showed up, alone, at the starting point of his "public gathering". There, he was met by several policemen, and more were stationed along his route. In total, ten police officers monitored his lone walk across the city, which he filmed in its entirety.
Here are some excerpts from the dialogue in the video:
At 0’58 – Policeman: “Your notification is written correctly in accordance with the law. So we’ve made a plan of action to protect public order during your action. It doesn’t matter if the five people you expected to come are here or not – we have to be here.”
1’53 – Zhuravlyov, to the camera: “The law is working perfectly. The policemen are following me, and over there you can see members of an anti-extremism unit. Now I have to take a trolley, like I announced in my notification, and take a ride to the Academy of Architecture. I’m very impressed.”
(More policemen meet him at the Academy of Architecture.)
2’35: Zhuravlyov: “Are you here because of my absurd notification?”
Policeman: “Sure.”
4’35 - Zhuravlyov, to the camera: ‘Ok, the policemen have other things to do, so I’m going to officially announce the end of the walk.’
4’50 - Zhuravlyov: “I, as the organiser of this action, announce that it’s ended, so that you can go now, because this is absurd. Just go and fulfil your regular responsibilities. I’m leaving. Okay? Bye.”
Zhuravlyov isn’t the only one to find the new law absurd. Its critics have pointed out several recent incidents where the law has been applied in comic situations, including, for example, the arrest Michael Jackson fans who had gathered in Saint Petersburg to celebrate his memory, and the arrest participants in a pillow fight, also in Saint Petersburg.