'Occupy Abai', in Moscow. Photo by Rustem Adagamov.
The protesters that have set up camp in Moscow around the statue of a little-known 19th century Kazakh poet named Abai have dubbed their protest “Occupy Abai”. Though the movement may look a lot like Occupy Wall Street on the surface, the protesters’ demands are very different.
While the Occupy movement in the United States denounces the excesses of capitalism, Occupy Abai is focused on getting rid of Vladimir Putin, who has just began his third round as president, as well as ensuring free and fair elections. (The election that brought Putin back into office was marred with complaints of widespread fraud.)
This camp grew out of the 20,000-strong protest held in the streets of Moscow on Sunday, on the eve of Putin’s inauguration. The police brutally cracked down on protesters, hitting them with batons and making hundreds of arrests. Since then, several hundred protesters have persevered, marching through the streets during the day and camping in squares at night. For the past few days, they’ve stayed in Chistye Prudy square, at the foot of the poet’s statue, despite attempts by the authorities to discourage them.
Protesters gathered at 'Occupy Abai.'
'We all have different political ideas, but we agree on one thing: the elections must be annulled'
Pavel Lobanov, 31, runs a consulting business.
I’ve been camping out with my fellow protesters in various places since Monday, the day of Putin’s inauguration. We’ve been chased out of several squares by the police, including from this one a first time on Tuesday, but have managed to stay put here since Wednesday. The police get mad if we use tents, so we have sleeping bags, and use a generator for electricity. If we get chased out again, it won’t matter; we’ll just find another place."Occupy Abai" is a space for freedom. It’s the next logical step after the large, authorised marches. The authorities did not listen to the people’s grievances, so if we have to continue protesting in an unauthorised way, so be it."Occupy Abai". Photo by Rustem Adagamov.Here, we all have different political ideas, but we agree on one thing: the parliamentary and presidential elections , which were fraudulent, must be annulled. We want new elections to be held, and we won’t leave until we get them.Beyond the elections, our list of grievances against Putin’s government is long: officials are in the oligarch’s pockets, the press is not free, and to get decent medical care, people must bribe doctors… Then, of course, there’s the fact that dissent is not tolerated. Since we’ve started our protest, there have been countless arrests, and the government has sent Nashis [pro-Kremlin youth] to come bother us. Sometimes they come dressed up as pigs. Other times they’ll come to the square and yell things like "Liberty to Israel" or start fights, just to give the police a reason to start arresting people en masse.There may only be a few hundred of us at Camp Abai, which grows to a couple thousand in the evenings. But thousands more agree with us. People driving by honk their car horns in support all the time.
Protesters sitting on their sleeping bags, singing songs to pass the time.