City Residents Celebrate ‘Russia Day Without Putin’
Published: June 13, 2012 (Issue # 1712)
ALEXANDER BELENKY / SPT
Foreign tourists pose for photos with police officers during the protest rally on Konyushennaya Ploshchad on Tuesday.
Thousands of St. Petersburg residents and visitors gathered Tuesday in protest of Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency amid outcry about electoral fraud, raids on opposition leaders’ homes and continued arrests of protesters.
The police gave their permission for a peaceful march and stationary rally, organized by two different opposition groups, to take place. They stopped the marchers several hundred meters before the march’s designated end point, however, and ordered them to disperse for allegedly exceeding the authorized time limit, briefly detaining the protest’s leaders.
The protests coincided with the state Russia Day holiday and were dubbed “Russia Day Without Putin.” The march was smaller in size than previous protest marches that followed the same route — from Ligovsky Prospekt to Konyushennaya Ploshchad — and gathered about 2,500 people. The stationary rally drew between 5,000 and 7,000.
The flags and banners included those of Olga Kurnosova and Nikolai Bondarik’s Civic Committee, the Left Front, various nationalist groups, St. Petersburg’s Observers and Ingermanland. The activists also carried a 30-meter Russian national flag. The marchers shouted slogans such as “Russia Without Putin,” “Putin Is a Thief” and “Free Political Prisoners.”
According to Kurnosova, she was detained alongside Bondarik as they were folding flags and banners between the Summer Gardens and the Field of Mars.
The two activists were taken to a bus where Alexei Smyatsky, the head of the police’s public safety department, accused them of exceeding the march’s time limit by 10 minutes, which was authorized by City Hall to be held from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Kurnosova said they were released 10 minutes later, after managing to persuade Smyatsky that his charges were “ridiculous” and that arresting them could “make things worse for him.”
Most marchers, however, walked to Konyushennaya Ploshchad and joined the stationary rally that was due to be held there at 4 p.m. by united opposition groups featuring Yabloko Democratic Party, Solidarity Democratic Movement, The Other Russia, Parnas, ROT Front, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and the National Democrats, among others.
Ten dozen LGBT activists were present at the site, with two rainbow flags, a large rainbow umbrella and several signs. The police paid no attention to their presence, in contrast to the May 1 May Day rally during which 17 activists were arrested for attempting to unfurl rainbow flags and for carrying signs.
The rally was opened by the local leader of The Other Russia, Andrei Dmitriyev, the main defendant in the Trial of Twelve, which is seen by some as the most prominent case of persecution for political dissent in St. Petersburg right now (see story, this page).
Summing up the rally’s demands, The Other Russia activist Ksenia Mikheyeva criticized the new laws on rallies and gubernatorial elections as violating basic constitutional rights of citizens of the Russian Federation — the right to peaceful assembly and the right to be elected.
She said that the protesters see both the State Duma and the president as “illegitimate,” having come to power as the result of “grossly falsified” elections. They demand early Duma and presidential elections, in addition to early St. Petersburg gubernatorial and legislative ones.
“We urge our compatriots to get involved in the struggle against the legalization of lawlessness,” Mikheyeva concluded, and began chanting “Russia will be free,” one of the main opposition slogans. The rally, which lasted for about 40 minutes, finished at 5 p.m.
According to Dmitriyev, a group of The Other Russia activists then went to Palace Square, where a Russia Day pop concert was being held, and distributed a number of anti-Putin leaflets.
“To their surprise, they were not detained and people were greedily grabbing the leaflets,” Dmitriyev said by phone Tuesday evening.
“By the time police realized what was happening, it was too late, so they started taking the leaflets away from people.”
Meanwhile, the LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out) reported that a group of LGBT activists were attacked by 10 to 15 young “nationalistically-minded” men who were armed with cans of pepper spray, but who ran away when they met with resistance.
However, one LGBT activist suffered facial injuries and another had their video camera smashed. Vykhod noted that the police did nothing to stop the attack.