Opposition Groups Cry Foul
Published: April 30, 2013 (Issue # 1757)
Sergey Chernov / spt
The Other Russia opposition party marching in May 1 demonstrations last year behind a banner promising an end to graft.
Communists, left-wing groups, independent trade unions and nationalists are protesting the ban imposed by City Hall on stationary rallies traditionally held on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square on May 1, while The Other Russia opposition party has accused City Hall of intending to provoke riots during the annual event. The groups were notified of the ban in a letter dated April 18.
Traditionally, May Day marches in St. Petersburg include both pro-Kremlin factions who head the demonstration and opposition parties who bring up the rear. At the end of the march on Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street, the different political groups head to different locations, where they hold stationary rallies.
In its reply to the application submitted by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), the City Hall’s Committee for Justice, Legal Order, and Safety said last week that a rally on St. Isaacs Square “may endanger the safety of the life and health of citizens.”
City Hall remained unmoved after Svyatoslav Sokol, the local KPRF leader, wrote to Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, “I am informing you that there has been no single incident that would endanger the life and health of Leningrad residents during the 20-year history of our party holding rallies on Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square.”
Sokol reasoned that the Field of Mars, suggested by City Hall as an alternative, was unacceptable for the Communists because it is the site of a Soviet memorial, where revolutionary workers and early Soviet political figures are buried.
“We perceive the Committee’s proposal as an attempt to change existing cultural and historical traditions of the city and as an attempt to desecrate city residents’ place of worship,” Sokol wrote.
Last year, Palace Square was designated for use by the pro-Kremlin party United Russia, but this year it will be officially reserved for “outdoor festivities.” However, the opposition believes that the area will be the site of a veiled United Russia rally. Governor Poltavchenko and Vyacheslav Makarov, Legislative Assembly Chair and a United Russia member, are all expected to speak as part of the “festivities.”
At a news conference last Friday, the Communists demanded that City Hall either authorize a rally on St. Isaac’s Square or let their representative address the public during the planned outdoor festivities on Palace Square.
The opposition party The Other Russia reacted to the proposed rerouting of the demonstrations much the same way as the Communist party, describing City Hall’s offer as “nothing but mockery” in a recent statement.
The party has frequently objected to City Hall’s tendency to redirect protest rallies to the Field of Mars, which is technically in the center, but is mostly deserted and far from the usual routes, calling the site “Uncle Zhora’s little pen” after St. Petersburg Governor Poltavchenko’s nickname.
“We believe that City Hall is deliberately ruining the protest demonstration,” The Other Russia said in a statement.
“In doing so, the government of St. Petersburg is provoking a repetition of the May 6, 2012 events on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow, when unlawful actions by the authorities and law-enforcement agencies lead to massive clashes between police and protesters. In the event that an incident like that happens in St. Petersburg, the blame will be exclusively on Governor Poltavchenko.”
Unlike the other opposition groups, the democrats and liberals appear to be satisfied by City Hall’s permit to hold their umbrella-group rally on Konyushennaya Square, even if the route of their march, called “Democratic March,” was slightly altered.
The organizers of the group voted against having ”Freedom for political prisoners,” as their slogan, choosing instead “For a free Russia without political repression and religious obscurantism.” However, Civil Responsibility, People’s Alliance and the December 5 Party all said they would form a group in support of the Moscow-based opposition leader Alexei Navalny, now on trial in Kirov, within the larger group.
Civil Responsibility said in a statement that the trial against Navalny, who is under investigation on five criminal charges believed to be fabricated for political reasons, is one of the most important issues on today’s political agenda.
“We should make the authorities realize that a huge number of people stand behind Navalny, and we are ready to take to the streets in support of him,” it said.
Participants from the different groups will gather near Oktyabrsky Concert Hall on Ligovsky Prospekt between 10:30 a.m. and noon on Wednesday.