Masses of people in a dozen or so Russian cities turned out for rallies on Saturday to challenge the official results of Russia’s latest legislative elections last Sunday.
The biggest rally took place in Moscow, between approximately 14.30 and 18.00 Moscow time, in the capital’s Bolotnaya Square located across the river from the Kremlin. According to Moscow police officials, it attracted about 25 thousand people. The organizers, however, estimate the number to be more like 60 thousand.
The people who had mistakenly gathered in Revolution Square, which had initially been chosen for a venue, were politely escorted to Bolotnaya by police officers.
National Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin praised the organization of the Moscow rally:
“I am fully satisfied. The police are very civilized. They have cleared a pedestrian passage to Bolotnaya and also laid on buses for travelling there. No brutality or irregularity anywhere in evidence. This is really good.”
According to the Voice of Russia reporter Polina Chernitsa, not every speaker appearing on the podium proved welcome on the floor:
“The speakers included newly elected opposition lawmakers from the Communists and from the Just Russia party. Some in the crowd shouted out their support, while others urged these lawmakers to leave Bolotnaya and resign.”
Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov even attracted catcalls, boos and whistles when he appeared on the podium.
The rally called for a recount or fresh elections and also for the resignation of the head of the National Electoral Commission Vladimir Churov. Experts believe the former request can be partially granted, and recounts at polling stations where irregularities have been found are quite possible. The fate of Vladimir Churov, however, is a more difficult issue.
We have an opinion from Russian political analyst Dr Alexei Makarkin:
“Indeed, his performance is nothing short of a catastrophe. He may be forced to resign, but not now. A total ballot recount, as was requested by the opposition, is also unlikely, because it would interfere with preparations for the next presidential elections in March. The opposition will do its utmost to contest the presidency, provided it will agree on a single candidate for the top job.”
Bolotnaya was the biggest opposition protest in many years. For the first time, the opposition showed organization and articulated demands. Russian analyst Dr Alexei Mukhin also expects the Bolotnaya rally to bear fruit:
“The rallies and marches of the 1990s, although noisy and frequent, were largely fruitless. Rallies and marches now are a productive tool of political dialogue between civil society and the government. In 2012, they are likely to become even more productive.”
Dr Makarkin sees signs of Russia’s civil society coming of age:
“The prophecies of doom and gloom have flopped. The opposition did not rush to storm the Kremlin. Nor did the police make charges, with batons or any other weapons. The opposition and the authorities appear to have learnt lessons on how to conduct a peaceful dialogue.”
Executives of the governing United Russia party, which won a convincing parliamentary majority on Sunday, have told reporters that their party supports the freedom of expression and hopes that Saturday’s rallies will receive adequate coverage in the media and the message they send will be brought home to the authorities.
There were only about 50 arrests on Saturday. All took place in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, where opposition supporters rallied without having obtained an official permission to hold a rally.
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