The human face of protest

The human face of protest

An exhibition of photos taken during recent protest rallies found a home — for one night.

Published: June 1, 2011 (Issue # 1658)


This photo showing police officers detaining a protester at a Strategy 31 rally last summer was one of those on display at the exhibiti

Two generations of Russian dissidents met last week when a Soviet underground art collector who was imprisoned for holding nonconformist art exhibitions in the 1980s offered his rooms to host a photo exhibition documenting contemporary political protests.

Previously, a number of St. Petersburg galleries and art cafes declined to hold the exhibition, titled “Strategy 31,” whose subject was the national non-partisan, civic campaign demanding freedom of assembly, a right that is guaranteed by the constitution but frequently violated by the authorities.

“[The venues] said they supported us, but were afraid for themselves,” said Andrei Pivovarov, local leader of the People’s Labor Union (RNDS) and one of the campaign’s organizers.

Since it was launched in the city in January 2010, Strategy 31 events have been regularly dispersed by the police, with dozens of people being arrested.

Held on Thursday as a one-night event, the exhibition was put together at the last minute when Georgy Mikhailov, a gallery owner and former Soviet political prisoner, showed his support by offering the premises of the Mikhailov Gallery on Gorokhovaya Ulitsa for the display.

“We often overlook a very important aspect: The images that the outside world gets after our events, from which people who couldn’t come for various reasons form their impressions,” Pivovarov said.

“Sometimes the photographs are even more impressive that what we actually see at the rallies.”

Pivovarov added that photographers run the risk of being attacked or arrested at the rallies, and pointed out that some photos on show at the exhibition were taken by photographer Vladimir Telegin during detention at a police precinct.

According to the RNDS’ Galina Fyodorova, the exhibition’s objective was to show the human face of the demonstrators.

“There’s an opinion — obviously promoted by the authorities themselves — that it’s dangerous extremists who come to the rallies; that’s how they justify violence and the use of truncheons,” Fyodorova said.

“I have heard that from policemen many times, including my district police officer. Their chiefs tell them that they are dispersing ‘extremists.’

“We wanted to demonstrate via these photos that it is in fact normal, good people who attend and participate in these peaceful assemblies that are protected not only by Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, but also by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Speaking at the exhibition’s opening, The Other Russia’s Andrei Dmitriyev drew attention to the police officers shown on the photos dispersing rallies by pushing demonstrators to the ground, hitting them or even dragging them by their hair, as police officer Vadim Boiko — dubbed the “Pearl Cop” for the religious beads he wore on his wrist — did last year.

“The authorities show every time that what they say about St. Petersburg being a European city is lies, nonsense and deception,” Dmitriyev said.

“They show their true face, and this is the face of the Pearl Cop, depicted in many photos here. This is [the face of] a thug. The face of a thug is the collective face of the St. Petersburg authorities and police today.”

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