Oksana Chelysheva::: 31 July. 6 pm. Moscow, Triumfalnaya Square. Nizhny Novgorod, Freedom Square. Rostov-on-Don, Gorky Park. Kaliningrad, Victory Square. Ryazan, Lenin Square. More than 40 regions have joined the Strategy 31 by now.
Strategy-31 continues to pursue the principle of unity of the venue and the time the assembly is held. The attempt to split the opposition by mediating to exclude Eduard Limonov from the list of organizers also failed.
In their turn, the authorities continue to pursue their own principle of cracking down peaceful protest. On May 31 they realized violence alone doesn’t bring too much effort.
Through June and July the authorities tried hard to repeat the split in opposition forces of Saint Petersburg at the federal level. Saint Petersburg is demonstrating tendencies which are absolutely advantageous for the Kremlin. Leaders of Saint Petersburg “Yabloko”, “United Civic Front” and Human Rights Council of Saint Petersburg persist on having an action separate from the so-called radical wing of the opposition movement.
Thus, Saint Petersburg keeps holding two rallies with time shift of one hour. The venue is also different. Whereas liberal part of the opposition gets together in Dvorzovaya Square, their comrades-about-goals from among leftist groups meet police force face to face outside Gostiny Dvor. All the police might is now turned against protesters of the rally which is presented as those of the “radicals”. At that, the so-called liberal wing silently round walks along the perimeter of the Dvorzovaya Square. None of them is detained. However, instead of attracting more people with its “safety”, this round walking discourages many people from joining it.
Andrey Dmitriev, one of the organizers of the Strategy 31 rally outside Gostiny Dvor commented, “We are satisfied with the level of Strategy 31 has developed. Despite the vacation time, our action attracted some five hundred people. What is worrying is that police is applying more and more violence against us. They were dragging people, including girls, by their hair. They were kicking people for even smiling at them. Many journalists observing the rally were detained. They are also under charges of resisting police and they will be taken to court”. Dmitriev also commented on the “round-walking” in Dvorzovaya, “It is not fair to say that all the liberally-minded people have failed us. Many of activists of Yabloko, Solidarnost and United Civic Front participate in both actions. Are leaders of Yabloko concerned about the opinion of one of their activists, Polina Strongina? Have they asked her why she joined us, at the Gostiny Dvor?” Polina was among the detained people. All in all, 69 people were detained in the course of action outside Gostiny Dvor.
The question is whether leaders of the liberal wing in Saint Petersburg who took the decision in the best of the Soviet tradition, without proper discussion with “common members” understand that their turn will come after those who they so easily abandoned are crashed.
In this respect, Ludmila Alexeeva has taken a more democratic and responsible stand. A week before the rally, Alexeeva withstood another attempt to persuade her not to mix up with Limonov. That attempt was undertaken by Sergey Kovaljov with the proposal that two groups of organizers submit their notifications about two rallies under the same goal of fighting for Article 31 of the Russian Constitution. But there will be no Limonov in one of them.
No matter how difficult it was, Ludmila Alexeeva made the only possible fair decision. She brought the issue to public light by publishing her joint letter with Sergey Kovaljov in her Live Journal blog.
I am sure it was difficult for 82-year-old Ludmila Alexeeva to read through the stream of hundreds of comments the majority of which condemned any attempt to separate the “pure” from those who the Kremlin regards as ‘mote in their eye”.
The attempts to negotiate with liberal and human rights wings of the movement in Moscow started immediately after the success of the allied forces of opposition in May, 2010.
To make the task easier, Kremlin turned for help to professional mediators. When Vladimir Lukin, the Russian federal ombudsman, and Alexander Muzykanstkiy, his colleague in Moscow Region, appeared in Triumfalnaya Square on May 31, many people thought they had finally decided to take a stand. It happened to be an illusion. Both ombudsmen went there to better serve the orders to try to stifle the growing consolidation of the Russian opposition.
The Kremlin anti-Limonov campaign developed gradually starting in June with several articles by former Soviet dissidents, including Dmitry Oreshkin and Alexander Podrabinek. They didn’t bring much result, though. Then Kremlin envoys tried to approach Boris Nemzov and Vladimir Ryzhkov offering them to become the organizers of the rally in return of lifting the ban on Strategy 31 rallies. Both refused. The same proposals were then made to Lev Ponomarjov, the chair of the For Human Rights movements, and Ludmila Alexeeva.
Alexeeva was under extremely intensive pressure exercised via the two ombudsmen throughout July. Initially, Ella Pamfilova, the chair of the President’s commission on human rights, was also involved into dissuading Ludmila Alexeeva from “sensitive” contacts. It was Pamfilova’s last attempt to influence the situation. Just a day before the rally Ella Pamfilova asked the president for self-resignation. Medvedev satisfied her request.
On July 14, Alexander Muzykanstkiy sent his car to bring Alexeeva to Moscow from a resort house. They met in Muzykanstkiy’s office in the Novyy Arbat Avenue. Muzykanstkiy announced the promise he received from Kremlin that the rally would be authorized if Limonov was not part of it.
Limonov learnt about it when Alexeeva called him right from the office asking to immediately join her. The attempted “discreet” plan to split the allies failed one again.
The week before the rally was the climax of the confrontation. When Sergey Kovaljov, not the state officials linked to the Kremlin administration, joined attempts to split the opposition, it put the Strategy under real danger. Alexeeva turned to people asking them to share their opinions by asking them to comment on her joint letter with Sergey Kovaljov published in her Live Journal blog. People voted against Limonov’s exclusion.
This simple fact is also another proof that the time of leaders making their decisions on behalf of the people is over. Internet has changed the reality. It is not necessary to hold two-day conferences to inquire about opinions of common participants of a movement. It is just necessary to do what Alexeeva managed to do. She has found courage to put herself under criticism of her own friends and supporters.
Including Elena Bonner who stated in her response published by grani.ru webpage, “Not long ago Ludmila Alexeeva expressed her shame with Alexey Venediktov for his proposal to refuse from Triumfalnya Square. Now she published an appeal to refuse from Limonov for the sake of Triumfalnaya…I, like many other people, often feel ashamed for the Russian power. Not for the people, men and women, the electorate, but the power that shamelessly is depriving people of their Constitutional rights. I feel sorry for the Russian people and I am grieving for them as I am part of them and this pain is mine too. This confrontation is commonly summarized in two words – “we” and “they”. Kovaljov’s signature brought shame for “we”. It is sad”.
Alexeeva has managed to take all critical voices into account and act accordingly. Finally, the traditional steering committee of the rally in Moscow made up of Ludmila Alexeeva, Konstantin Kosjakin and Eduard Limonov decided to quit applying for authorization for all.
On July 31 three of them came to Triumfalnya Square together to demonstrate their unity. Ludmila Alexeeva had to leave the square in twenty minutes, though. She felt sick. Police blocked all the entries to the square which was given for entertainment of “goldish youths” motorbike show. More than a thousand of Strategy 31 supporters were scattered along the perimeter of the square.
Eduard Limonov managed to remain there for more than an hour. He was not detained in spite of numerous attempts undertaken by the police. It was people who surrounded him who didn’t let the police to even approach Limonov.
Konstantin Kosjakin, one of the leaders of the Left Front and co-organizer of the rally, was detained likewise Boris Nemzov. According to the information of kasprov.ru webpage, 82 protesters were detained in Moscow on Saturday, July 31.
All those participants of the rally in Triumfalnaya who I was in contact with throughout that Saturday tell that the police applied a different detention technique. In Moscow they targeted recognizable faces. They tried not to detain the elderly and the girls. However, the level of violence was approximately high. People were grabbed and dragged into police vans and buses.
We talked to Boris Nemzov after he had been brought to Moscow Tverskoy district police station together with six other participants, including Sergey Udalzov, the leader of the Left Front. Nemzov emphasized that participants of the rally were no longer submissive to the police pressure. They tried to prevent detentions of their friends standing shoulder to shoulder. “People liberated me four times in half an hour. Police managed to take me away only with the fifth attempt”. He went out being charged with “offering resistance to the police”. The court awaits him as well as other 77 people from among the detained.
Eduard Limonov commented on the development of the Strategy 31 on phone later that Saturday, “What I saw in the Square was the grotesque mixture of Baykonur rocket launching spot and loathsome show with bikes roaring and suffocating people with fumes. Policemen in packs went for the people. Their faces were distorted. At that, their seniors escaped responsibility by making lieutenants scapegoats”. None of the police seniors appeared in Triumfalnaya Square. Colonel Viktor Birjukov, the press-secretary of the Moscow city police, was seen only from far away. However, there was one particular face from among the bikers which drew people’s attention. It was the face of the son of Igor Sechin, the omnipotent grey cardinal in the rank of the vice Prime Minister of Russia.
Limonov finds further perspectives for the Strategy 31 to develop as brightly positive, “The event on August 31 will be even mightier. All the attempts to allure us into falling into factions have failed so far. The so-called “human rights approach” to mediating with the authorities via go-in-betweens doesn’t deserve even criticism. It is not just outdated. It would bring the Strategy to failure as the power doesn’t genuinely mediate. What they are doing is offering ultimatums. If we agree to carry on negotiations, we will do it with the people in power, not just their envoys. It is unacceptable that any Lukin or Muzykanstkiy could even approach us with some “promises” of anonymous promises from the top of the Kremlin hierarchy”.