Russia: Dissenters' March in Samara

Global Voices Online
Saturday, May 19, 2007

On Friday, police at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport prevented Russian opposition leaders Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov from boarding a flight to Samara, where they planned to take part in the Dissenters' March, scheduled to coincide with the Russia-EU Summit. A number of other opposition activists and journalists didn't make it to Samara as well that day, and Kasparov's aide Marina Litvinovich (LJ user abstract2001) was one them. Here's what she wrote (RUS):

[...] I've just returned from Sheremetyevo-1, where they didn't allow us to take our 9 AM flight. We were released around 1:45 PM, only after the 1:30 PM flight to Samara had departed (we, of course, didn't have tickets for it, and we couldn't buy them without our passports [that were taken away by the police], and moreover, they were not letting us out of the waiting lounge). [...]

Despite the absense of Kasparov and Limonov, the opposition rally did take place.

LJ user insie (Stanislav Sazhin) attended and posted his photos here and a 27MB video - here (WARNING: both links are bandwidth intensive). Below are excerpts from two of insie's May 18 posts (RUS):

01:57 pm

The situation around the Russia-EU Summit is incredibly banal. "Potemkin Villages" is what it's called. Mr. Putin thinks that Merkel and company are a bunch of idiots if he hopes that by showing Russia's presentable side he'll manage to deceive the European leaders. And this exactly is the goal of all the latest actions, which are more like state terrorism.

First of all, all who in some way had been revealed to have something to do with the marches were hunted down in a rude and mean way on their way to Samara. And they aren't even looking for reasons to detain. They give no reasons. They just detain and that's it. [...]

The second stage is no less intricate and smells even worse because of that. All the Summit's guests are transported from the airport to the site of the event ... on helicopters! Yes, on helicopters, to keep them from seeing the Russian reality, so that they didn't notice the empty villages, broken down roads, rusty cars. And you know what - I've seen it all on the way from the airport to the city today. [...]

What is the regime thinking of - does anyone really believe that the European leaders aren't aware of the way things really are in the country? Is Putin really sure that it's possible to [embellish the truth] of his crimes [...] by ordering all villagers to stay away from their garden plots during these days (yes, so that they didn't spoil the view)? [...]

This morning, I saw for myself how the arriving passangers stood in line at Samara international airport. But it wasn't an ordinary line, no. People were being searched. Their personal passport information was being read aloud and they were forced to wait. Those who complained were rudely admonished. [...] Every last name was openly checked against some printed list. And they were openly saying this: "You aren't on the list of undesirable persons, you may go!" The very fact that citizens of the Russian Federation can be undesrable persons in the Russian Federation - this needs no further comment, I guess.


07:10 pm

Streets leading up to the fountain on Osipenko blocked, empty asphalt, lots of water cannons and gloomy policemen on every crossing: each step I was making in this sleepy kingdom led me to think that soon I'd see Something. Something that all these special services are so afraid of.

But I failed to see it. Didn't see it! From afar, it seemed as if young people were getting drunk near the fountain. The only thing that seemed to ruin this idyllic Friday afternoon were the [Imperial flags] [...].

[...] Near the fountain, there were about 200 people - merry, relaxed, happy young faces, enjoying the sun [...]. These people waved flags, chatted, and the already familiar black banner of the Other Russia was in the vanguard. I thought - are civilized rallies possible in Russia, withough fights and hysteria? The police were barely visible. They encircled the square loosely and were also present all the way along the street up to the embankment.

But this was nothing compared to the April clashes in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This was victory. The first and last one this evening. The regime decided against using harsh measures [...].

Journalists were slightly less numerous than the young people, mainly photographers - I've counted at least 150 people. Plus the usual old women, sympathetic city residents and the coalition's leaders (those who had not been caught) - all in all, 500 people or so.


And then the farce began. At the command of the cheerful guy Yura [...] all these folks moved along the street. It bacame clear right away that the people had gotten too relaxed in the sun, as they kept refusing to march, and didn't chant anything, and felt more like taking a merry walk and chat on various topics.

Yura and his assistents were screaming menacingly at them, the column rearranged shoulder to shoulder again, but their slogans subsided after two or three times, and the straight rows were beginning to stray apart once the leaders looked the other way.

Special respect to journalists. There were so many of us! Photo and video cameras literally surrounded the marching protesters. [...]

A crowd of onlookers as large walked along on the sidewalks and small paths - they didn't have it in them to join the march, but they didn't want to walk away either. What if the fighting starts - you gotta watch it from the first rows!

So this is how we walked cheerfully to the embankment [...]. By then, some of the onlookers had decided to join the march. It all looked pretty funny - half-naked girls with guys or mamas, elderly women, men in suits. Democracy! [...] All in all, I'd say there were about a thousand people.

Despite the quantity, the march still failed. The chants were kind of weak, and only the [National Bolsheviks] were yelling them, and the rest were silent. These phrases that we've already heard a million times are boring. "Russia Without Putin" - yes, I agree, but is there some other way to say it!?


For the next half an hour, there were boring speeches on the same subjects, and in the hellish heat, and without a microphone (the police did not allow to use amplifying equipment). The same slogans were being repeated over and over again. The boredom was diluted only by a woman from Belarus [...]. She was harshly critical of Lukashenko, and it turned out that there were many of his supporters in the crowd. [...]

The great finale of the evening were the handshakes between the rally's leadership and the leadership of the local police [...] - all went great, not a single person has been detained. And really, no one wanted to fight in such heat.

And would they want to? The regime has achieved its goal - it eliminated the backbone before it reached Samara. And the rest turned out to be ineffectual, to tell the truth.

My verdict - a great walk, great company, great acquaintances and smiles, no march, no politics. Simply a great evening.

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