News / Europe

Russians Turn Out to Protest Putin

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures during major protest rally in Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, May 6, 2013.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures during major protest rally in Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, May 6, 2013.
James Brooke
One year after Vladimir Putin was inaugurated as president of Russia for the third time, opposition leader Alexei Navalny led protesters in chanting “Putin Thief.”
While the white ribbons, iPads and anti-Putin placards were reminders of the big protests of last year, Monday’s long-awaited rally was marred by tragedy.
Hours before protesters arrived, a tower of loudspeakers fell over, killing a volunteer. Navalny was forced to speak through a bullhorn, his words reaching only hundreds of the thousands who turned out on a chill, overcast evening.
“I am fighting for a new future for my family," Navalny told the crowd from a flatbed truck. “I have no other country, no other people.”
In a larger sense, the Russian opposition leader’s words reach a far smaller audience than one year ago. Blacklisted by mainstream media, his political party denied registration, Navalny is now on trial for what he calls political charges.
With Russia’s democratic opposition on the defensive, Monday’s rally was devoted to demanding freedom for 26 protesters indicted for taking part in the rally one year ago. Their black and white portraits dominated today’s gathering. Placards called for release of Russia’s “political prisoners.”
Alexander Brakhov held a sign asking, “Should a thief sit in the Kremlin, or in jail?”
"The important thing is there is a big number of people, this will be a big help for the political prisoners," Brakhov said.
Crowd estimates hovered around 15,000, a fraction of the 50,000 estimated to have turned out one year ago, on the eve of Putin’s return to the presidency.
Critics say that Putin’s first year back as president has been marked by new laws restricting freedom of assembly and independent non-governmental organizations. Monday's protesters were greeted by rows upon rows  of “cosmonauts” — bubble-helmeted riot police — and “robocops” — black-uniformed police in special body armor.
Hours before the rally, Lilia Shevtsova, senior associate of the Carnegie Moscow Center, called the protest a test: "For us, for our ability to take to the street to defend our people, for our ideals, and first of all for our people in prison."
Roman Dobrokhotov, a 29-year-old office worker who arrived in a business suit, was joined by friends to promote their new political party — the December 5 Party. Looking around, he said he saw a cross-section of Moscow.
"There are people of all categories here, starting with businessmen and top managers, and ending with pensioners," he said.
Indeed, most of the protesters seemed to be political independents. Unlike past rallies, red flags of the communists and black flags of the nationalists were rare.
The favorite chant of the evening was “Freedom, Freedom!”

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
May 07, 2013 4:21 AM
He's a criminal and killed lots of innocent people in Chechnya. He doesn't make any good decisions whatsoever for Russia. He does not represent the true hearts, minds, and souls of the Russian people.

by: Carlos .. from: California
May 06, 2013 10:41 PM
To bad you will never hear a peep Barack Obama about the oppression in Russia .. he is the partner of the Kremlin dictators and would never want to embarrass them .. despicable cowardice that does not support the struggle for freedom .. . the heroes stand alone while he is president of the home of the free and the brave ..

by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
May 06, 2013 9:34 PM
The remarkable thing in the Moscow’s rally, although not as spectacular as a year before, when people’s indignation about the stolen elections had been the highest, is that the rally has proven – it’s is 100% genuinely Russian phenomenon. Long before the rally the FSB regime has made all in its illegitimate power to ban any foreign aid, funding and monitoring, to break free Putin’s opposition from any international involvement. The rally showed that heavy-handed tactics doesn’t work. Still there are thousands upon thousands who openly oppose the regime unable to provide progress in Russia in any walk of life, with country sliding into economic recession. The regime has been at its wit’s end at how to plant seeds of fear, how to invent illegitimate/anticonstitutional ways to suppress willingness of people to have their say. The establishment lost its moral ground. It looks that participants take their inspiration in Aesop’s fable of “The Bundle of Sticks” with sons always fighting amongst themselves. It made hard to get any work done. Their dad/mum showed the error of their ways by asking each one in turn to snap a whole bundle of sticks. But when she untied the bundle and gave them just one stick each to snap, it was easy. The sons realized the value of working together. The fable inspires to unite. The regime might have applied host of draconian laws, launch politically motivated courts' of law processes to separate citizens, but the sparkles of the fire of discontent will kindle the flame. In unity is our victory! Muscovites gave great examples to get together at the rally.

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