Opposition Rally on Bolotnaya Square

May 6, 2013
Photo Caption: Photo by @Antonio777m

A protest rally took place in Moscow on Bolotnaya Square with permission from authorities, timed to the anniversary of the “March of Millions” last year where clashes with police occurred. The action began with a minute of silence for a worker who died Monday as he was erecting the stage for the demonstration. According to various estimates, from 8,000 to 50,000 people took part in the rally.

The rally was opened by Boris Nemtsov. He announced a minute of silence; earlier on Monday, as the stage for the demonstration was being constructed on Bolotnaya Square, a worker was killed. He was crushed by a column that broke off. After the accident, the question was discussed of cancelling the rally or changing its format, but it was decided to put on the event anyway, with some changes.

At the moment the rally began, there were about 5,000-7,000 present (according to Interior Ministry figures)  and up to 50,000 according to Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, who tweeted the events from house arrest on suspicions of organizing mass disorders [last May].

A stage for the speakers was improvised from a small truck on which a sound system was placed.

“Today we must remember everyone, and we must see to it that every person is freed,” said Boris Nemtsov. Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov expressed the opinion that “the country is split into those who want stability and those who want the government to respect their opinion.” Actor Alexander Filippenko read a poem from the stage describing the political situation in the country, and the relatives of those indicted in the criminal case for last year’s disorders on Bolotnaya Square stated that they were unlawfully detained.

“Our protests, our intellectuals’ struggle in seminars and at various conferences will lead to success,” Mr. Kasyanov added. Gennady Gudkov, former State Duma deputy, called on rally participants to extend their activism: “We must wage a serious ideological struggle. Every one of you and our supporters must turn every smoking room, every work place, every office, and every entryway into a field of ideological struggle. We must reach our people who cannot yet understand their interests, to understand how much they have been robbed.”

“We may have contradictions, but our task is to unite people and make a wide front of struggle with the government. We must leave all contradictions for tomorrow,” Gudkov said in calling the opposition to unity. Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the Yabloko Party expressed solidarity with him. “Let’s create a coalition  of Bolotnaya Square for the elections at all levels, which will begin to drag Russia out of the swamp.”

Aleksei Navalny closed the rally. “We will come out here as many times as is required,” said Mr. Navalny, adding that he was not afraid of anything because he knows what he is fighting for. “I have something to lose, I understand what I am fighting for — a new future for my family, for my children.”

Among others who took part in the action on Bolotnaya Square were Ilya Yashin, Liya Akhedzhakova, Leonid Parfyonov, Sergei Parkhomenko, Alexandr Ryklin, Boris Akunin and other prominent persons.

About 5,000 police and volunteers maintained order at the rally. A police helicopter circulated above Bolotnaya Square.

During the rally, two minor incidents occurred. In the first, Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Enteo and his supporters threw out leaflets with the slogan, “Moscow is not Sodom,” and as those at the rally tried to stop him with their own efforts, a fight broke out, and the police broke it up. “A conflict occurred on Bolotnaya Square between several citizens who were at the event. As a result of operational actions taken by the police, the conflict was disrupted. They were removed from the event,” the Interior Ministry press service said. In the second incident, a firecracker was set off on the embankment. No one was seriously injured as a result of the incidents.

President Vladimir Putin was briefed on how the rally went. “The head of state was briefed on the event,” Dmitry Peskov, presidential press secretary announced, but refrained from commenting on the action.

Today’s rally was timed to the rally exactly a year ago titled “March of Millions.” At that time, a parade proceeded which had been coordinated with the authorities along Yakimanka Square ending in a rally on Bolotnaya Square, which culminated in clashes with police. Opposition members proceeded peacefully along Bolshaya Yakimanka, however at the approaches to Bolotnaya Square a crush of people ensued. People were thrown against metal-detectors and tried to break through a police cordon. Several dozen people on both sides were injured, and about 500 demonstrators were detained. The Investigative Committee has opened a case under Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code (mass disorders).

How the Opposition Planned to Mark the Anniversary of the Bolotnaya Events

The action on 6 May 20123 was planned by the opposition’s Coordinating Committee in honor of the anniversary of the events on Bolotnaya Square, when the authorized March of Millions turned into a clash with police. An application for 5 May was submitted by members of the protest movement who did get into the Coordinating Committee and formed an alternative body, the Expert Council of the Opposition (ECO). Both applications were identical:  a parade from Kaluzhskaya Square along Bolshaya Yakimanka with a rally on Bolotnaya Square. As a result, officials  completely fulfilled the request for 5 May. Members of the CC were rejected in their application for a march on 5 May, and were allowed only a rally, citing the fact that on a work day, a parade in the center of the city could hinder traffic. This caused a split in the opposition ranks, and members of the CC called the ECO a “spoiler” application.

Why They Decided to Hold the Action on Bolotnaya Twice

The opposition was split on the issue of who precisely could hold the action in honor of the anniversary of the events on Bolotnaya Square: on 5 or 6 May. Pavel Shelkov, a member of the ECO, told Kommersant FM that the action which was planned for 6 May on a work day and in the evening did not achieve the goal of having a maximum mobilization of participants. “We applied for the 5th exactly in order to hold a consolidated protest action that would have gathered tens of thousands of people, maybe 50,000, but all of our calls to support this particular action, which was authorized on a peaceful day, were not supported by the Coordinating Council,” he noted.

How the List of Figures in the Bolotnaya Case is Growing

Today, 28 persons have been including to the Bolotnaya Case. The most recent addition is Aleksei Gaskarov, an anti-fascist and member of the Coordinating Council of the opposition. On 29 April at Basmanny Court in Moscow a decision was issued for his arrest. Gaskarov is accused of participation in mass disorders and the use of force against government representatives. Earlier he had unsuccessfully tried to file suit against OMON [riot police], who, according to Gaskarov, broke his face on Bolotnaya on 6 May.