Medvedev: Red Square is No Place For Opposition

Russian president Dmitri Medvedev believes the Russian opposition can “say whatever they want,” but only in certain designated areas.  Speaking with Spanish media on Sunday, Medvedev commented that the Red Square was not “an appropriate place for them.”  In Medvedev’s view, the opposition is “a sort of a small group of marginalized politicians that always exist in any country and that is concerned with sparking interest of others in themselves.”

“But as far as I can see the situation,” Medvedev said, “and I see quite a lot, in particular when sometimes I visit the web-sites of these radical opposition groups, I can see that in fact all they want to speak out loud, they do speak out loud in various places. They go in the streets and shout that the President and Government should resign. All the statements they want to make they do make. That is why I think that nobody gags them, they say whatever they want. They say it in public, they are not deprived of this opportunity. The fact that they cannot rally in the Red Square, well, excuse me, I do not think that the Red Square is an appropriate place for them.”

Pressed to discuss cases where opposition figures have been unlawfully prosecuted, Medvedev said that any violations “should be investigated.”  “[B]ut I think that all these people want to say they do say as bluntly as possible,” he added.

Speaking on the Ekho Moskvy radio station Sunday, Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov dismissed Medvedev’s words as patently false.  Medvedev’s estimation is typical for an authoritarian government, Kasparov said.

“Medvedev wants to seem like the president of a democratic state,” he said, “but we all understand what kind of country we’re living in.  [We see] what kind of unconstitutional laws are in effect.  [We see] the calls to restrict freedom of speech, public discussions, marches, demonstrations and the opposition’s participation in the electoral process.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that the government would do everything in its power to defend against unsanctioned mass protests.  “If opposition actions go outside the law,” Putin said, “it means they are not pursuing the goals of improving people’s lives, but their own selfish goals and the state has the right to defend itself properly.”

“We won’t allow events to happen like in some other countries, to which I will not point a finger now,” Putin went on.

In practice, city officials are often reluctant to sanction any protests put on by opposition forces.  Members of the opposition have described instances of intimidation and harassment against protest organizers.

Although the right to public assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution, City Hall will often ban opposition marches, or restrict them to thinly populated locations far from the city center.  The law, meanwhile, says that people planning a picket or meeting merely have to inform authorities, and do not need to obtain permission.