Ekho Moskvy Editor Proposes Political Rally Ban

Aleksei Venediktov. Source: Liveinternet.ruOpposition activists are voicing concern over statements made by a prominent radio manager that all political events should be banned on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square for one year, Kasparov.ru reports.

Aleksei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy radio, made the remarks at a session of the Moscow City Police Public Council on Tuesday. As he later clarified on his radio show, the editor felt that while the Russian government’s routine prohibition of opposition events on the square is illegal, it is necessary for opposition organizers to “take a step back” if they want to reach their goal of achieving the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of assembly.

The comments come a week after police detained 170 protesters at a rally in defense of free assembly, part of the Russian opposition’s ongoing Strategy 31 campaign. Dozens of activists were beaten, and at least two were hospitalized. The rally, like the others before it, had not been sanctioned by Moscow city authorities, who said that they had already granted permission to pro-Kremlin youth activists to hold a rally in support of blood drives on the square that day.

Venediktov characterized the ongoing conflict over Triumfalnaya Square, which Strategy 31 organizers say has become their traditional meeting place, as a “mutual obstinacy” that, realistically, can only be resolved by “nulling the situation.” Since neither the government nor the oppositionists are willing to cede the square, “it simply must be given up,” he said.

Konstantin Kosyakin, a Strategy 31 co-organizer, rejected the proposal and told Kasparov.ru that the activists plan to hold their ground.

“People already automatically come to Triumfalnaya at six o’clock on the 31st of the month,” Kosyakin said. “The government is afraid that this place will become an attraction for all oppositionist and civil rights forces. Therefore, if we compromise, the people will think that we have betrayed them.”

“This government is a government of thieves and bandits, and you cannot meet them halfway,” he added.

Gazeta.ru Editor-in-Chief Mikhail Mikhailin, also a member of the Public Council, told news website Grani.ru that he wholly shared Venediktov’s position. He said that if large gatherings on Triumfalnaya Square truly hinder traffic – one of the reasons Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has given as to why Strategy 31 rallies are routinely prohibited – then both Strategy 31 rallies and blood drive rallies organized by pro-Kremlin youth groups should indeed be banned.

Meanwhile, Moscow Helsinki Group head and Strategy 31 co-organizer Lyudmila Alexeyeva also attended the Public Council session and refuted that Venediktov asked for Triumfalnaya to be closed to protesters. “It’s possible that he said something else afterwards, it’s written on the Ekho Moskvy website, but there he said that everyone needs to be put in the same conditions: ‘Either nobody is allowed, or don’t just allow [the government’s] favorites.’ I’m told that it’s written on the website that he demanded that Triumfalnaya Square be closed. I heard nothing of the sort,” she said.

Denis Bilunov, executive director of the opposition movement Solidarity, said that Venediktov’s statements play into the hands of the authorities by calling for concessions by the opposition.

“We can make concessions when, for example, [Russian President Dmitri] Medvedev or Luzhkov speak unequivocally about the illegality of refusing to sanction protests on Triumfalnaya Square and begin to investigate this,” he said.

Correction – June 9, 2010:  This story originally reported that the event held by pro-Kremlin youth groups was a blood drive. It was, in fact, a rally in support of the idea of a blood drive; no blood was donated at the event. The article has been corrected to reflect as much.