Day of Protest Held in Cities Throughout Russia

Kaliningrad protesters with tangerines. Source: Svetlana Romanova/Gazeta.ruPlans by opposition parties, human rights organizations, and beguiled citizens to hold a series of rallies across Russia on March 20 were largely cut short as regional government authorities took a variety of measures to keep people off the streets.

Demonstrations were held in about 50 cities across the country, but even the largest in the cities of Irkutsk and Vladivostok consisted of no more than 2,000 people. Organizers in Irkutsk, which included the liberal Yabloko party, the opposition Solidarity movement, and a variety of human rights organizations, had originally projected that 10,000 people would be taking part in the demonstration.

Approximately 70 people were detained in Moscow, where several hundred people turned out for a protest on Pushkin Square that had earlier been banned by city authorities. Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front political movement, was among those detained and said on Sunday that he plans to file a criminal suit against the city authorities for causing massive disorder, beating detained protesters, and using pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Oppositionists complained that there was no reason for the city to ban their peaceful protest, which was largely focused on calling for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to resign. One of the protesters who turned up at Pushkin Square was detained for holding a sign reading “Zhukovsky or a new Cherkizon?” referring to the controversial government shutdown of a Moscow market last summer that put tens of thousands of merchants out of work. However, when the protester showed the police his identification as State Duma Deputy Anton Belyakov, a member of the party A Just Russia, the police not only released him but put began voicing agreement that it was indeed about time for Mayor Luzhkov to go.

The most creative rally was held in Kaliningrad, where an anti-government protest of about 10,000 people had taken place in January. The stage was set for Saturday to see about 30,000 participants, when city officials relegated the protest to a sports arena instead of the open city center as organizers had wanted, on the basis that a farmers market was planned for the original location. Fearing what could happen if violence was to break out in an enclosed area, local opposition leader Konstantin Doroshok agreed to cancel the rally after holding negotiations with Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos. As part of their deal, a four hour question-and-answer session was held in Kaliningrad at the time when the rally was intended to occur, in which the governor and Doroshok took part.

Left on their own, however, a group of activists organized on the social networking website Vkontakte and rallied on the market in the early afternoon. Given that the governor had acquired the nickname “the Tangerine” among Kaliningrad oppositionists, the protesters held the fruits above their heads and called for Boos and Putin both to step down. Approximately 1000 people turned out for what has since been dubbed the “tangerine flash mob.”

Other rallies, consisting of between a few dozen to several hundred participants, were held in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Kazan, Yaroslavl, and other cities across the country.