St. Petersburg Dissenters’ March

Dissenters' March - St. Petersburg, June 9What wasn’t said by the chants and the banners held by the marchers was clearly spoken by the massive police presence in St. Petersburg today for the latest Dissenters’ March. “Russia Without Putin”, “We Need Another Russia”, “This Is Our City”, “No Police State!”. Radio Ekho of Moscow reported that between 8,000 and 10,000 police had been brought in from other part of the country to St. Petersburg, which is hosting an International Economic Forum this weekend. Garry Kasparov, on of the Other Russia leaders at the event, said afterwards that “the energy was enormous. Now we know the regime is right to be afraid of us.”

There was nothing like the police brutality that occurred at the St. Petersburg rally on March 3. Today the police acted correctly and there were few incidents. Instead, they lined the path of the March in an attempt to prevent people joining once it was underway, but did not act when the sheer number of marchers inevitably overflowed the pedestrian walkway into the street at several points. Despite the intense security force presence, the number of marchers clearly surpassed the unrealistic 500 limit set by the authorities. Being forced to march nearly in single file at some stages made it difficult to count the number of marchers. Based on how many eventually arrived at Suvorva Square, they exceeded two thousand, and there were roughly three thousand attending the meeting in the square. Speakers represented the United Civil Front, Yabloko, Republican Party of Russia, and many other groups.

At the meeting, Garry Kasparov criticized the plans for ‘Gazprom City,’ the new headquarters for the state energy goliath which include a massive tower that will dominate the historic St. Petersburg skyline. Kasparov called it “a symbol of the thieves in Putin’s regime.” Former Putin economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said that the difference in police behavior indicated that things are changing. “The choice today,” he said, “is not between political courses, but between civilization an barbarism.”

Kasparov pointed out the contradictions and hypocrisy of the Kremlin’s policy and statements about the Other Russia marches. “They tell us we can only have 500 people and warn us what will happen if there are more. Then the Kremlin propaganda tells Russia and the world that we are an insignificant minority, radicals with no support. The Kremlin tells everyone how popular Putin is, but they continue to actively suppress any attempt at dissent or criticism. They say no one wants to join us, but every time we organize they bring out thousands, even tens of thousands, of troops from all over. Clearly they don’t believe their own words and they are afraid our protests will gain momentum if they don’t keep increasing the pressure.”

Other Russia leaders Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov were briefly hassled en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg this morning, but were allowed to travel. (Unlike when they tried to attend the Samara rally.) This was not the case with Vanguard of Red Youth leader Sergei Udaltsov, who was detained at the Moscow airport and missed his flight.