‘Strategy 31’ to Continue Despite Ban, Construction

Moscow's Triumfalnaya Square. Source: MoscowVision.ruIn an unexpected development in the Russian opposition’s Strategy 31 campaign in defense of free assembly, the Moscow city government has announced that all rallies will be banned on the campaign’s traditional meeting place – Triumfalnaya Square – beginning on August 22, 2010, as a result of construction.

As RIA Novosti reports, the city plans to build a multi-level parking garage underneath Triumfalnaya Square as part of two city construction projects, at least one of which had already been agreed upon in 2002.

The Grani.ru news portal cites experts as saying that such a garage would be inexpedient, as it could bring about an increase in the number of cars on Moscow’s already jam-packed central roadways. Scientific Director Mikhail Blinkin of the Scientific Research Institute (NII) for Transportation and Road Maintenance argues that supporting the lack of parking infrastructure in the city’s center would promote the switch from cars to public transportation.

The construction announcement comes one day after Strategy 31 co-organizer Eduard Limonov applied with the Moscow mayor’s office on Monday to receive sanction for the campaign’s upcoming rally on August 31. The application was co-signed by fellow organizers Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Konstantin Kosyakin.

In response to Tuesday’s announcement, opposition leaders said they still intend to hold their rally on August 31. “We’ll come to Triumfalnaya Square, what is this construction to us?” said Limonov. “Stunning. I haven’t seen something like this in a long time.”

Representatives of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Young Russia had also applied on Monday for sanction for their own rally on August 31, also on Triumfalnaya Square. The movement routinely organizers rallies that directly conflict with Strategy 31 events, providing an official basis for the Moscow government to deny sanction to the opposition.

Young Russia Press Secretary Natalia Maslova told the Kasparov.ru news portal that the youth movement managed to hand in their application just fifteen minutes before Limonov handed in the application for Strategy 31. “Our activists got in line outside the mayor’s office at twelve o’clock at night,” she said.

Strategy 31 rallies are held by the Russian opposition in defense of the constitutional right to free assembly on the 31st of each month with that date. In the thirteen months that the campaign has run, the Moscow city authorities have never once agreed to sanction the events. Recently revealed government documents verify that that the mayor’s office has lied about their reasons for refusing to grant official sanction, indicating that the decisions were politically motivated. The opposition routinely holds the rallies regardless, unsanctioned, and they are routinely brutally broken up by OMON riot police and other law enforcement agents. During the most recent rally on July 31, 100 of the 1000 participants were detained, many badly beaten. As a result, government representatives in the United States and Europe have criticized the Kremlin for failing to observe the fundamental civil right to free assembly.

Government authorities in Russia have repeatedly offered Strategy 31 organizers an unofficial compromise: the rallies could be sanctioned if the oppositionists agree either to a different location or to exclude Eduard Limonov from among the campaign’s official organizers. Despite initial disagreements, the organizers eventually agreed to reject all of the government’s proposals, insisting that the 31st article of the Russian constitution provides citizens with the right to peacefully assemble without any conditions from the government.