By Paul Goble
As Sofya Mokhova points out in a Rosbalt commentary, Russian officials have come up with a variety of excuses to deny Russians their constitutional right to peaceably assemble. Some of them may be rational; others are clearly not; and some especially in the case of occupied Crimea are “exotic.”
But this year, the coincidence of May Day and Easter has opened the way for Russian officials to deploy not only all their usual justifications for preventing those the regime doesn’t like from marching or meeting but also a new one: marches and meetings, they say, could prevent Russians from attending Orthodox services.
Mokhorova writes that the proclivity of Russian officials to find “ever more means of refusing to agree to protest actions” suggests that the country is proceeding along the path toward a police state” in which only pro-government marches and meetings will be tolerated (rosbalt.ru/piter/2016/04/26/1510097.html).
Among the methods the authorities use in refusing to give permission to opposition groups are scheduling pro-government activities at the same time and place, claiming that a given place is being repaired, suggesting that the group will violate laws on promoting this or that banned idea, and pointing to mistakes in applications.
Sometimes the excuses reach truly amazing heights, Mokhrova says. In Barnaul, officials refused to allow a demonstration that planned to use dolls to make its point. They said only people could do that. And in occupied Crimea, the Russian authorities have pointed to the risk of the spread of African swine flu in denying marches.
But this year, Russian officials are using the coincidence of May Day and Easter to refuse to give permission for demonstrations almost certainly because they fear that these events could lead to serious protests but ostensibly because they want to ensure that all Russians who want to attend Orthodox Easter services will be able to (rosbalt.ru/federal/2016/04/27/1510452.html).
Rosbalt journalist Dmitry Remizov says that officials in numerous regions have invoked Easter services as a reason not to allow May Day demonstrations, thus making them “’more holy than the pope’” given that the Moscow Patriarchate’s press service has said that it doesn’t see a problem with celebrating both on the same day.
Vadim Abdurrakhmanov, a KPRF leader in the Khanty-Mansiisk AO, says that Easter services are just an excuse. In fact, he argues, “the powers that be are afraid because they know what the economic and political situation in the country is.” People want to protest and May Day is a traditional occasion to do so.
Andrey Korablyev, a member of the Union of the Militant Godless in Tyumen, is even blunter: officials will use anything including Easter to prevent people from meeting and marching. No May Day demonstrations will prevent Russians who want to from going to church given that the former last only a half an hour or so and the others go on all day.
Anna Ochkina, head of the Moscow IGSO Center for Social Analysis, says that the way the authorities are using Easter as an excuse is “very strange” because most of the people who attend May Day demonstrations don’t go to church and vice versa, although it is possible that the authorities really don’t understand.
They probably think, she says, that “the Russian people are entirely part of the church” and that May Day demonstrations would interfere with their attendance. But if they do, Ochkina concludes, this only shows “once again” that “the authorities do not know the people which they are trying to govern.”