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Dissent At Bolotnaya Square – OpEd

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Rallies and protests, begun on December 5th following the results of the Duma elections, which took place on December 4th, are being run under various slogans. A lot of evidence is appearing that suggests the elections were unfair, and that, for example, ballot-stuffing was common for the pro-Putin party “United Russia”.

Today’s meeting on Bolotnaya Square (“Swamp Square”) in Moscow is the largest since 1991. I was at various rallies and marches in Moscow during the days of 19-21 August 1991. Of course, at that time the numbers of people at the rallies were much greater. Nonetheless, today’s meeting are impressive.

The split within the opposition camp is unlikely to impede those wishing to protest. Some are calling protestors to gather at Revolution Square and others at the Bolotnaya Square. I’m personally closer to the position of Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov, who, as the organizers of the rally at Bolotnaya Square, explained that an agreement with the authorities to move the meeting is wholly necessary at this stage. Its been a long time since 30,000 people have gathered, and therefore its best not to give the authorities any undue reason to arrest people.

I was often at rallies at Bolotnaya Square and I can say that this area is not suited for large scale events, it’s simply too cramped. Its like being in a vise with a fenced-in square on one side and the river Moscow on the other. The presence of OMON in full riot uniform only heightens this feeling of tension. It is no wonder that today Bolotnaya Square was unable to accommodate all those wishing to participate in the demonstration. According to writer Boris Akunin, no less than 40,000 people gathered there.

It is noteworthy that the first on the scene to address the rally was the author of the song ‘Our madhouses vote for Putin’, Alexander Yelin. The participants chanted ‘Putin – Skiing — Magadan’ [a Soviet-era transit centre for prisoners en route to labour camps] and ‘Russia without Putin’. Some notable people at the rally were human rights activist Lev Ponomarev; the writer Boris Akunin; the journalist Oleg Kashin; politicians Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov; a former KGB man and a member of ‘Fair Russia’ Gennady Gudkov; a leader of the ‘Popular Front’ Anastasia Udaltsova; and political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin amongst many others .

Some noteworthy banners and posters seen at the rally include ‘For re-elections’; ‘Manipulation of facts is more dangerous than flu’; ‘Mr. Policeman, remember- Your son is in this crowd’; ‘Return elections to our country’; ‘We demand a recount’; and ‘United Russia” – know your place!’ A poster of Lenin’s mausoleaum has exchanged the inscription ‘Lenin’ for ‘Putin.’ Under the tomb is the inscription ‘We believe we hope, we wait.’

A large number of representatives of the foreign press, including American and European press, were present at the rally along with the Russian news agencies ‘ITAR-TASS’ and ‘RIA Novosti’. Similar meetings are being held in many cities throughout Russia.

Personally, I do not like that the speakers are not talking about the next step for protests. Everyone knows that there are thousands who disagree with the results of the election. But, I ask, what’s next? Today, the CEC of Russia approved the election results. In other words, Putin and his clique told the people: Right, everything is decided. We don’t give a damn for your opinion. . The most that will happen is that some elections results from some regions will be declared null and void. That’s ALL!

The proposal to boycott the presidential elections in March next year is all well and good. But what will we do until March? What is the opposition’s action plan? It is already obvious that the scenarios of Egypt and Libya will not play out here. The Russian, or rather, Putin’s government will try its hardest not to let people demonstrate outwith the small Swamp Square. The assumption then, is that the people’s protests will go no further than the small patch of asphalt and that their words will drown in Moscow’s swampland.

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Grigory Pasko

Grigory Pasko is a Russian journalist and publisher of an environmental magazine. In November 1997 Pasko was arrested by FSB agents in Vladivostok and accused of espionage for publications on the environmental problems in the Japanese sea but found not guilty due to lack of evidence. He was found guilty of “abuse of his official position,” but released immediately under a general amnesty. He was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. His articles appear at Robert Amsterdam's website (http://www.robertamsterdam.com) and are reprinted with permission.

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