March of Dissent in St. Petersburg gone peacefully

Hundreds of people gathered for a March of Dissent in St. Petersburgt to call on the Kremlin to respect democratic freedoms. The march went off peacefully and unlike previous similar events suffered no interference from the police.

The protest was organised by liberal parties and opposition movement, headed by former chess champion Garry Kasparov and another Kremlin opponent Eduard Limonov.

Students, pensioners and political activists can hardly be expected to have much in common. For this event, however, they presented a united front, having agreed to disagree. The March of Dissent permitted by the city authorities clearly defined their grievances.

“I’m a pensioner, my pension is 3600 rubles,” a woman taking part in the march said. “I’m 72 but I have to work not to die from hunger. That’s why I’m here today”.

And there are also those generally opposing the political course of the country.

“We have to change the existing balance between the government’s rule and Russia’s people,” another participant proclaimed. “It’s a high time to do this. The Government should take its place as the people’s servant and stop being a master in this country”.

But even though their slogans were loud and the leaders caused great excitement of the crowd, their numbers were low and demands somewhat muddled. According to official sources, around 650 walked through the central St. Petersburg. More than a third of those were of the press covering the event.

Opposition leaders, however, claim no less than several thousand people were present and their disagreement with the Russian authorities was heard.
Literally translated, the name of the event means ‘a march of those who disagree’, and they seem to disagree with a lot of things, both local issues and global issues. They seem to want to complain, that is why they have taken to the city streets.

Actions like this have become frequent in Russia. Many have turned violent with provocations sparking clashes between demonstrators and police. But this latest march had been well prepared for by both the organisers and the law enforcement. Police presence was heavy but not intrusive, although opposition leaders claim the several thousand riot police were dispatched by the city in fear.

“When we take to the streets we always see the same picture: thousands and thousands policemen get crowded to be on the alert,” Garry Kasparov, an opposition leader, said to the protesters gathered in the streets. “The authorities cannot allow us to get together free. They know if we march free across St. Petersburg or Moscow or anywhere else our thousand of protesters will turn into ten thousand, and ten thousand will result in one hundred thousand, because the whole country is dissatisfied”.

The police simply say their work is judged by results.

“We didn’t notice any serious law violations during the march,” Vyacheslav Stepchenko, St. Petersburg police spokeperson, assured. “The action was held serenely. The city carried on as usual”.

Two more marches will be held in Russia over the next few days before the organisers call for a summer break.

But while some say the actions frequency is costing the organisers in effect, most seem to agree that everything gets better with practice, and publicly voicing the disagreement can be a sign of democracy.