ROAR: Opposition at odds over first authorized rally on Triumfalnaya Square

Moscow City Hall has for the first time permitted 800 civil rights activists to gather on their “favorite square,” but some of the organizers say the number allowed is too low.

The city government officially announced its decision on the October 31 rally on Tuesday. It came a day after talks between Lyudmila Alekseeva, the head of the human rights organization the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Moscow officials.

However, media reports say other co-organizers of the rally – Eduard Limonov and Konstantin Kosyakin – do not agree with the limit of 800 people. They are insisting that 1,500 should be allowed to take part.

The rally is part of Strategy 31, a series of civic gatherings in support of Article 31 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of assembly. Opposition groups have so far held 11 unauthorized rallies within the framework of the Strategy, but they have all been dispersed by police. The events are supposed to be held on the last day of each month that has 31 days, symbolizing the Article.

Alekseeva welcomed the decision made by the new Moscow Mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, calling it “a compromise” and “a big step forward.

Last week, the city authorities said they would only allow 200 protesters to gather at the square, where building work is going on.

They are provoking us,” Limonov was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying. “They dug out this pit in Triumfalnaya Square so as to keep us out. Now they are dictating us conditions over how many people can participate in the rally,” Limonov said. The construction of a parking lot was initiated by the city authorities under the previous mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Strategy 31 has also appealed to Amnesty International with a letter in support of Sergey Mokhnatkin, who is serving a 2.5 year prison sentence for what the activists claim was his protection of a woman from a police officer during an unauthorized rally held on Triumfalnaya on January 31, 2009. The letter said he did not belong to any opposition organization and was at the square by chance, Interfax reported.

As for the next rally – now authorized – the co-organizers have yet to come to an agreement. The decision of the Moscow authorities “has split” them, Kommersant daily said.

Limonov and Kosyakin say 1,500 people attended the rally held on August 31. “We cannot allow ourselves to discriminate 700 people,” they wrote in a letter to Sobyanin to be delivered on Tuesday, the paper said.

Alekseeva refused to sign it,” the paper added. She said the rally could be held between two construction fences that the authorities do not want to destroy. “It is an acceptable variant, and, I hope, for the first time the rally will be held without the participation of police,” she said.

When Triulfalnaya Square was closed for reconstruction in August, the problem was supposed to disappear, Vedomosti daily said. “In October, after the mayor had been replaced, first deputy head of the presidential administration. Vladislav Surkov, softened the position: if 200 people want to gather on Triumfalnaya, let them do it,” the paper quoted.

Sergey Goncharov, a deputy of the Moscow City Duma, said that under the new mayor the rallies on Triumfalnaya will not be banned. But he told the paper that “there is no room for 1,500 people on the square, the construction work is being conducted there, and security norms allow only two people per square meter for public gatherings in open spaces.

Ella Pamfilova, the former head of the presidential council on human rights, stressed that she had not been able to find a compromise with “dissenters” because of “Limonov’s position,” the daily noted.

For Alekseeva, “the essence of the declared problem is important,” Pamfilova said, while “for Limonov – it is the maintaining of constant interest to his actions.” But she also blamed the authorities for the deadlock.

Alekseeva “has not made up her mind yet whether she will remain a co-organizer of rallies on Triumfalnaya Square,” Interfax said.

Meanwhile, the organizers of another series of opposition rallies – called Days of Wrath – have also written an open letter to the mayor. Lev Ponomarev and Sergey Udaltsov say they want the next event to be authorized too. Their protests against the city government’s policies take place on the 12th day of every month, near the mayor’s office.

Under Luzhkov, the city authorities banned the rallies five times, and the participants were routinely dispersed and detained by police.

During the times of the previous city leadership “we often saw cynical double standards and clear political discrimination of opposition,” Kommersant quoted the letter. “We are urging [the new mayor] to show that you are ready to return the situation to the legal course and prevent another ugly scene of dispersing peaceful demonstrators.” Ponomarev told the daily that the organizers of the action “do not want conflicts and are very loyal.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT