ROAR: Motor show to replace opposition rally in Moscow

The Moscow authorities have banned opposition groups from rallying in Triumfalnaya Square for the tenth time, giving way instead for an extreme auto and motor sport festival.

Opposition and human rights activists are planning to hold a new rally on July 31 in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly.

The unauthorized rallies have been held on the last day of each month with 31 days as part of “Strategy 31.” On May 31, dozens of protesters were detained, and human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin sharply criticized the actions of riot police.

Moscow Mayor’s Office has repeatedly denied the rallies of opposition groups but allowed events conducted by other organizations at the same to be held at Triumfalnaya Square near Mayakovskaya Metro station in the city center.

An official from the mayor’s office phoned Moscow Helsinki Group chairman Lyudmila Alekseeva on July 19 and said that the request for this month’s rally had been denied. Alekseeva is one of the organizers of the event.

She had not asked for the reason because “it is happening over and over again,” Alekseeva told Interfax. The official again offered other places – Bolotnaya or Tverskaya Square – as in previous cases. However, there is a tradition, Alekseeva said, adding that people will come to Triumfalnaya again.

This time, the city authorities have also denied the pro-Kremlin Young Russia group’s request to hold a blood-donor rally on the same square on July 31. Officials said an auto and motor sports festival will be held at the place from July 30 to August 1. Such extreme events as stunt riding, rally sprint and motofreestyle have been scheduled. The organizers describe the festival as another move in fighting against illegal street racing in Moscow.

Thus, it will be more difficult for opposition groups to hold a March of Dissent rally on July 31 despite the ban. However, this time observers say the authorities’ new strategy is not only to allow cars and motorcycles on the square, but also to establish a kind of dialogue with the opposition.

Co-chairman of the Solidarity movement Boris Nemtsov has said that he had been offered to hold a rally at Triumfalnaya Square without opposition activist and writer Eduard Limonov.

Limonov is also a leader of the Other Russia party that held its founding congress on July 10 and has not yet been registered. An opposition coalition, also named Other Russia, was recently disbanded.

Nemtsov said he had rejected the offer that he described as “an attempt to split the opposition.” “Limonov was a founder of this action,” Nemtsov told Ekho Moskvy radio on July 14. “I think the request should be made by those who did it earlier – Limonov or Alekseeva.”

Limonov, in his turn, said he was aware of the offer and promised to lead his supporters to the square on July 31. He had expected the rally to be banned. The authorities want “either transfer of the event to another square or excluding Limonov,” he told the radio. However, he promised “to make no concessions.”

Some observers believe a split has already occurred among radical opposition groups. The leader of “left radicals” Limonov tried to seize the initiative and held a congress of the Other Russia party, said Pavil Salin of the Center for Political Conjuncture.

Although the chances to be registered are too small for the new party, “radical liberals” have become the main losers, Salin said. Limonov’s supporters were the massive force at dissenters’ rallies, and the liberals were a minority, the analyst noted. Without Limonov’s supporters, the number of people participating in the rallies may reduce drastically, he added.

Meanwhile, analysts are asking if a bargaining is really taking place between the authorities and some representatives of radical opposition groups. “It seems that the situation has changed… and the Kremlin is ready to deal with a part of non-system opposition in a legal field,” commentator Tatyana Stanovaya wrote on Politcom.ru website.

She stressed that the issue concerns critics of the Kremlin because “Lyudmila Alekseeva has always enjoined public respect as a human rights activist.” However, the possibility of holding rallies of radical opposition parties on Triumfalnaya Square is rather a political issue than a legal one, she noted.

The tough actions of the authorities against the opposition “provoke a lot of criticism from human rights activists, the West, and the public,” the analyst said. One could ignore it “during the period of confrontation with the West, but now it provokes a certain discomfort among Russian authorities,” she said.

So, the authorities may probably try to ease tension, but at the same time “save face” by not yielding to Limonov, she noted. However, they may also try to divide the non-system opposition that “already has inner conflicts,” she noted.

Meanwhile, the government’s national Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily on July 20 published a manifesto of Limonov’s Other Russia party. The party submitted its program for publication four days earlier in accordance with the law on political parties. The paper had to publish the manifesto within a month.

In the manifesto, the party promises “to conduct decisive democratization of the country and all institutions of the state” and “to reduce bureaucracy.” In regards to the economy, the party plans to nationalize the raw materials industries – primarily oil and gas, coal extraction, and electrical power production – as well as construction companies building residential buildings.

Other Russia also wants to “restore political life in the country” and reverse the “repressive law ‘On Political Parties’ and the current police procedure for registering parties.”

To be registered as a political party by the Justice Ministry, it should be represented in at least half of Russia’s regions and have more than 45,000 members. Analysts doubt the party will be able to meet these criteria.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT