ROAR: Opposition activists go green and musical

Members of Russian opposition groups not represented in the parliament have staged two rallies in Kaliningrad and Moscow on the weekend and supported the efforts of ecologists to defend Khimki forest.

About 800 opposition activists, who gathered in the Western Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on August 21, protested against local governor Georgy Boos’ economic and social policies. Representatives of local branches of the Communist Party, Yabloko party, Solidarity movement and local organizations had initially planned to demand the resignation of the unpopular governor.

However, the ruling United Russia party had not included him in the list of nominees for next governor which was submitted to the president. Protesters had to change their slogan and demanded that direct gubernatorial elections be restored. Those that gathered in Kaliningrad also wanted the regional authorities to lower the tariffs set by local utility monopolies.

President Dmitry Medvedev on August 23 nominated Nikolay Tsukanov, head of the Gusev municipality and secretary of the regional branch of United Russia, for governor. The regional legislative assembly will vote on Tsukanov’s candidacy on August 26.

Since January, when several thousand people in Kaliningrad protested against the federal government’s policies, Kaliningrad has been considered by the opposition groups as one of the main centers of protest movements.

Police did not intervene in the event in Kaliningrad. However, several opposition leaders were detained in Moscow next day. Leaders of Solidarity movement Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Sheider tried to organize an unauthorized march after a rally devoted to the State Flag Day staged at the juncture of Novinsky Boulevard and Novy Arbat Street in downtown Moscow.

Lev Ponomarev, one of the organizers of the rally in support of the flag, was detained later on his way to another event that was held on Pushkinskaya Square on August 22. He was accused of breaking the law on rallies and processions. The human rights activist told Interfax he was surprised that people could not “walk in Moscow carrying the Russian flag.”

According to police estimates, about 800 people took part in a separate rally in downtown Moscow in support of the Khimki forest and against the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway that is planned to go through it.

“Greens were protesting on Pushkinskaya Square, supported by opposition activists and musicians,” Vremya Novostey daily wrote in the article titled “Forest, politics, rock-and-roll.” The rally has demonstrated “the union of three radical forces – greens, activists of opposition, not represented in the parliament, and representatives of the old guard of Russian rock,” the paper said. The latter, “like in years of perestroika, have decided to go beyond pure art and take part in politics,” it added.

In contrast to opposition rallies that took place earlier this summer on Triumfalnaya Square and near the Moscow Mayor’s Office, the ecological action on Pushkinskaya Square was approved by the city authorities. However, they only authorized the rally, while the organizers tried to combine the rally with the concert, media say.

The rally was announced as if it was “a free concert of popular singers,” city police department spokesman Viktor Biryukov said. Ponomarev explained that singers often took part in opposition rallies where loudspeakers were used as well as microphones.

Ponomarev said many journalists had mistakenly reported that a concert would be held in the square in support of Khimki forest. At the same time, the authorities “demonstrated their adherence to traditions” and detained some organizers, the daily said.

Prominent rock singer Yury Shevchuk had to sing his songs at the rally without using microphones and loudspeakers. He stressed that he wanted to attract the public’s attention not only to Khimki forest, but also to the logging of forests across Russia – in particular in the Leningrad Region and the Republic of Karelia.

“Some 3,000 people came to Pushkinskaya Square to listen to DDT’s Yury Shevchuk and other musicians,” Kommersant daily said. The opposition activists wanted to combine the authorized rally with a concert, but failed to submit the application 30 days before the event. As a result, police allowed the participants to use megaphones rather than microphones or loudspeakers.

“The crowd could not hear the musicians,” Gazeta daily said. On the other hand, “police did not venture to disperse the biggest rally of non-parliamentary opposition held recently,” the paper added.

Despite some political and musical meaning, the rally was largely devoted to ecological problems, the daily noted. Shevchuk jokingly proposed that the road should bypass the forest and go through Rublevka, the place many Russian rich people live. And the crowd was glad to support him, it wrote.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT