December 12, 2011

At the Demonstration

At the Demonstration

The demonstration was scheduled to start at 2 pm, so in the morning I visited my university to do a little work in the laboratory.  Two other guys from my lab group also intended to go to the demonstration on Bolotnaya Square.  After class, I went home to drop off my bag.  On blogs and online discussions, they advised us not to bring bags or wear clothing with hoods; if police tried to catch you, there would be fewer things they could grab onto.

The subway was as crowded as it is on weekdays, and lots of people had white ribbons pinned to their clothes.  Some were carrying white flowers, as well.  On our way to the square, we stopped in a flower shop, and they gave us white ribbons free.

The crowds gathered from three different directions.  Every route to the square was controlled by police and troops.  I had never seen such numbers of armed forces before; it was like a movie about civil war.  There was even a police helicopter and an emergency boat in the river.  There was only one entrance to the square, and no one could enter without walking through a metal detector and passing by guards.  The stage was at the opposite end of the square, and we started to make our way through the crowd.  As the Russian saying goes, there was no room for an apple to fall down.  But what surprised me was that everyone was very polite, saying, “Please let me pass by,” or “Sorry, can you move a little, I can’t see the stage.”

Lots of people carried flags and posters. “Give me my vote back!”, “We don’t need no fake elections” (clearly carried by a Pink Floyd fan), “United Russia is a party of crooks and thieves.”  The demonstration embraced a wide variety of very different social movements.  There were communists, democrats, anarchists, nationalists, students, and even children.  Activists distributed written rules of behavior and guides for what to do if arrested by the police or lost in the crowd.  Cell phones barely worked because of the network overload.

Toward the back of the square, you could hardly hear what was happening on the stage, so I started to squeeze through to get closer.  Some of the most popular slogans were “Putin—go away!”, “Russia without Putin and Medvedev!”, “We insist on re-elections!”  I yelled slogans with everyone else, and I was incredibly happy that so many people got up from their computer chairs and took their protest from the internet out into the streets.  Everyone was so pleasant and kind, with beautiful smiles.

The most important thing is that no one wants revolution.  It would be the third one in the last hundred years, and that would be too much for Russia.  The only thing we all demanded was simple and clear—we need re-elections and we need our votes to be counted fairly and thoroughly.  That’s it—no war, no violence, just a fair, legal, democratic government.

It was the biggest demonstration since 1991, and at the end of the day, someone from the stage said thank you to the police.  It was the first permitted opposition action where no one was arrested in Moscow.  Similar demonstrations took place on Saturday in 90 cities throughout Russia.  I hope our actions will have a result.

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Victor is a 21-year-old student in Moscow. In this guest post, he explains why he, and so many of his generation, is fed up with Russia's electoral system, and why he will be going out to protest on December 10.

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