Photostory: a brave new dawn in Moscow

Ilya Varlamov is one of Russia's leading photojournalists, enjoying prominence for his memorable narratives of the country's dramatic politics. Here we present his take on the Russian New Year. It proved to be an unforgettable one for dozens of activists, who in highly controversial circumstances found themselves arrested before the new year had begun.

Ilya Varlamov
7 January 2011

As on the 31st day of preceding months, pro-democracy activists held a protest rally on New Years Eve in defence of article 31 of the Russian constitution: the right to freely assemble, demonstrate and protest. Thanks to the efforts of veteran campaigner Liudmilla Alexeeva, it was the first "Strategy-31" meeting the authorities had expressly sanctioned. The movement's new found legality did not, however, deter police, who made a number of controversial arrests of leading activists. 

"Happy new year to Putin-the-gnat and Medvedev-the-weasel!"

"For the restoration of law in Russia! Against the yoke of the nomenklatura bandits!" The guilty verdict and uncompromising sentencing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, coming just four days before New Years Eve, was very fresh in the minds of activists.

Former Deputy Prime Minister and opposition activist Boris Nemstov was arrested for allegedly disobeying police, a charge he denies and which is unsubstantiated by video footage. The sensational arrest made the usually cautious government and business operator Anatoly Chubais speak out, leaving the following message on his blog: "I am sure that any normal person will have the same questions about this as I do. And this means that these questions have to be answered. And not by the courts, whose credibility has been undermined, but by the authorities themselves".

Nemstov remains in jail. 


Ilya Yashin is a political activist and, along with Nemstov, a leading figure in the "Solidarity" opposition grouping (link in Russian). He was arrested at the Strategy-31 meeting and later charged with impeding the arrest of Nemtsov. TV footage shows quite clearly that the arrest of Nemtsov occurred after Yashin's own arrest, meaning that such a scenario was not only implausible but physically impossible. Yashin was released yesterday. 

"Soldier! Join us!"

Meanwhile on Red Square... Migrant workers from former Soviet nations were denied the chance to see in the new year as they had wanted to, from Moscow's premier public space. As 2011 approached, police held almost 2000 of them on the adjoining Manezhnaya Square. Authorities denied such a thing occurred: "No one was held on Manezhnaya last Friday", declared an official spokesman. 

Ilya Varlamov's blog, in Russian, is located here. His personal website is here.

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