For more than a decade, Vladimir Putin headed a soft authoritarian system that masterminded the dark arts of spin, corruption, repression, censorship and occasionally naked violence. If he were to be as open as former Hungarian prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsanyi, perhaps he too might admit “we lied morning, noon and night”.
Up until a few short weeks ago, those courageous enough to Russian challenge the regime were few, marginalised and often reverted to desperate politics; the Kremlin found it an easy game to dismiss them as unrepresentative of the people. Today, all that has changed. Election fraud has politicised a once passive nation. More citizens than ever before are standing up to the lies.
On Saturday December 10, many tens of thousands of Muscovites turned up at a massive rally on Bolotnaya Square. People in hundreds of other Russian towns also took to the streets to send Kremlin a powerful message. Asserting the very basic human rights, their demands were simple: freedom to political prisoners, a re-run of the elections, proper investigation of election violations, the dismissal of disgraced Chair of the Electoral Commission Vladimir Churov, and the removal of barriers that prevented opposition parties participating in the election. They have given the authorities 2 weeks to act on these demands.
openDemocracy Russia presents sample photos from this impressive day of Russian civil disobedience.
There was some controversy over the location of the protest. Some opposition groups preferred to organise the protest meeting on Revolution Square in close proximity to the Kremlin (with three metro station located under the square it would simplify the logistics of bringing thousands of protesters to the protest). After negotiations with city authorities, organisers agreed to move the meeting across the river to Bolotnaya Square. In the end only the most radical groups gathered at Revolution Square. (Photo: Anton Belitsky, Ridus).
Across the river, to Bolotnaya Square
Bolotnaya Square is located on an island, south of the Moscow Kremlin, on the southern bank of the Moscow river. In order to discourage people to take part in the meeting, police warned them a bridge leading there might collapse under the moving crowds. (Photo: Anton Belitsky, Ridus)
Putin’s Russia has never seen a protest like this. Russians were clear: election fraud was not to be swallowed; the time has come to end the rule of ‘party of swindlers and thieves'. (Photo: Ridus)
The Planet of Protest
Neither officials nor the organisers of the demonstrations can provide reliable information on the exact number of participants but the general consensus among the public is that Bolotnaya Square in the centre of Moscow attracted somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand activists. Speakers at the event included communists, Just Russia members and liberals as well as the popular individuals: prominent journalist Leonid Parfenov, writer Boris Akunin and Oleg Kashin of Kommersant newpaper, who read out the letter of jailed activist blogger Alexei Navalny. (Photo: airpano.ru)
Communists and other leftist groups too felt cheated by the Kremlin election machinery. (Photo: Anton Belitsky, Ridus)
Anarchists and nationalists
Anarchists and nationalists joined the Moscow rally too. Some political analysts are worried that growing Russian nationalism may hinder Russia’s return to democracy. (Photo: Anton Belitsky, Ridus)
"Wizard, where is my vote?" - 178% of Russians want answers from the head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov. (Photo: Anton Belitsky, Ridus)
‘We demand fair elections’
The underlying cause of the whole rally was to achieve a rerun of the elections, though slogans like "Russia without Putin" were also very popular on the day. (Photo: Anton Belitsky, Ridus)
Tver' is a 400 000-strong city located north of Moscow. It was formerly the capital of a powerful medieval state and a model provincial town. The 400 partcipant-strong rally against electoral fraud was the largest demo the city has seen for years. The most radical protesters did not hide their dream of Russia without Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Jury Surin, jury-tver.livejournal.com via Ridus)
Apatity, Murmansk oblast
"Right to vote". Unable to receive official permission for the protest meeting and afraid of the police brutality, civil rights campaigners in Apatity, Murmansk used toys to display banners with their demands instead. The square in front of the city administration building was used to gather little plastic animals and vehicles. Toys are not forbidden to demonstrate, joke the action organizers. (Photo: fontanka.ru)
Despite the number of police, the protests were absolutely non-violent and were not accompanied by mass arrests as was the case in previous rallies. Friendly police as well as coverage of the protests on the pro-Kremlin TV channels give hope that authorities are making the right conclusions, at least for the time being. (Photo: Anton Belitsky, Ridus)
Photos provided by Ridus (www.ridus.ru) - an online civil journalism agency.