2007/05/12

Events around the Dissenters' March in Samara

Some days ago I wrote about plans of Russian opposition to organize one more Dissenters' March, this time in Samara, on May 18, during the EU-Russia summit in a luxury hotel Volzhsky Utyos (The Cliff on Volga) not far from Samara (about 130 kilometres). On May 8, the organizers of the demonstration announced that they reached an agreement with the city authorities. They said that the administration of Samara offered to shorten the planned route of the march and that they agreed with these proposals, since they were not as absurd as the alternatives presented by the Moscow administration to the organizers of similar actions. However, on the next day, the city administration denounced these news saying that they neither proposed any alternatives nor agreed on the terms of the opposition. Moreover, the administration sent a letter to the Dissenters offering the hold a meeting on a remote stadium three days later, on May 21. To tell you the truth, I think that the organizers were a bit provocative when planning to march along one the most trafficked roads in the city centre in the end of a week-day. However, the consultations continued during the week.

The week was full of events. As I wrote before, some of the organizers were detained. On 9 May, 8 people who posted leaflets inviting the citizens to join the protests were detained. The authorities announced that the leaflets used Nazi symbols and provoked national hatred. Correspondents of Commersant newspaper and Ren-TV channel who came to Samara from Moscow to interview the local opposition leaders were also detained on the pretext that they did not have necessary IDs. On May 10, all typographies of the city were searched for printed materials of the opposition. Also on 10 May, police raided the office of the grassroots association for the electors' rights Golos and confiscated computers. The leaders and the staff of the association were not present at the office at that moment. Earlier, the leader of the association Lyudmila Kuzmina attended a radio programme devoted to the upcoming Dissenters' March. On 11 May, the office of a local newspaper Novaya gazeta was raided by police. Three computers were confiscated because of alleged use of pirated software. Later on the same day, the tax police confiscated financial documents of the newspaper. The newspaper planned to cover the preparations to the march in the issue on May 14. The editor-in-chief of this newspaper is Sergey Kurt-Adzhiyev, whose daughter, Anastasia Kurt-Adzhiyeva, is a member of the organizational committee of the Dissenters' March in Samara. The impression was that the authorities will do their best to give absolutely no chances on May 18. Moscow Helsinki Watch group sent a lawyer to Samara to provide legal protection to the detained activists.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially asked Russian authorities to allow the planned march of the opposition in Samara and show some tolerance towards the protesters. Tomas Steg, a representative of the German government, said: "The critics must have a way to express their point of view. In our discussions with the Russian president we always stress the importance of observing the basic human rights, including the right of assembly."

We will never know if this address of the German government affected the policy of the Russian regime, but I think that this was a very important point in the developing events. On 11 May, the opposition leaders, Anastasia Kurt-Adzhiyeva, Roman Mishurov and Mikhail Merkushev were invited to the city administration and received the official permission for the action. This time the agreement of the administration was given in the written form. So, the march will take place at 17:00 local time, on 18 May. The planned route is very short, less than 1 kilometre and it will be followed by a rally on the embankment of Volga. Moreover, the administration of Chelyabinsk also gave their permission to hold a Dissenters' March in this city in Urals on May 19, although the route was changed, too. Up to now, only on May 1 the actions of the opposition were sanctioned by the administration of St.Petersburg.

Does it mean that the march will take place as planned? Not really. First, the violence in St.Petersburg (on April 15)started when the protesters were already leaving the place of the rally. There may be provocators who will attempt to attack police forces. Second, attempts to discredit the protest may be expected. For example, on 28 April, in Chelyabinsk, a small group of protesters, about 30 people, were joined by a group of blondes in rose dresses, who held the slogans protesting against insufficient attention of the police towards blondes. Another group of young people came with skis and skates and "protested" against the coming summer. If the number of real opposition members in Samara will be low, such provocation may turn the protest into the theatre of absurd.

At least, the opposition has already made one large blunder, in my humble opinion. They scheduled the protest on 17:00 on a week-day, the time when most people are still at work. The organizers are mostly university students, but this immediately cuts off tens or maybe even hundreds of people who could attend the protest, but will be unable to do so.