April 12, 2007
4 Rallies Vying for Hearts, Minds and Streets
By Nabi Abdullaev
Organizers of the Dissenters' March knew they would face trouble obtaining permission to rally Saturday on Pushkin Square. But they didn't realize that their voices might be drowned out by three other rallies called for the same day.
Still, the organizers vowed Wednesday that opposition activists would gather on Pushkin Square at noon -- even though the pro-Kremlin Young Guard organization secured permission to meet at the same place at the same time.
"Perhaps we will change our minds if a huge meteorite hits Earth before noon Saturday," said Alexander Averin, a spokesman for the unregistered National Bolshevik Party who had requested a permit for the march from City Hall.
National Bolsheviks form the core of The Other Russia, the opposition group that also includes Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front and Mikhail Kasyanov's Popular Democratic Union. The coalition has held three marches since December: in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. The last two were dispersed by police.
A third rally called for Saturday is being organized by the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration and the Congress of Russian Communities -- both of which say they hope to undermine the Dissenters' March. The fourth rally will be held by the liberal Union of Right Forces party, or SPS, which expressed regret that the timing of its rally and the march nearly coincided.
The many rallies appear to be an attempt by authorities to split protesters and neutralize the Dissenters' March, political analysts said.
"The authorities are working to splinter the opposition and not allow a united street protest," said Sergei Mikheyev, a political analyst at the Center for Political Technologies.
Many members of SPS's youth wing also participate in Kasyanov's Popular Democratic Union, and they will have to decide which rally to attend, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst with Panorama.
Activists in the Dissenters' March plan to call for the elimination of "anti-constitutional" laws that will make it difficult for opposition parties to take part in State Duma elections in December and for the creation of a coalition government based upon the results of the elections. They also will demand a free presidential vote next March.
City Hall last week rejected an application to march from Pushkin Square down Tverskaya Ulitsa to Teatralnaya Ploshchad. On Wednesday, City Hall said the protesters could meet on Turgenev Square, just to the northeast of the Kremlin.
Averin said protesters would gather on Pushkin Square and may then march to Turgenev Square. He said a final route would be announced later this week.
A senior City Hall official urged march organizers to limit the gathering to Turgenev Square. A march would disrupt traffic and "violate the rights of other citizens," the official, Nikolai Kulikov, said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
The City Prosecutor's Office issued a statement reminding the National Bolsheviks that prosecutors had ordered them in March not to participate in rallies. Prosecutors consider the group extremist.
Also Wednesday, Moscow police detained a National Bolshevik activist carrying several issues of a newspaper published by the United Civil Front that called for participation in the march, Averin said. Moscow prosecutors opened an inquiry Tuesday into whether the newspaper had broken the law by calling on readers to attend the unauthorized march.
St. Petersburg police on Wednesday also detained several Dissenters' March organizers who were passing out the newspaper, Ekho Moskvy reported.
Young Guard obtained a permit to gather 15,000 people at noon Saturday on Pushkin Square and Vorobyovy Gory near Moscow State University. The group obtained the permit by filing its application just a minute before Averin did on behalf of The Other Russia, City Hall said.
Young Guard spokesman Vadim Zharko said the decision to apply for the permit was ultimately made to prevent the Dissenters' March. "For us, this was a very important thing that was decided not even by our Moscow branch but by our federal headquarters," he said.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and the Congress of Russian Communities will hold a joint rally at Bolotnaya Ploshchad, just south of the Kremlin.
"The liberal opposition, supported by Washington, has taken a lesson in seizing the street initiative from Russian nationalists," the two groups said in a joint statement. The Congress of Russian Communities is led by the Duma Deputy Dmitry Rogozin.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, SPS will hold a rally at Slavyanskaya Ploshchad to protest purported falsifications of regional legislature elections in March that the party lost by a narrow margin.
Party spokeswoman Anna Solodukha said the timing of the rally had nothing to do with the Dissenters' March and was also tied to upcoming legislative assembly elections in Krasnoyarsk.
She said it was a shame that the rally and the march nearly coincide and expressed hope that marchers would join the rally.
The Other Russia leaders sent an open letter to President Vladimir Putin and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev on Tuesday, calling on them not to deploy OMON riot policemen on Saturday and at similar marches planned for St. Petersburg on Sunday and in Nizhny Novgorod on April 28.