Protests in the Russian Regions: Take Two

Map of Russia and Russian Flag adapted from images at state.gov

Subject: Week Two in the Regions
Date: Mon, 1 Feb 2021
From: Sarah Lindemann-Komarova <echosiberia@gmail.com>

Protests in the Russian Regions: Take Two
By Sarah Lindemann-Komarova
Has lived in Siberia since 1992. Was a community development activist for 20 years. Currently, focuses on research and writing.
With Photos: echosiberia.medium.com/protests-in-the-russian-regions-take-two-98aa9b451f09

What happened in the Russian regions week two of the “Navalny” protests? There were less protesters with a couple of exceptions (Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg that I know of), more cops and press everywhere, and more arrests. Young people were valiantly running around livestreaming protesters as they roamed or were being moved around their cities. In Vladivostok, an enterprising group fled to the ocean ice out of the land security personnel jurisdiction. They played songs including the viral Putin palace inspired “Aquadiscotek”. The coverage sometimes included side trips on buses to police stations to show their press credentials before returning to the protests. Livestreams included Navalny Headquarters and NGU.ru in Novosibirsk, RusNews Khabarovsk, You Tube channel Sotavision broadcast livestreams from Vladivostok, Perm, Kazan, Syktyvkar, AND New York. The audience for the streams in some of these cities was over 200,000. Meanwhile, the majority of the country was busy doing what they do on a winter Sunday afternoon when they are not protesting.

This is more and more looking like a reality show for an at home audience. That doesn’t mean it isn’t significant or serious. It is impossible to meaningfully assess the ultimate impact because the numbers still aren’t as impressive as they should be to imply the kind of challenge to Putin that is being bandied about. 5–6,000 in Novosibirsk, the 3rd largest city in Russia. And, whatever happens in Moscow or St. Petersburg, they are only home to 12.5% of the Russian population. An important clue will come this week with new Levada Center statistics, if Navalny goes up a lot and/or Putin down that is something. The discontent is very real, wide, and deep. The biggest constraint to this being really something is Navalny himself, he is unappealing to a large number of people. Many quotes from protesters included the codicil “I am not for Navalny but…”.

A woman posted on Head of Novosibirsk Navalny Headquarters and City Deputy Sergey Boyko’s (currently in jail for 28 days for organizing the first protest) Facebook page why she doesn’t support Navalny and would not be attending this protest but might in the future.

“I do not believe him. I do not see objectivity. I do not see any competent proposals for ‘what’s next.’ I see something similar to calls for a revolution (which is always beneficial to someone, but not for the people)…. But I am against the disrespect of the authorities for the people. Against the open expression of unauthorized autocracy. I don’t like that they do not value us and am absolutely sure they think they can do whatever they want with us.”

Sveta Mokovetskaya, Head of a leading civil society development organization and member of the President’s Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, returned as an observer for week two in Perm.

“There were significantly fewer people and many more police than last week….The streets were cordoned off, there were rows of law enforcement officers and scattered groups of people…Buses with detainees or waiting detainees periodically caught our eye. There were very few posters or chants…. I have never seen so many police officers with shields, helmet,s and black uniforms in my city….. I saw only a few arrests, the policemen acted quite correctly in these cases. Different types of people attended. Young women and men were ready to show their passports if law enforcement officials approached them, there were almost no minors. It was an absolutely peaceful action. .. I heard lawyers and members of the Public Monitoring Commission were not allowed to see detainees. For the first time in the history the Perm Ombudsman, representatives were also not allowed to see them. I know of a case when a bus with detainees stood for an hour and a half near the Distract Office of Internal Affairs…. it is not clear why the police response to the protest action was so harsh and intense. I am not a lover of protest meetings and I am not a supporter of Navalny, but this is not just about him. For Perm, this is shameful.”

The protesters from Gorno Altaisk, whose week one report included a fundraiser for 50 grams (of vodka) to warm up their hands, posted they were alone to protest on what was a perfect Siberian winter day (bright sunshine and -2C). It appears they got the location wrong and the official non-official protest attracted 30 people, down from 100 last week. That presented a good news/bad news situation for the protest organizer and publisher of the regions opposition newspaper. He was warned he would be fined if more than 100 showed up due to COVID restrictions. It is not clear if this type of fine would be covered by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation that promised to cover fines for anyone arrested.

In Novosibirsk, SibFM Internet newspaper published a first-hand account by local expert Valentin Talanov as he escorted his Moscow friend Slava around the protests. When they finally located some protesters Slava was excited there would finally be some grand slogans and demands.

“His prediction did not come true. People standing in the human chain politely chanted about who is in power, about freedom, and about shame. From time to time, the most active ‘soldiers’ were taken by special forces to their special vehicles. Young people standing next to us were betting on who would be ‘tied up next’. The one who guessed two of the three detainees noted that a week ago they took the most violent, and today they are left with taking the stupidest. A hipster girl of about twenty shouted, ‘This is our Square’, but no one supported her. A couple of minutes later, the security forces efficiently and harmoniously escorted the entire protest mass to the paths… No one was injured or really objected… people began to disperse and go on about their business.

Slava: Is that it?
Valentine: Yeah, what were you waiting for?
Slava: Skirmishes, blows with batons, intransigence, shouting, really smart charismatic characters, the kind we love … Or even broken cars, shop windows.
Valentin: This isn’t Moscow.
Slava: You know, it’s actually good that Novosibirsk cannot conduct a radical protest. Today it was just an easy walk. So many people and such order.

They went to a bar and hung out. When they left around 5PM, “we didn’t remember anything about the protest action in Novosibirsk”.

Slava and Valentin heard that somewhere in the crowd was Viktor Tolokonsky, former Novosibirsk Mayor, Governor for ten years (as well as an interim stint as Krasnoyarsk Governor), and President’s Representative of the Siberian Okrug for four years. His presence on the 31st remains a rumor but he confirmed his participation in the first protest in an NGS.ru interview,

“I have gotten used to being where my fellow countrymen are, where the townspeople are, where there are many people…People behaved peacefully. I have not seen any aggression, not from the people or law enforcement agencies…Such events are normal in all major cities in this country… The degree of dissatisfaction, the desire for justice in people is growing all the time. And these are far from the first actions. In this case Navalny and in some ways, the authorities catalyzed this process. Navalny’s arrival, his arrest…People expressed their desire to improve their lives, to have more effective and just actions by the authorities. This is far from the first year or the first month, this is a very natural situation.”

In between week one and two protests, activist Andrey Borovikov posted a photo on Twitter of an unsanctioned protest by snowmen holding up signs that was organized by Elena Kalinina in Arkhangelsk. She was detained and the posters were removed.

Stay tuned.