Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Episode 27: Rob gets chased by riot police or an update on Moscow's political climate

The protesters on the other side of the river threw another riot police helmet into the murky water. An enormous cheer rose up from the crowd and I found myself joining in. I covered my mouth immediately. Oh good lord!" I thought, "I, a foreigner, cannot possibly be seen to get involved in this!" This is not directly my fight, but nonetheless, Moscow, my home for the next 3 months, is a bit of a battleground at the moment and I am somewhat in the thick of it.
Communist Party and "Leftist Front" flags as the protest built up

In going to observe the so-called "March of Millions" protest against the inauguration of Vladimir Putin as the country's new president, I had accidentally ended up a part of the protest. I watched from behind the front row as Police dragged Udaltsov and Navalny (two "leaders" of the opposition movement) off of the stage literally seconds into their speeches. Having distanced myself to the other side of the river, where I considered myself to be a safe distance from the actual, political action, I was suddenly aware of the large column of riot police marching facelessly towards the crowd gathered around me.

They rounded the corner and bore down on us. Despite having been given the official go-ahead, this protest, and anyone simply watching from the sidelines, was being broken up forcefully. "The allotted time for this event has passed," a Police announcer spoke, "Kindly leave the streets by the nearest metro." Before I knew it a line of more vehement protesters had began to charge the police, batons were drawn and scraps broke out. A man was hit with a baton. A policeman stumbled over a dustbin. People around me started to run. The crowd was made up of many different people: the middle-aged, the middle-class, the elderly, parents with their children and a lot of youths who really didn't want to see any violence. It was a shame that anyone had to get hurt; protesters or police. The image portrayed by certain television stations of the protesters being violent yobs paid for by NATO is both ridiculous and uninformed. The image portrayed by the protesters of the police being bloodthirsty and mismanaged is equally askew at times.

Riot Police blocking off the Kremlin (St Basil's in the background)

Needless to say there was not bloodshed or rioting on an epic scale. Protesters, including one extremely enraged babushka, drummed and tore up some corrugated-iron scaffolding, but on the whole the conduct of the police and protesters was not disproportionately savage. Eventually the police herded us towards the metro and the crowd broke up. I left the area quickly not wanting to risk accidental arrest. There was an ugly rumour going around all day of the police being given an arrest quota to act as a fear tactic with officers simply picking up anyone they could lay a hand on easily. I hope this is untrue.

The impression I have now is that Moscow, backed by new protest movements from Astrakhan and St Petersburg, is a city given another shot at a Spring-time rebellion. Tonight, all over Moscow, people are desperately trying to occupy squares and boulevards to prolong the action. The warm weather is on their side. As a foreigner, I know better than to get involved directly, and, as always, my opinion on this blog is something to be kept veiled. All I can conclude is that there is a deep and mostly peaceful unrest here, but things are getting more and mores desperate as well, on both sides of the political line.

more soon...

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