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Following adjudications in respect of a number of Russian opposition leaders, activists of the protest movement have opted to change tactics and begin an open confrontation with the authorities.
On Thursday, Moscow’s courts considered cases of three notorious Russian opposition activists, Sergei Udaltsov, Alexei Navalny, and Eduard Limonov. Alexei Navalny was fined 1,000 roubles (about 35 U.S. dollars) on charges of violating rules of mass actions. Limonov’s case on the same charges was adjourned to April 2, and the leader of the Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov was sentenced to a ten-day arrest for disobeying police after a rally in Moscow’s Novy Arbat Street on March 10.
Udaltsov met the verdict by announcing a dry hunger strike. His previous hunger strike ended in an intensive care ward.
After these verdicts, the opposition leaders have decided to change tactics of street protests. The organizing committee of the For Fair Elections rallies said it would no longer seek permits from the city authorities to hold a million-strong march on May 5.
According to Navalny, the results of the Thursday court hearings exposed “the authorities’ attitude towards the protest movement” and were the last evidence proving that any attempts to seek authorities’ permission are pointless. So, in his words, the opposition has to review its tactics of street actions.
“As a matter of fact, the committee that organized previous rallies has finished its work. Now there only is a group of like-minded persons, so this committee is necessary no more. We no longer agree to a regime when rallies are only held where the Moscow mayor’s office allows. I see no point in further negotiations with the mayor’s office,” he said.
In the mean time, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has prepared an unpleasant surprise for his opponents. On Thursday, he decreed to declare Monday, May 7, or his inauguration day, a day-off in the country, instead of Saturday, May 5. The matter is that the opposition planned to stage mass rallies on May 5, ahead of the inauguration. Now, it turns out that Saturday will be a working day, moreover, it will be the last working day before long holidays, when people traditionally go to the countryside to open a high season at their kitchen gardens.
The idea of a “march of millions” in Moscow on May 5 came from Sergei Udaltsov. Under his design, people should simply take to streets and stay where they are “until some high-ranking official comes out to negotiate with us, because the previous rallies proved that they do not understand it in another way.”
A source in the vanished For Fair Elections organizing committee told the Kommersant daily what will be done next. In April, the opposition plans to make a wide use of social networks to lay bare their plans about the march’s route, slogans and possible reaction from the authorities. Activists admitted that they would apply for a permit for all that, but would not show at the mayor’s office for squaring.
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta cites one of the action organizers, Solidarnost (Solidarity) activist Mark Galperin, as saying that the opposition seems to be disappointed that efforts to convert winter’s mass protest movement into the democratization of the country have regrettably failed. Now, rank and file opposition members have decided to take the initiative.
On Saturday, March 17, the so-called people’s committee For Fair Elections will hold its first meeting in Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square. Opposition activists plan to outline their protest strategy now that the former organizing committee is gone for good and all. The authorities have refused to sanction the rally but the organizers pledged they would come in any case, with no slogans or banners in order to keep within law. Activists said from now on they would gather in the Pushkinskaya Square each Saturday.
This time, organizers do not plan to invite popular opposition leaders, although activists from such opposition movements as Belaya Lenta (White Ribbon), Oborona (Defence), Grazhdanskoye Deistviye (Civil Action), RosAgita, Solidarnost, and others have said they would come.
Activists from the Proryv (Breakthrough) movement plan a series of single-person pickets in Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square overnight to March 18. “Each of us will spend here an hour, holding white flowers, white air balls or other white-colored things,” organizers said.
Meanwhile, political opponents of the off-parliament opposition – pro-Kremlin movements – plan no actions for April and May. Mikhail Dukhovich from the unified action headquarters, embracing such movements as Mestnye (Locals), Young Russia, etc. told the Kommersant that pro-Kremlin movements are not taking the opposition plans seriously. “Opposition claims to draw millions are ridiculous,” he said.
The police also cast doubts that the opposition rally might draw a million protesters but said they are ready to protect law and order anyway. A police source told the newspaper that the police are ready for any protest actions in May. “If a rally wins authorization, we will ensure law and order, if not, we will break it up in strict correspondence with law,” the source stressed.
The skepticism seems to be well-grounded. Protest rallies and marches of “angry citizens” against unfair elections started in last December and climaxed in February, when such actions drew up to 100,000 people. But after the presidential elections of March 4, when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won more than 63 percent of the vote, protest moods have been subsiding. The March 10 protest rally in Moscow’s Novy Arbat Street drew, according to police, only 10,000 people, whereas organizers planned to draw up to 50,000.
Experts believe the protest movement is on the decrease because Russians do not want any “colored revolutions,” and the opposition has failed to offer any clear political program to consolidate the protest electorate.
MOSCOW, March 16