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MOSCOW, March 26 (Itar-Tass) - Moscow City’s own ‘hyde parks’, which the authorities conceived as the sites where the opposition forces could organize open-air actions at their own discretion, run the risk of turning into trivial places of entertainment or into the abodes of mavericks of all sorts.
Moscow City government believes that a project enabling various political forces to organize actions with the participation of up to 2,000 people without obtaining prior consent from state agencies will create a new urban culture of protest actions.
For the time being, the opposition is in no rush to use these new public rostrums and it even voices the concerns that the ‘hyde parks’ will turn into reservations for protesters. The oppositionists fear that the advent of ‘hyde parks’ will sign an end to major actions in the downtown, as the government will stop authorizing them.
Acceptance of applications for holding May Day actions in two ‘hyde parks’ located in the popular Sokolniki park and in the famous downtown Gorky Park was opened in mid-April.
May 1, three actions will supposedly be held in Gorky Park - a meeting against rudeness in everyday communications, a rally of lonely young women and an action titled ‘Merry Drone Bees, or a Labor Day in a Different Context.’
May 5, Gorky Park will become the venue of a rally of lonely urban guys.
The ‘hyde parks’ have room for 1,500 to 2,000 people each and public actions can be held there from 07:00 hours through to 22:00 hours. Applications are accepted by email daily but not later than three days before the suggested date of an action.
There is no need to coordinate anything with the authorities. The organizers are only expected to report to the directorates of the parks.
The idea of allotting ‘specialized sites’ in the city for the relatively large public actions, which could be held without prior coordination with the authorities was first aired at the Moscow Mayoralty in 2011 on the wave of first mass protests that unfolded under the slogans of ‘Make Elections Decent’. Vladimir Putin, too, came up with a proposal in February 2012 to create an analogue of London’s legendary Hyde Park in Moscow.
“All those actions that require the suspension of traffic in the downtown and on major roads and avenues, and the closures of metro stations for exit/entry quite naturally put additional strains on the Muscovites and interfere with their day-by-day life,” Putin said. “People living in Moscow should be treated with respect.”
A law on ‘hyde parks’ was adopted by the Moscow City Duma and a special website was created to allow public activists to vote for the most suitable locations of ‘hyde parks’. As a result, the choice fell on Sokolniki, which is located eastwards off the city center and on Gorky Park, a shrubby area with a number of amusement and organized mass leisure outlets. It is found less than 3 km away from the Kremlin.
Executives at the Gorky Park directorate say that any park is a public space open for everyone.
Vassily Oleinik, a deputy chief of Moscow City’s regional security department, also said on his part there will be no restrictions on the topics of rallies at ‘hyde parks’. He recalled Mayor Sergei Sobyanin's words that activists of the gay and lesbian community will be able to address the audiences at ‘hyde parks’, too, although they have not managed to obtain a proper authorization for whatever actions they had in the capital.
Officials are prepared to welcome gays and die-hard nationalists in the parks - on the sole condition that they will not be violating other Moscow City or federal laws.
Mayoralty officials do not make any secret of the fact that the presence of two permanently functioning floors with a capacity for 2,000 people each will make the officials’ life much easier since they will not have to engage in lengthy talks with the opposition regarding the site a yet another action.
In the meantime, radical oppositionists feel rather skeptical about the whole situation.
“I don’t think anyone will go there,” nonconformist poet and writer Eduard Limonov, the leader of the Other Russia movement said. “I’d like to recommend anyone to stay away from succumbing to that humiliation, violence and blackmail on the part of the authorities.”
“There’ve never been any political rallies in Hyde Park throughout the British history and that’s why I felt just sick when the authorities goaded everyone to those dog cots as sites for political meetings,” Limonov said. “That’s just disgusting.”
“Then a ban on public actions will be imposed as regards whatever other places except the ‘hyde parks’, and in the next phase we’ll be encircled with barbed with,” he said.
Sergei Davidis, an organizer of large oppositionist actions, believes that the authorities are only putting up pretence of willingness to meet the protest movement half-way.
“At the beginning everything was shown off as an effort to organize a dialogue with the opposition but it is clear in the current situation that this is done for the sole purpose of limiting off the public activity and gaining support from the conservatives who wouldn’t like to see public actions on downtown streets,” Davidis said.
Analysts say that the off-parliament opposition is split on the issue of ‘hyde parks’. Davidis himself believes that the availability of a site where meetings can be organized promptly and without soliciting the government’s consent ‘is good enough news’.
He does not see any big promise for the opposition in this fact, however. “I don’t think we’ll be putting really big stakes on these sites because it’s much more rewarding to exert impact on people in the urban environment rather than in the parks of any kind,” Davidis said.