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Opposition action in Moscow not sanctioned, activists want to come out all the same

December 13, 2012, 15:15 UTC+3
The opposition suggested several options for the march of up to 50,000, with each one ending on Lubyanka Square
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MOSCOW, December 13 (Itar-Tass) —— After long negotiations with Moscow’s city authorities, the opposition has failed to get a permit for its March of Freedom planned for December 15. Nonetheless, it says the action will all the same be held in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square. On the one hand, it limits the opposition’s possibilities – it is unlawful to call on people to take part in an unauthorized action, but, on the other hand, if people do come to Lubyanka Square and police try to crackdown on protesters, serious disturbances might follow. Meanwhile, the bulk of Russians, according to opinion polls conducted a year after mass protest actions in Russia’s big cities that followed the parliamentary elections of December 2012, are now showing political apathy.

The action’s organizers and the Moscow Mayor’s Office failed to reach a compromise agreement on possible routes of the opposition march. The opposition has not been allowed to stage its action in any of Moscow’s downtown squares.

The opposition suggested several options for the march of up to 50,000, with each one ending on Lubyanka Square. The authorities however said that traffic suspension around this square in the very centre of Moscow might be fraught with a traffic collapse, despite the fact that the action is to take place on a weekend day. None of the three options offered by the authorities was accepted by the opposition.

“The talks have ended in nothing. We have been offered to hold the action where the Mayor’s Office wants but we are not happy with it. Otherwise, the action will not be authorized,” said Sergei Udaltsov, the Left Front coordinator, who is accused of masterminding mass riots throughout Russia.

“The Mayor’s Office apparently has felt that crisis is maturing in the protest movement and just stopped listening to us,” the Kommersant newspaper quoted Sergei Davidis, a member of the Solidarity movement. “They have lent a deaf ear to us, so we shall all come out to Lubyanka Square on December 15.”

It is planned that participants in the would-be unsanctioned action will lay flowers at the Solovki Stone on Lubyanka Square, a monument to victims of political repressions, stand there for some 15 minutes and go away, not provoking the police.

According to Boris Nemtsov, a co-leader of RPR-PARNAS (Republican Party of Russia – People's Freedom Party), the only reason that underlies the city’s authorities is to strip the opposition of time for agitation. “Under the new law, it is forbidden to invite people to an action until it is authorized,” he said.

The authorities’ plan seems to work, observers say. The time for agitation is lost. Most Moscow residents are unaware of the would-be action. Opposition leaders however have promised to abide by the new law and not to call on people to join the unsanctioned action.

“Neither myself nor anybody else are going to call on people take part in unauthorized actions. But we will not call on them not to do it, either,” Udaltsov said. “They will have to cordon off the entire centre of the city, to install police cordons around the entire downtown Moscow, because they will never know where people might come from. But the action might draw thousands of people, although less than in case has been authorized. So what? They all be arrested or detained? I think is it a big mistake.”

The authorities have asked the opposition to abstain from the action on December 15. “It might trigger a conflict situation with the police,” said Alexei Mayorov, the head of the Moscow city’s regional security department. According to Mayorov, the Mayor’s Office has warned law enforcement agencies and the prosecutor’s office.

The December 15 action was geared to mark a year’s anniversary of mass protests in Russia. December 10, 2012 saw large-scale actions throughout Russia protesting against vote rigging at the elections to the State Duma lower parliament house earlier in that month. According to various estimates, from 25,000 to 100,000 protesters gathered on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square.

While the Moscow authorities and the opposition tried to agree about the route of the March of Freedom on December 15, sociologists conducted a number of public opinion polls to see the moods in society. Thus, it turned out that the majority of Russians are disappointed that the protest actions have brought about no actual results. Nonetheless, people do not trust the authorities and harbor no illusions about possible changes.

According to the Levada-Centre polling agency, society is tired both of the authorities, rallies, and the opposition. Despite the fact that the number of those who supported the opposition was up in November on October, sociologists are not apt to call it “a burst of activity,” the Kommersant cites Alexei Grazhdankin, a deputy director of Levada-Centre. The number of those who support protest actions, such as the notorious March of Millions, increased from eight to eleven percent over a month. The number of those who “rather support” protest rallies also went up – from 22 percent in October to 29 percent in November.

Sociologists however are not sure these figures indicate to a “burst of activity,” Grazhdankin said. Thus, he reminded, in September a total of 13 percent of the polled said they supported opposition actions, and nine percent approved of them in August. Another “burst” was registered in July – as many as 11 percent were in favor of protest actions, but the figure was a mere seven percent a month before.

According to Grazhdankin, such variations of public moods stem from “the government’s errors rather than from the opposition’s efforts.” Whenever the authorities take unpopular decisions, President Vladimir Putin’s rating degrades and pro-opposition moods flourish. But as soon as the authorities manage to win back popular likes, interest to protest actions subsides.

All the while, less and less people believe that protests helped “to change the situation in the country for the better.” The share of skeptics is a stable 58-59 percent. People also doubt that organizers of protest actions have any “program of actions to improve the situation in the country.” In November 2011, a total of 22 percent believed in such a program, and now only 20 percent still do it now. But the number of those who believe that the opposition “is only criticizing the authorities having no constructive program” has gone up from last year’s 49 percent to the current 57 percent.

“The majority of people are really apathetic,” admits opposition leader Sergei Udalstov. But the main thing, he claims, is that “a rather big group of activists of the protest movement has formed over the year.”

Vladimir Ryzhkov, another co-leader of RPR-PARNAS, also seems not be daunted by the decreasing number of supporters of street protest actions. These are the people who “are really worried over the problems of democracy and human rights,” he claims.

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