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On Saturday, the authorities for the first time responded to the oppositional protests of the past few months. Alongside the street procession and rally For Fair Elections Moscow saw an ‘anti-orange rally’ by Vladimir Putin’s supporters. Both were massive events. According to police sources, the rally at the Poklonnaya Gora memorial on Saturday brought together a crowd of 138,000, and the opposition’s demonstration on Bolotnaya square, up to 36,000. According to the organizers, in other cities of Russia about 68,000 demonstrated “For fair elections,” and 84,000 in support of Vladimir Putin.
When it made a decision to split the political forces into several columns, the organizing committee surely did not expect the effect that it achieved in the end, says Kommersant. There was a real parade of oppositional forces several hundred meters long. The Communists formed a perfect column under the slogan Down with the Presidential Monarchy. Right before them there was a miniature Russian March – nationalists with the imperial flags, wearing masks and chanting insults against the group of sexual minorities walking in front of them. There were separate columns of Yabloko, Solidarity and supporters of the sole presidential candidate that came to the demonstration, Mikhail Prokhorov.
Nobody recalled the State Duma elections that actually triggered a string of mass protest actions. There was far greater concern about the presidential election, which was exactly one month away. Nobody wished victory to Vladimir Putin.
Alongside this march, in the square in front of the Poklonnaya Gora memorial there was an ‘anti-orange rally” organized by the supporters of the current authorities. “Some have been claiming that you were forced to come here. This is slander!” TV journalist Maxim Shevchenko told the crowd in his opening statement. However, many eagerly recognized they had been told to go to the rally by their bosses, but at the same time refused to name the employers. A quick poll identified teachers, college students (“They promised us good marks”) and even an oil worker (“I am not from Moscow, but I will not name the city”). However, the real supporters of the authorities were many. “I myself do not like the idea of public sector employees bringing me here, a man of average age who identified himself as a “former military” told Kommersant. “I believe that Putin does not know that. It would be far better to do everything the honest way. Even then there would be far more of us than those on Bolotnaya Square. On Sunday, Vladimir Putin quoted Mayor Sergei Sobyanin as saying that the Poklonnaya Gora crowd was as big as 190,000.
The authorities at last made up their mind regarding the tactic of response to the people’s protest activity, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The chief of the presidential staff, Sergei Ivanov, speculated that high turnouts for political demonstrations would continue to the first round of the presidential election. Before that statement there were enthusiastic reports from the Poklonnaya Gora memorial and skeptical ones, from Bolotnaya Square.
Sergei Ivanov described the rallies as evidence of pluralism of opinion. He was clearly pleased with the situation. This is precisely what the Kremlin’s response to the December rallies looks like. The 2012 campaign will be held amid society’s growing political activity. Protest actions against the authorities will each time be counter-balanced with demonstrations opposite in nature. They may bring together 300,000, if need be. Moscow is a big city. Civil servants in Moscow are a large class. They do not have to be paid. It would be enough to give them good advice and then check attendance.
The styles of Saturday’s mass rallies differed greatly, says the daily. While speakers at the Poklonnaya Hill went hysterical, trying to persuade the audience the “orange threat” was real, those who spoke in Bolotnaya Square were merry and looked happy the crowd had gathered despite low temperatures. In fairness, one must admit that they had nothing new to offer. As before, a great deal was said about the Russian people’s dignity and honor. About the need to protect one’s convictions. This time the emphasis for some reason was on the demand for setting free political prisoners. The vagueness of demands voiced by the non-systemic opposition against a background of quite clear pinpoint pre-election statements by Vladimir Putin makes the prime minister’s campaign still more impressive.
The February 4 rallies in Moscow were evaluated not so much by the slogans and ideas voiced, as by the number of those in attendance, says the RBC Daily. According to police sources, the Poklonnaya Hill rally on Saturday gathered 138,000, and the one in Bolotnaya Square, up to 36,000. Claims the “anti-orange” rally gathered about 140,000 met with skeptical remarks from demonstrators in Bolotnaya Square. One of the active participants in the opposition movement, blogger Rustem Adagamov, affiliated with the League of voters, claimed in one of his comments in Twitter “comparing the number of people present at both demonstrations would make no sense – those in Bolotnaya Square people had gathered of their own accord, while those demonstrating at the Poklonnaya Hill memorial had been brought there by force.
The procession along Yakimanka Street was “for” fair elections, freedom for political prisoners and political reforms, says Novyie Izvestia. Poklonnaya Hill demonstrators were “against” orange revolutions, U.S. imperialism, and, what is more important, against their fellow citizens who think otherwise. The essence of one demonstration was search for allies, and that of the other, search for enemies.