Russia: The ‘March of Millions’

June 13, 2012
On June 12, Russian political opposition and civic movements held another “March of Millions” mass demonstration in central Moscow. Thousands of protesters gathered at Pushkin Square at noon and walked down the Boulevard Ring to Andrei Sakharov Avenue for a rally and concert by rap and rock musicians who performed a collection of protest songs, “The White Album,” especially for the event. The city administration authorized both the march and the rally.
According to media reports, about 50,000 people took part in the event (the Moscow police estimated 18,000, and political opposition leaders said that more than 100,000 participated). People of various political convictions joined in the calls for freedom, state accountability, and fair elections. There was a strong police presence, but no police interference with the protest.
The new restrictive law on public rallies adopted last week sets out exorbitant fines for, among other things, damaging public property. So when marching along the boulevards, protesters were especially careful to avoid stepping on the grass so as not to give the authorities a pretext to penalize the organizers on those grounds.
The protest’s festive spirit was overshadowedby the developments on June 11, when law enforcement officials searched the homes of several leading opposition members – Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov, Ilya Yashin, Ksenia Sobchak, and Boris Nemtsov – and seized computers, papers, and some visual materials prepared for the June 12 demonstration. Police also searched the apartments of their close relatives and Navalny’s office. Following the searches, Navalny, Udaltsov, Yashin, and Sobchak received summonses to appear for questioning on June 12 at 11 a.m., an hour before they were to participate in the planned demonstration.
The authorities have said these steps are part of an investigation regardingclashes between police and protesters that took place during the previous mass rally on May 6. However, against the backdrop of the new restrictive legislation as well as the timing of the searches and the interrogations, these measures appeared designed to prevent the recognized leaders from attending the rally and create a chilling atmosphere for protest activists in general.
Udaltsov did not appear for questioning and instead took part in the demonstration, asserting that, “this is a principled stand and the investigators will have to wait.” His decision was applauded by the protesters, but may lead to official repercussions.