Almost two weeks ago an anti-corruption rally was held throughout Russia. The cause of the peaceful gatherings in almost one hundred cities was the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) of Alexei Navalny, dedicated to the former President and current Prime Minister of Russia, Mr. Medvedev. Here, in fact, is it (English subtitles):

It tells about the luxurious lifestyle of the corrupt Dmitry Medvedev. As expected, a few days ago the Prime Minister has called it, in general, as “nonsense”. What else should he say, right? No official wants to go to jail.

As for the protesters, about five hundred people were detained in Moscow and Navalny was arrested for 15 days (and he was not the only arrested). Apparently, it’s safer to steal millions of dollars than to stand for your rights.

Anyway, many opinions were already been presented regarding these events and I would like to tell about that day in a more “down-to-earth” regard and share how I personally came to the rally. A “general” perspective of that day can be found in this dynamic video:

In real life, everything was, of course, much more prosaic.

The Background

It all began quite ordinary — our colleague shared a link to the video asking whether we have seen it. We all appreciated the investigation, resented a bit and forgot about Dimon (a hypocorism for the name Dmitry) for a while.

Personally, I was once again convinced that the current Russian government is absolutely corrupt from head to toe, but it was interesting to see the reaction of the authorities.

I was expecting something like the classic strategy “YouAreLying!”, but the government chose the path of silence and neglect. Also, incidentally, an effective method! Sometimes, however, someone said these long-awaited “YouAreLying!” comments, but it didn’t’ gain much coverage.

After several weeks of silence, Alexei Navalny posted another video (again shared by our colleague) in which he proposed to go on a peaceful rally on 26 March. Well, why not?

It’s really strange, but the decision was spontaneous and I think the situation was similar for many other participants. Perhaps it is the indifference of the authorities and the arrogant disregard of direct accusations that irritated the society, but the fact remains — it’s been a month (!) since the publication of the investigation and there’s still no adequate response from those in power.

Another personal reason I decided to participate in the “walk on the street” were the Belarusian protests on 25 March. So to some extent, the rally in Moscow on the following day was for me some kind of “redemption” for the absence on the “Freedom Day”.

26 March

To be honest, I was expecting quite a bit of protesters or even a couple of picketers, but certainly not a completely full Tverskaya (one of the main Moscow’s streets if not the main street). Let’s start the story.

It was Sunday, a spring sunny day, so I decided to walk to the city center. I can’t surely say what I felt before going out since after I left home I got irritated by the surroundings very much. The whole city (same as the country) is in an extremely poor condition and signs of corruption and devastation are simply everywhere. Here, for example, is a dirty bus stop and a crumbling tile, both of which are not even a year old!

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By the time I reached the center I was ready to bite someone’s neck. Poverty, mess, and corruption are seen during a short walk. No videos showing the palaces of the officials are necessary — one just needs to open his or hers eyes and look around.

Meanwhile, there’s a traffic jam to the center:

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The first thing you notice is the significant number of regime defenders. Police and OMON (something like SWAT) guarding mess and devastation are everywhere (don’t forget to appreciate the condition of the streets, buildings and the surroundings).

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At first, it was hard to tell whether the citizens were walking on a sunny day or whether these were the protesters. But the closer I approached the Triumfalnaya Square, the more people appeared and it became obvious that these were mostly protesters.

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In addition to the people more regime defenders appeared. At Mayakovskaya it became absolutely clear that most of the pedestrians are protesters. Many arrived at the Mayakovskaya metro station and walked towards the center.

I could also get there a better look at the police and OMON. In general, I didn’t notice anything special in them — it was noticeable that they are just doing their job. Some talked with their colleagues and smiled, some were being silent and were looking into nowhere, and some were very bored. More well-fed representatives of the authorities were also present with their typical sly look of an official. I humbly assumed that these comrades were higher in rank and were local chiefs.

If not mistaken, starting from Mayakovskaya the roadway was separated from the pedestrians with fences and OMON. The riot policemen were ordinary soldiers — average height, skinny, young, someone even had glasses. I was just on the edge of the sidewalk so I could stare at them and look at the uniform. Again, I didn’t see anything special: the shoes were mostly new or just a bit worn out, the uniform was clean and looked fresh, only one soldier had a hole in his vest. Their look didn’t reflect anything — it was like they were looking right through you. It seemed like a mandatory school assignment — I didn’t see hatred, mostly “let’s get over with this boredom”.

Moving further along the Tverskaya Sreet the sidewalk didn’t get any wider and the number of people gradually increased and we were all walking slower and slower until we got into a human traffic jam on the approach to the intersection of Tverskaya and Bolshaya Bronnaya.

The riot police stood to the left, the protesters were on the right and frankly, I have to say that it was a little boring. The situation was freshened a bit by a woman with red hair who shouted to a noble guard something like: “You can only fight grannies!”

We didn’t move much and I thought that during any disturbance in the crowd I would be pushed directly to the OMON and they wouldn’t be easy on me. And since there was an arch that led to the Maly Palashevky Lane I squeezed through the crowd and started going around the congestion using the surrounding streets. Many did the same. While I was going around a helicopter flew by a couple of times and a worker that repaired the façade of a building perplexedly looked at the crowd, which occupied the whole sidewalk and even part of the roadway.

Finally, after walking around the congestion I saw the following picture:

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There were plenty of people! By the way, I was standing on the corner of the yellow building — this is where the traffic jam was.

Actually, it was hard to tell that it was a rally. During all the time that I was walking, I almost didn’t see any posters. Someone had a pair of old sneakers (the symbol of corruption at that protest). There was just a mass of people that were simply having a walk. They were of different ages — around 20 to 40 (the majority probably 25 to 35). I can’t say that it was a “schoolboy rally” as it was called by some. Personally, I didn’t see very young participants.

So, nothing was happening in my corner in front of the Pushkin Square. People were just standing and it didn’t seem possible to squeeze in somewhere so I decided to walk to the Red Square and also visit the Nemtsov Bridge (it just so happened that since the assassination of Nemtsov I didn’t walk by that area). After that, I planned to come back from the other side of Tverskaya. Plus I even thought that it would be faster — it looked like there was almost no movement.

Since it wasn’t possible to get to Tverskaya I again had to go around the digestion using the neighboring streets. I noted that it’s better to come early before the start of the rally to find good spots in the place where the heart of the protest is expected.

While I was bypassing Tverskaya I heard phrases like: “So many people cannot just walk for no reason! What’s going on?” Here, of course, the state-controlled media should be applauded. They are great at (dis)informing the population with Ukraine, Syria, the problems of the US and the West and are very competent at being silent about the rally in dozens of cities across the country. Before leaving home I deliberately got a quick overview of the news on mail.ru and there was almost zero information about the situation in the country. In the section devoted to the capital, there was simply no news about the ongoing rally, which created a traffic jam in the city center.

As I expected, the main action began at Mayakovskaya and the heart of the rally was on the Pushkin Square. At a distance from the Pushkin Square, it was already possible to move freely, but there were still plenty of people.

I again started to look around. Here, for example, is a crippled building right in the heart of the city on the main street of the country (Tverskaya leads to the Kremlin):

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This one is in front of it — different windows, air conditioners, rusty satellite dishes and other disgrace — millionaires live like that in Russia (also note the fence and the people on the other side of the street — they are walking towards the Pushkin Square):

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The riot policemen are already standing away from each other, more relaxed and calm. Someone is in his phone, someone is almost asleep on his feet. I look around and see mostly neatly-dressed peers who have gathered here peacefully. I’ll probably never understand why Russia, Belarus, and other unfree countries treat their best citizens (young, educated, enthusiastic, worried about the fate of their country) as junk and a punching bag. The OMON is here definitely not to protect, but to intimidate.

And so we are at Okhotny Ryad where we see the valiant Channel One.

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No idea what were they doing, as there was zero information support from the official media.

Police, fences, somebody with the Russian flag.

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The passage from the Manezhnaya Square to the Red Square is closed.

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Not a big deal — we go around and after squeezing through fences and police, that checks everybody’s bags and backpacks, we enter the main square of the country. Everything here is as usual — another dimension. Silence, peace, tourists. Frankly speaking, such a sharp contrast was a bit irritating — a couple of hundred meters from here a rally against corruption in the country is taking place, while on the Red Square we can only see serenity, just like in a kindergarten.

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On the way to the Nemtsov Bridge, I notice different details. Barbarians in power can’t even adequately care for the cultural monuments and the heritage of the country. Some ridiculous windows with white lines, a rusty electrical shield with stickers, although there are plenty of guards on the Red Square. Although, obviously, they are not aimed at the protection of the public order, but on protecting a couple of tsars.

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Devastation…

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…and the favorite element of architecture in Russia — the fence:

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In turns out that police is at every entrance to the Red Square. Even more fences:

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The guardians of the mess:

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A lot of special machinery and Kremlin in stains:

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The center of the capital:

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On the bridge, I understand that I’m completely tired and don’t see a reason to go back to again stand in the crowd. I reach Novokuznetskaya and head home.

Everything is as usual on the subway, same as on the Red Square, only a bunch of bored policemen are walking on each station.

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At home I find out that on Pushkinskaya the protesters were dispersed with batons, many were detained. Since there is a place I need to be I quickly eat and get into the car. On the radio, I hear a couple of important news: Trump couldn’t cancel Obamacare and will now work on tax reduction, somewhere in the Balkans a Russian football fan was stabbed in a fight with the local fans, and in an uncoordinated rally in Moscow several people were detailed. The speaker particularly focused on the word “uncoordinated” and repeated it a few sentences in a row (every rally in Russia should be coordinated with and approved by the authorities).

The Consequences

In addition to the five hundred detained and the arrested organizers, Pushkin was also arrested!

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But seriously, immediately after the rally, the authorities announced a “planned restoration of the monument.” It will be renovated until the beginning of September — five months to refurbish a couple of square meters.

I was also lucky enough to be in the center on the second of April (exactly a week after the rally) and was surprised by the number of police and OMON. On returning home I found out that there was some kind of a suspicious “rally”, although no opposition party said anything about conducting a second rally and Alexei Navalny was in jail. But, as it is usual in Russia, the police and OMON created an image that “everything is under control”.

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Instead of Conclusion

Exactly a year ago was the Panama scandal. Here is the unintelligible mooing of the Prime Minister of Iceland, who was convicted in the scandal:

This is what happened then, in a free society and a free country:

As expected in a normal country, the Prime Minister almost immediately resigned.

And here is a similar performance of Dimon:

The same sluggish mooing of a guilty and a corrupt official. It would be better for him to continue being silent.

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Stefan Vanli

Editor

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Moscow

Russia