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City news, 02.02.2007 12:48

Opposition Alliance Brings Protests to City

parties By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Photo by Alexander Belenky

The coalition, called Other Russia, held its first public event — a “March of Those Who Disagree,” or Dissenters’ March — in Moscow on Dec. 16, when the rally’s participants, greatly outnumbered by the police, spoke out against what they called the “squashing of liberties” and the “strangling of civil society” in Russia today.

Other Russia was created with an eye to the 2008 presidential elections when it hopes to put forward a strong alternative to Kremlin-backed candidates.

The umbrella group, that incorporates, among others, Garry Kasparov’s United Civil Front, Mikhail Kasyanov’s People’s Democratic Union and Eduard Limonov’s National Bolshevik Party, is also planning to hold a conference in St. Petersburg on March 2.

On Wednesday, Kasparov and Limonov attended a protest meeting outside St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Kasparov said one of the coalition’s major goals is to spread the word about the level of corruption in Russia, especially in the provinces.

In his opinion, President Vladimir Putin’s high approval rating among the public is based on the level of ignorance that most Russians have about the way their country is governed. Media censorship also protects the authorities, Kasparov said.

Other Russia’s future list of events includes a Dissenters’ March in Moscow on April 14, followed by a conference on April 15. A series of meetings of protesters are also being planned in the Siberian city of Surgut, where labor unions are reporting growing social unrest.

“One month of honest television debates discussing the true state of corruption in the country, and the concentration of financial resources in the hands of the closest relatives of members of the ruling political elite, would result in the immediate collapse of Putin’s approval rating,” Kasparov said. “Now, we have to take to the streets to get heard, but things may change nearer to the presidential election.”

“Political clans in the Kremlin hate each other much more forcefully than they hate the opposition, and they know very well that the first thing the winner of the next election will do is to destroy the loser clans,” he added. “If a democrat wins, they can at the very least ensure an honest trial.”

Limonov is convinced the appeal of Other Russia in St. Petersburg is vast. Its target supporters are underpaid and frustrated members of the “intelligentsia.”

“We came here with a goal to take over this city — and we mean it in a spiritual, psychological sense,” Limonov said. “I believe that our protests will have great resonance in St. Petersburg, where there are great numbers of poverty-stricken intelligentsia and people who, despite massive brainwashing, are still able to think independently.”

The route for the St. Petersburg Dissenters’ March has not yet been decided and a venue for the meeting remains to be found.

“We are working on it, keeping in mind all the important factors, from the traffic routes to the attitude of City Hall,” said Sergei Gulyayev, the local coordinator of the event and a Yabloko lawmaker at the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. During the previous event in Moscow, the 2,500 protesters were surrounded by 8,500 police. More than 40 participants of the demonstration were detained.

In July 2006, Governor Valentina Matviyenko, speaking to delegates of the Second Russian Social Forum, a protest gathering of opposition forces intended as a satellite event for the G8 summit, said outdoor demonstrations “disturb local citizens” and therefore should be best avoided.

Olga Kurnosova, a co-chairman of the St. Petersburg Civil Front, foresees further obstacles.

“In 2006, the City Hall did not approve a single public gathering, be it a meeting or a march of protest,” she said.

“The officials seem to be unable to understand that it is impossible to bring civil society to a complete standstill — unless they opt to destroy everyone physically.”

The politicians spoke to reporters in the headquarters of the local branch of human rights group “Citizen’s Watch” on Ligovsky Prospekt. Gulyayev said it is becoming increasingly difficult for the critics of the government to find a venue to hold a news conference.

“This place was the last resort, really,” Gulyayev said.

“We had tried a string of other places, but when managers heard the names Kasparov and Limonov, they promptly turned us down, with polite apologies.”

Gulyayev said it is crucially important for ordinary people to overcome inertia and join the movement.

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(c) 2000