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City news
Party Activists Turn Out for May Day
05.02.2007 18:13

demonstration By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Photo by Alexander Belenky

The traditional May Day demonstrations are regaining their political sting.

The full array of political forces took the streets of St. Petersburg to participate in May Day demonstrations on Tuesday.

Pension raises and increases in wages were among the central demands of the Communist procession, which moved along Nevsky Prospekt and ended with a meeting on St. Isaac’s Square. The procession attracted around 3,000 demonstrators, making it the largest of the local May Day events.

The rally was dominated by a mass of red balloons, portraits of Soviet leaders and Soviet-era May Day slogans, such as “May 1 is the Day of Solidarity of the Working People.” The Communists also carried Belarussian national flags and a portrait of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The Communists joined forces with several nationalist groups, marching alongside about 500 members of the radical Movement Against Illegal Migration (DPNI), who were dressed in black military-style overalls with their faces covered by black scarves, as well as activists of the nationalist Slavic Union and Slavic Community which celebrated what they call “Russian May Day.”

Palace Square hosted a meeting of the pro-presidential parties United Russia and A Just Russia and attracted about 2,500 supporters.

The opposition rally, which marched from the Oktyabrsky Concert Hall to Pionerskaya Ploshchad, boasted by far the most outspoken and critical speeches, though it only attracted about 500 activists.

Opposition protesters chanted “No Police State,” “Stop Corruption,” “For a Liberated Russia,” “Oligarchs to Prison, Pensioners to the Canary Islands” and “St. Petersburg Without Matviyenko.”

Mikhail Amosov, a member of the political council of the local branch of the Yabloko party, said political reform in Russia is essential to help its fledgling democracy.

“Unless Russia becomes a parliamentary republic, where the executives submit to the people’s assembly, the ‘vertical of power’ will inevitably throw the country into a totalitarian abyss,” he said.

Maxim Reznik, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko said this year’s May 1 demonstration marked a turning point in the mounting confrontation between the authorities and the opposition.

“For the first time, the opposition, fiercely hated by the authorities, has been acknowledged and allowed to hold a demonstration through the city center without police blocking our way,” Reznik said. “Until now, the authorities have made every effort to intimidate protesters and confine independent political discussion to people’s kitchens, just as it was during Soviet rule.”

The police presence was substantial at all of the May 1 rallies, though no incidents were reported by the demonstrators or the police.

The authorities had expected a much larger turnout for the demonstrations — a total of around 20,000 people had been expected — and 3,000 police officers were sent to patrol the meetings.

Sergei Gulyayev, local coordinator of the anti-Kremlin opposition coalition The Other Russia, launched a verbal attack on the police in his speech at the meeting. “According to official statistics, fifty percent of all crimes committed in Russia never get solved, but the state deploys thousands of police to resist opposition rallies,” Gulyayev said.

“Narcotics are sold easily in courtyards, prostitutes pack the historical center [of the city] at night, but the police maintain a convenient hands-off stance, preferring to persecute their critics rather than criminals.”

Members of Eduard Limonov’s outlawed National Bolshevik party attended the opposition rally on Pionerskaya Ploshchad.

They held the black, yellow and white flags of the Russian Empire which served as the Russian national flag from 1858 to 1883.

“It was under this flag that serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861; it was under this flag that Russia adopted its first political freedoms and censorship was abolished,” said Andrei Dmitriev who chaired the regional branch of the party until it was declared extremist and banned, along with its own flag and symbols, in April.

“And in 1991 it was held by the people who defended the Russian parliament during the coup. This is a respected flag, and we are proud to be able to hold it,” Dmitriev said.

News source: times.spb.ru
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