Planet November 4

Still haven’t posted my impressions about the march of Putin’s supporters in Moscow on November 4 (the ‘Unity Day’ in Russia).  On this holiday I usually work—first because I still can’t understand the sense of it, and second, because it became a kind of ‘Fascist Day’ with nationalistic rallies in Moscow streets almost immediately after it was established.  This year however, things were a bit different as my friends, specialists in cultural anthropology who conduct a regular monitoring of different political meetings and rallies in Moscow, proposed me to join them.  I took part in photographing the march ‘We Are Together’ in Tverskaia Street that was organized by the People’s Liberation Movement (NOD)—a government-organized right-wing movement that supports President Putin.  I have never been to pro-government rallies, so it was quite interesting.  Putin’s supporters (proud to make 85 per cent of the population) and I live in rather different worlds that have almost nothing common, and I really like it, but it has another side: I know what the faraway planet Great Russia looks like and what its inhabitants think about mostly from the others’ words.  It was a good idea to visit that planet by myself at least once.

The impressions described below are not probably full enough because we were able to see only a half of the column—the NOD members and those who were marching behind them—but we couldn’t reach the head of the column.  There were too few of us—only four persons, and one of us had to leave before the march finished, and the march was really huge—there were probably even more people than at the oppositional rally in Sakharov Avenue in December 2011.  (The number of participants is the most popular argument among the supporters of Putin as they hardly can understand any other parameters.)

The centre of Moscow was completely closed.  Nobody was allowed to come to the Red Square or to Manezhnaia Square, the shopping mall under Manezhnaia Square was also closed.  I don’t know what (or whom) ‘they’ were so afraid of.

The first difference from the oppositional events that I saw immediately after I passed the police cordon was…the colour.  Oppositional rallies are usually rather variegated, even at the Marches of Peace the great number of the Russian flags was compensated by the same number of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, and there were a lot of other flags and banners as well.  Here the colours of the Russian flag were dominating, so the column at first sight looked monotone and rather ‘cold’, although there are a red stripe, as well as a blue one, in the Russian flag, that is, the both ends of the spectrum.

But not only the colours were monotone.  The same were placards and slogans on them.  ‘Serial’ posters, printed on a computer, can be seen at oppositional rallies as well, but there aren’t many of them there, individual creations are dominating.  They are often not so well made as the ‘serial’ ones, but they are original and often quite witty.  In Tverskaia Street one could see mostly printed posters.  Many of them were printed with script types, probably in order to bear a likeness to the real handmade ones, but the difference was obvious.  There were several hand-written placards, but very few.  Many of them were made using the same technology as the printed ones, only the text on the sheet of paper was really hand-written, but from a short distance, one could see that the sheet was ruled in squares with a pencil as if the text was just copied after a pattern prepared beforehand.  If the organizers wanted to make their march looking similar to the oppositional ones, the result looked miserable.

The slogans on the posters were not original either.  The same slogan could be seen on lots of placards and banners of different design, both on printed and hand-written ones.  The placards which were really original could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

From the loud speakers, one could hear either Soviet songs (mostly good ones) or the newest ‘patriotic’ pop music that was terrible.  Some tracks were repeated many times.  There was also a live entertainment, but I missed the beginning.

The march in general, with a small exception which I’ll say about a bit later, was mostly like a purely Soviet demonstration of working-people: slogans about peoples’ friendship, columns of state-run enterprises and pro-government trade unions, delegations from the province with symbols of their towns, delegations from the republics in national clothes.  Almost everyone was marching rather quietly, talking to each other, without crying any slogans.  Someone was playing the accordion and singing Soviet songs.

Later, when we went to a café and tried to summarize what we had seen and heard, one more detail became clear.  During our survey (which I didn’t take part in), several persons, when they were asked why they took part in the march, answered they went ‘to all the rallies’, but when they heard the next question about taking part in political protests, they immediately said they went not to all the rallies literally, but only to the rallies on holidays, on the Victory Day and November 4.  Only one man said honestly that he had come to the march under compulsion, but there were so many columns of state-run enterprises (the names of those enterprises could be read on posters the people were carrying) that it was difficult to believe all those people had really come of their own free will.  Some more persons answered to all our questions with the same phrase, ‘I’m a patriot’.  It didn’t look as if they didn’t want to answer—more likely, they simply didn’t know what to answer.  They had no political views and couldn’t understand our questions.  Neither did they see any necessity to detail their ‘I’m a patriot’.

We didn’t feel any aggression, there were neither anti-Ukrainian slogans nor attacks on the ‘fifth column’.  Does it mean the war against Ukraine is really over?  It would be a good news…  The Syrian question wasn’t exploited either, except only one flag and only one slogan which somebody cried, but nobody joined him.  As most of the placards were with the same words, the main message of the event was quite clear: Russia is a multi-ethnic state; our strength is in unity—national, cultural, in ‘united’ history etc.; until we are united, we are invincible (this slogan was stolen word for word from opposition), and we’ve already proved this (without any details on how exactly we did it).  And, of course, ‘we believe in Russia’, ‘we trust Putin’, and so on and so on.

Different from others were members of NOD, Cossacks, ‘Officers of Russia’ (an association of army and police officers) in military uniform.  We’ve seen even children in uniform—one boy in Cossack uniform and another in army uniform, both were of preschool or primary school age.  One had even a toy pistol in a holster.

NOD members were more active and more militant than those who was going behind them.  As we could understand, it was only they who were crying slogans.  Something new was a demand to abolish the article of the Constitution about primacy of the rules of international law over domestic legislation.  For the ‘national liberators’ themselves, this fundamental principle of international relations meant a kind of ‘external management’, but their ‘curators’ from the Presidential Administration have thus agreed in fact that Russia’s foreign policy does violate the rules of international law in recent months.  And their own favourite argument that Europeans and Americans violate international law as well, is already not so convincing for them as it was previously.

The general impression is bad.  It was an interesting experience, but the march itself looked miserable and boring.  It was certainly not that great Russia where I’d like to live.  My Russia is more interesting.