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.

A Rally in Moscow on 14 December

One more rally where I was present not as a participant, but as a researcher with questionnaires and a photo camera 😉  Like the previous one (30 November), it was not, strictly speaking, a meeting of doctors, a wide range of social problems in Moscow was discussed there, including medicine, education, housing etc.  Unlike the previous one, there were much more police; I can’t imagine what they were so afraid of.  And on the contrary, there were much less participants.  I also had an impression that this rally was even more mixed and polarized than the previous one: from Putin’s supporters to Stalinists, from LGBT to religious conservatives, from the Iabloko [‘Apple’] party to those persons who were crying to their speakers ‘Stop advertising Iabloko!’, plus several nationalists and one or two persons with ribbons of Saint George and with stripes in the form of the flag of ‘Novorossiia’ (pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine).  At the same time the meeting as a whole looked more leftist than the previous one; the Iabloko party seemed to be the only liberal organization that took part in it.  The main claim of the participants was to stop both the reforms of Moscow education and healthcare systems until a wide public discussion of these questions takes place.  An idea to organize a referendum was also discussed.

A March and a Rally for Accessible Healthcare in Moscow

Today’s march and rally for accessible healthcare in Moscow (and against the reform of Moscow healthcare system that is going on now) were the first event where I was present not as a participant, but just as a photographer, and at the same time it was my first photographing that I made not for my own pleasure, but for a group of my friends doing a professional research of protest symbols and folklore.  A presentation of their book on Moscow protests in 2011–12 took place in Moscow right this week.

It’s a bit difficult to describe my impression about today’s rally because I have nothing to compare with: I began to take part in protest rallies only in 2011, and I haven’t previously been at ‘small’ events, only at ‘major’ meetings and marches with tens of thousands of participants.  Today there were much less people—just several thousands, not more; and it seems to me that some of them took part only in the march, not in the meeting after it.  From the stage, the organizers told about 10 thousand participants, but that was surely an overestimation.

What was really notable is, first of all, how mixed the composition of participants was.  Of the professional communities, not only doctors took part in the rally, but also university professors (plus at least one or two school teachers) and the researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences which has just suffered its own ‘reform’.  Their demands included a resignation not only of Leonid Pechatnikov, the head of Moscow Healthcare Department, but also of Isaak Kalina, the head of the Department of Education.  As to the political positions, they were also quite various.  I saw members of several leftist movements (including Gennadii Ziuganov’s the Communist Party of the Russian Federation that usually organizes its own events); Vladimir Zhirinovskii’s the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (which is actually neither liberal, nor democratic at all); real liberal parties—Grigorii Iavlinskii’s Iabloko [the Apple], Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform, PARNAS (I only didn’t see any flags of the Solidarity movement); nationalists with black, yellow and white flags of the former Russian Empire and with ribbons of Saint George; LGBT activists etc.  Pro-Putin’s United Russia officially didn’t take part in the rally (although Putin himself has already told he supports its demands), but there were several supporters of Putin nevertheless.  To my surprise, I didn’t see anybody from The Just Russia although they pretend to be a social democratic party.  What was interesting, some of the participants, according to our poll, regarded the rally as a social action, not as a political one.  As there were rather a lot of leftists, there were also some nostalgia about the Soviet time—some of the people were sure the Soviet healthcare system was really the best one.  I have no complaints against the Soviet healthcare myself, but the history of my family doesn’t fit well this idealized picture.  I saw also a placard that the reform of Moscow healthcare system was organized by agents of Washington 😉

What was also notable is that there were not so many hand-written placards and posters as previously and more printed ones that were invented on the level of organisations and movements whose members took part in the rally.  It’s difficult to understand yet whether it’s a new trend or not.

I’m not sure who’s right and who’s not in this debate about the reform of the healthcare system in Moscow.  In fact, I like some of those ideas which Pechatnikov says in his interviews, but not everything what he says; on the other hand, his opponents’ arguments are serious too.  Our officials can say clever things, but what they actually do is quite often much less clever than what they say.  And, taking into account the miserable financing of healthcare in Russia (as well as that of education or of science), it’s not a surprise that almost any reform here looks like just one more attempt of the government to save so much money as possible.  As to the healthcare in Moscow, it’s of course in an awful state now.  I experienced it first-hand a year ago, and my case was not so serious in fact; other people have much worse experience…

March of Peace, 21 September

Our opponents were rather active this time.  No comments, only some translations:

‘Stop the Ukrainian Nazi army that is killing the civil population of Donbass!’


‘Shame on helpers of Kiev junta! Russia is bringing peace to the people of Ukraine.’

‘Democracy is the primary source of corruption.’

‘The USA and Great Britain are sponsors of world wars and genocide all over the world.’

‘We wish there were an oprichnina for you! Blood of killed Donbass inhabitants lies on you, traitors, as well! People demand repressions!’

You can also see the flag that looks like the Ribbon of Saint George which used to be widely associated with the commemoration of World War II, but now became a symbol of radical Russian nationalists.

Our demonstration was also crowded:

Continue reading ‘March of Peace, 21 September’ »

March of Peace II

In short:

The march was successful, the authorities didn’t put any obstacles, in spite of the organizers’ anxiety.  There were provocations, but elsewhere; I’ve seen only the tomatoes on the asphalt.  What was a surprise for me in comparison with the previous oppositional marches and rallies:

  1. There were much less banners and placards.  Nevertheless, there were a lot of them, the photos are in process 🙂
  2. There were much less slogans being cried.  It seems to me that it was only the anarchists and a small group of nationalists (some part of the Russian nationalists don’t support the invasion of Ukraine) who were crying often and loudly.  Other persons were mostly talking to each other.  Besides, it was only the nationalists, as I could understand, who were crying ‘Honour to Ukraine!  Honour to the heroes!’ (a slogan of Stepan Bandera’s Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists, became popular again during the events in Ukraine last winter), unlike the previous March of Peace.  If I don’t mistake and this was really so, than it’s probably for the better: to invoke a spirit of Bandera is not really a good idea.
  3. Our opponents were much more active this time; I don’t know what it could mean.  Their pickets could be seen along all the route of the march (behind the police cordon).  They were crying, which is interesting, that they supported Ukraine and it was the ‘world capital’ that had unleashed war.  But their banners against the ‘traitors from the fifth column’ were more than eloquent.  The most funny was a group of people in the Cossack uniform under a red flag with a vernicle.  Christian communist Cossacks, no comments…  An old lady was walking at the same place and crying: ‘We won’t let you make a Maidan!’  As I could see, she was simply ignored 😉  There were some people in our column as well who did support Putin’s policy.  I heard a sharp discussion behind; probably one of the participants of the march took his friend with him who didn’t belong to the liberal public.  I don’t think they managed to overpersuade one another 😉
  4. It was probably the first time I saw people with badges of the organizers and security.  The organization, by the way, was quite well, as previously.

There were of course not so many people as at the ‘marches of millions’, but surely much more than at the first March of Peace six months ago, that is really fine.  The type of people was mostly the same as previously—polite, friendly, with a good sense of humour.  Maybe we are only sixteen per cent of the population, but these sixteen per cent are mostly those people I don’t feel ashamed to walk in one column with.  Fighters against Maidan are quite different.

…On my way to the march, I met my schoolmate in the railway station, he was going to see off his friend moving to the USA.  It looked symbolic, unfortunately…

Took Part in the March of Peace

The route of yesterday’s March of Peace (against the Russian invasion of the Crimea) was traditional for the oppositional marches in recent years in Moscow: from Pushkinskaia Square along the boulevards to Turgenevskaia Square with final meeting on Sakharov Avenue. There were surprisingly many people – less than at the ‘marches of millions’, but definitely more than at the autumn demonstration in favour of political prisoners. The organizers told about 50 thousand, I’m not sure it was really so, but there were certainly tens of thousands of participants, much more than 3,000 (the figure from the police reports). Taking into account how strongly have the Crimean events split the Russian society, including the oppositional part of it, this is really a good news.

Moscow authorities hoped of course that there would be much less people. They opened only one side of the boulevard for us so it was rather narrow to walk  from time to time.

We were walking in one column, without any division according the political preferences. There were several communists, but this time not many – some of them support the occupation of the Crimea. There were almost no nationalists, although I’ve seen two flags of the former Russian Empire (with black, yellow and white stripes) that they usually use.

The mood was rather serious, not like at a carnival as it was at the first rallies against falsification of the elections’ results. It was nevertheless very friendly as previously – that was always an advantage of the ‘white-ribbon’ movement. There were not so many flags and placards as usually, but there were a lot of Russian and Ukrainian flags and a lot of peace symbols (☮). The placards were quite witty as usually, I hope to post the photos soon. I especially enjoyed the word putriots (Putin+patriots) 😉

We successfully failed to meet the Sergei Kurginian’s march in favour of annexation of the Crimea (it began from Trubnaia Square that was on our way), so there wasn’t any provocations.

I don’t know what will follow – and I don’t think our yesterday’s walk will make Putin and Co. change their policy toward the Crimea. But at least we said our ‘no’ (I even saw a placard with the only word no), and at the same time made sure that there are quite a lot of us, and spent several wonderful hours in the company of the people with similar world view (as said my former scientific adviser whom I met at the march, ‘I have such an impression as if I knew the people around although actually I don’t’). In today’s Russia, full of hatred, intolerance and xenophobia, such a breath of fresh air is absolutely necessary from time to time.