Second All-Russian Action in Support of Navalny: Tension Rises

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Russian oppositionists, human rights activists and lawyers fear that the authorities will intensify repression

According to the headquarters of Alexei Navalny, on January 31, actions in support of the founder of the Anti-Corruption Fund were held in 140 cities of the Russian Federation, as well as in many countries of the world. True, the actions abroad took place really peacefully, without the intervention of representatives of the security forces. In Russia, things were different.

The Moscow authorities and law enforcement officers were preparing for the January 31 rally no less, if not more than for the January 23 events. The central metro stations were closed, as well as some cafes and shops at the scene of the alleged events, mobile communications were blocked everywhere. In addition, some of the activists were placed under house arrest ahead of time for the so-called «sanitary» for violation of epidemiological rules.

Nevertheless, Navalny’s supporters took to the streets. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were about two thousand of them. However, it is difficult not to doubt the reliability of these figures. – if only because at 19.40 the number of detainees in the Russian capital was almost 1395 people.

According to eyewitnesses, the security forces flooded Moscow and detained people with or without reason. So, in the paddy wagon, albeit for a short time, there was a TV presenter and member of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation Nikolai Svanidze. One of the first in the capital was detained the wife of Alexei Navalny – Yulia.

Ilya Shablinsky: «Power is only held by force»

Deputy Head of the Department of Constitutional and Municipal Law of the Higher School of Economics, Professor Ilya Shablinsky in an interview with the Russian Service «Voices of America» noticed that the authorities themselves, not to mention others, created numerous problems and troubles on January 31. According to the expert, all this could have been easily avoided by allowing citizens to exercise their legal right to hold peaceful events..

«Not allowing people to calmly go to a peaceful rally to express their opinions, the authorities are acting contrary to the norms of the constitution, – reminds Shablinsky. – From here everything goes, gives rise to police arbitrariness and retaliatory actions on the part of the protesters. Meanwhile, representatives of the Libertarian Party applied to hold a rally, but were refused. Moreover, the mayor’s office gave them to understand that they may not count on permission in the future, at least in the foreseeable future. And how can people be after that??»

On Sunday, the authorities wanted to show at all costs who was the boss – and nothing more, the analyst says: «They wanted to hide the true scale of the protests. Therefore, they went, in particular, to close the metro, although they had no legal grounds for this. In Moscow, they tactically coped with their task – The riot police did not allow the protesters to form a single column. But everything looked disgusting, there was obvious violence against people. Power is held only with the help of force, which she once again proved».

At the same time, Shablinsky is convinced that the protest potential in the country is far from being exhausted and that the actions in support of Alexei Navalny will continue. By August-September, the protests may reach their peak, predicts the interlocutor of the Russian Service «Voices of America».

Program manager «Support for political prisoners and persecuted civil activists» human rights center «Memorial» Sergei Davidis believes that on January 31, despite the repressions unleashed by the authorities and unprecedented preventive restrictive measures, many people went to the rally in the capital. And the government again relied on strength, says Davidis.

«It is too early to draw the final conclusion from the confrontation, – clarified the expert. – We already know that the authorities have enough opponents and that their number is growing. Some of them are so active and selfless that they are ready, despite the serious risks, to go out. But at the same time, we know that the authorities are determined to ignore and suppress these efforts. A certain balance has been formed. And a particular stock does not give reason to expect a sharp change in this balance.».

The human rights activist doubts that the actions in support of Navalny will become indefinite. However, he believes that the protest campaign will be lengthy..

Boris Vishnevsky: «The opposition could not have worsened the attitude towards the authorities so effectively»

In St. Petersburg, preparations for the next action in support of Alexei Navalny were carried out in parallel by the staff of his headquarters and the city authorities. True, each side – by their own methods.

Navalny’s headquarters informed his supporters where the gathering of the march participants would be, promptly monitoring the closure of the main city highways. And law enforcement officers from Saturday began to patrol the streets, avenues and squares in the city center. The deputy of the city Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg Boris Vishnevsky described what he saw on his page in FB: «The complete impression that either the city is already occupied, or the city is preparing for an enemy invasion». And, turning to the governor of the city, Alexander Beglov, he asked: «Alexander Dmitrievich, what are you afraid of? Is the enemy at the gate? Countless hordes are about to pour into our great city? This is from civilians who want to take to the streets and express what they think about the power lies, corruption, violence, lawlessness and deafness to the problems of people – are you preparing to defend yourself like that? Together with the police and the Russian Guard? You are so scared?»

On Saturday evening and Sunday morning, police officers raided and seized computer hard drives from a number of civic activists whom they suspect of plotting the 23rd and 31st January rallies..

fence at the intersection of Nevsky Prospect – Sadovaya Street

And ordinary Petersburgers learned on Sunday morning that the metro stations in the city center are closed at the entrance and exit. Initially, the broadcast announced «technical reasons», later at the stations allegedly appeared «unidentified items». At the station «Gostiny Dvor» the exit was open, but no one was allowed to enter Nevsky Prospekt – equipped Rosguards sent people along portable metal fences, bypassing Sadovaya Street along a corridor about two meters wide. Moreover, this applied not only to potential demonstrators, but also to those who were in a hurry to work, for example, in cafes or shops located on the other side of Nevsky Prospekt. As a result, according to Boris Vishnevsky, the measures taken caused «the irritation of a huge number of people, for whom these overlapping and prohibitions break their Sunday plans, which are not associated with any protests. I think the opposition could not have worsened the attitude towards the authorities so effectively».

Second All-Russian Action in Support of Navalny: Tension Rises

Maxim Reznik: «Now on the banners of Putinism – not Crimea, but a palace in Gelindzhik»

After some hesitation, the St. Petersburg headquarters of Alexei Navalny announced that the new venue for the protest action would be Pionerskaya Square in front of the Theater of the Young Spectator. By the way, in the past, rallies were held here against the construction of the tower. «Gazprom City» and against fraudulent elections in December 2011.

On this square there is a monument to Alexander Griboyedov, and as he noted in an interview with a correspondent of the Russian Service «Voices of America» independent deputy of the city Legislative Assembly Maxim Reznik, many quotes from «Burning from the mind» sound very relevant today.

As for the topic of the current protest action, Maxim Reznik, considered one of the most consistent supporters of Navalny in St. Petersburg, said: «It’s funny to read when the pro-Kremlin media call him something “Berlin patient”, then “little-known blogger”, then somehow. Let’s, as the Harry Potter books said, call everyone by their first name: Voldemort – Voldemort, which means Putin – Putin and Navalny – the leader of our opposition, whether someone likes it or not.

In the current phase of our struggle, which in a sense is a moment of truth, we need such a person. Maybe he – not the best, not the smartest, although, perhaps, he can apply for these titles. But he – the most daring and brave, and of course – I repeat – the most influential leader of the Russian opposition at the moment. If we are fighting for power and want to change it, we must admit that the political agenda has changed from the question: “Who if not Putin?” to the slogan: “Anyone but Putin!”. Especially now, when on the banners of Putinism – not Crimea, but a palace in Gelindzhik. And this – verdict of history!», – the St. Petersburg oppositionist is convinced.

An increasing number of protesters came to Pionerskaya Square. Meanwhile, police squads and special vehicles were here before many civil activists. At first, the detentions were very peaceful: three or four equipped «law enforcement officers» they approached someone who came to the Youth Theater, took them by the arms and calmly took them to the paddy wagon. But gradually the peaceful atmosphere began to evaporate. The protesters began to chant: «Russia will be free!», «Let go!», and then slogans were used, where the main «heroes» promotions: «Putin – skiing – Magadan», «Putin – to the Hague!», «Putin – Down with Navalny – home!», «Putin is shaking, Navalny will return». In addition, posters were raised over the protesters’ heads every now and then: «They say the aparthotel is not real», «My name is Vladimir and I am a kleptomaniac», «Navalny – hero of Russia», «One for all and all for one!».

The police tried to snatch those who started a new chant, in response there were exclamations «A shame!», and applause for the next detainee. When reinforcements arrived at the police, the protesters decided to retreat from Pionerskaya Square. But the police began harsh arrests in the surrounding streets. So, the municipal deputy Olga Fattush was sent to the paddy wagon, who just approached the riot police and asked why they were detaining a passer-by? The popular rapper Oksimiron (real name Miron Fedorov), who came to Pionerskaya Square on his birthday, was also taken to the police station. However, by the evening the musician was released.

Meanwhile, the protesters began to resist, and several people managed to break free and escape. The headquarters of Alexei Navalny began to coordinate the further movement of the protesters along the city streets and avenues through its telegram channel. The most notable impromptu rallies took place on Sennaya Square and on the square in front of the Mariinsky Palace, where the city parliament is located..

Moreover, on Sennaya Square, perhaps the most serious clashes between civil activists and riot police in recent years in St. Petersburg took place. Here, the police used not only rubber truncheons, but also stun guns, and sprayed gas. One police officer even threatened to use his service weapon.

At the time of the announcement of the end of the action, according to OVD-Info, 437 detainees were recorded in St. Petersburg. Then this data was repeatedly clarified, and at the time of this writing, it reached 961 people, including 7 journalists..

Second All-Russian Action in Support of Navalny: Tension Rises