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Russia: The Opposition in St. Petersburg Fails to Reach Understanding

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

December 2011 post-election protest events consist of two elements: ‘professional oppositioners’ and concerned citizens. In Moscow those two elements managed to get together to hold one of the most massive peaceful manifestations in the history of the country. In St. Petersburg, however, the meeting was let down by one of the parties. Citizens responded with confusion and disdain.

What change do protests bring?

What has changed since December 5, 2011, when the first post-election protests were held? Is there any sense in participating in protest demonstrations organized by the opposition? These are the questions people were asking as the day of another all-Russian meeting – December, 24 – was approaching (the detailed map of meetings in Russian and foreign cities is here [ru]).

Several organizations gave the following answer in their Vkonakte group [ru]:

In his address to the Federal Assembly Medvedev proposed a “complex reform” of the political system (in comparison with the last year's address when he dedicated only three minutes to political issues). The proposal includes controlled regional governor elections, simplified registration of the political parties, single mandate constituencies…

"No voice. No choice." Photo from St Petersburg meeting. Photo by Maria Lelyuk

"No voice. No choice." Photo from St Petersburg meeting. Photo by Maria Lelyuk

Another achievement of the previous protests is that the Presidential Council on Human Rights called for the dismissal of Vladimir Churov, head of Central Election Committee.

No one can say which of these initiatives, if any, will be brought into effect but we cannot deny one obvious fact that there has been a response from those in power. It seems that the authorities expected post-election meetings and protests to come to an end quite naturally as time passes and the tension eases.

Some claim that the President's address to be nothing more but a handout for citizens. Therefore, there are voices that call everyone still to take to the streets until the goal – fair re-elections – has been achieved. The user @WakeUpR (the official account of the organizating committee of the December 24 Moscow rally) tweeted [ru]:

Нам Медведев столько всего наобещал сегодня. Теперь ведь мы никуда не пойдем? Правда? Посидим тихонечко, подождем, пока выполнит.

Medvedev has given us so many promises today. So now we won't go anywhere? For real? Let’s just sit calmly and wait until he brings them into life.

Protest in St. Petersburg: split by politicians

In St. Petersburg opposition has split resulting in two separate meetings instead of one, which were held with a difference of only one hour (one at Pionerskaya Square and the other at Academic Saharov Square). According to the official statements, the majority of the organizations including political parties and movements during coordination meeting on December 22, voted [ru] against having nationalists as participants in the forthcoming meeting due to the provocations from them during the previous two meetings (on December 10th and 18th). In Moscow the danger of disrupting the demonstration was also quite high, although the protesters managed to reach a consensus.

Another explanation for the break was that the opposition has been fighting over power which none even possessed (illegally tapped conversations of Boris Nemtsov reflect the nature of relations between opposition politicians). Due to the lack of mutual trust, the demonstration failed to gather a lot of people who didn't want to be played. The majority of the protesters do not belong to any party but feel it necessary to defend their constitutional right to vote.

The rally at Pionerskaya Square started as planned at 1pm. People faced the first confusing surprise of that day – the scene was decorated with the emblems of just one party – A Just Russia, although the demonstration was organized by many activist groups. Moreover their hymn played before and after the meeting, making the whole demonstration look like their own creation.

The stage with emblem of Just Russia. Photo by dugwin (dugwin.net)

The stage with emblem of A Just Russia. Photo by dugwin (dugwin.net) (Used with the permission of the author).

Such monopolization of demonstration symbolics (beneficial to A Just Russia, and particularly Sergey Mironov who will be running as a presidential candidate in March 2012) evoked rejection and repudiation among the participants. @dark_vovich exclaimed [ru]:

Piter [St.Petersburg] has wimped out today’s meeting entirely…

And added [ru]:

A Just Russia is almost like United Russia. They have occupied the meeting in Piter. Shame!

@Andrey_Seryakov tweeted [ru] about the outcome of such actions:

Справедливая Россия сегодня, похоже, окончательно отбила желание у Петербуржцев ходить на митинги.

It seems that A Just Russia has ultimately put Petersburgers off going to meetings.

This meeting gathered from 2,500 to 5000 participants, significantly less than in Moscow. The protesters, however, are not discouraged. Moderators of Vkontakte group “Saint-Petersburg for fair elections” addressed [ru] “A Just Russia” politicians who had jeopardized a citizen initiative:

Мы выходим на улицы не потому что мы идем за вами, а потому что мы сознательные граждане, которые хотят, чтобы законы их страны соблюдались и чтобы выборы были честными. ЭТО НЕ ВЫ ВЫВОДИТЕ НАС НА УЛИЦЫ, ЭТО МЫ ВЫВОДИМ ВАС!

We go to the streets not because we follow you, but because we are responsible citizens, who want the laws of their country to be obeyed and elections to be honest. IT iIS NOT YOU WHO BRING US TO THE STREETS, BUT US WHO BRING YOU!

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

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