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Moscow Street Musicians Tape Their Mouths Shut to Protest Police Pressure

Single-person protest by a street musician on Arbat, Moscow, on July 2. Photo from Oleg Mokryakov on Facebook.

Single-person protest by a street musician on Arbat, Moscow, on July 2. Photo from Oleg Mokryakov on Facebook.

The Arbat street in downtown Moscow is known for its tourist attractions, including souvenir shops, art vendors, Russian restaurants, and the requisite Starbucks. Of course, the Arbat street musicians and performers also contribute to the atmosphere that attracts hordes of visitors to the pedestrian area. And now they're protesting for their right to perform in the street.

On June 28 those walking on Arbat could observe a group of 40 or so musicians protesting, and on July 2 and 8 single-person protests also took place, with musicians and other performers standing with their gear, their money boxes, their mouths and their hands bound with duct tape to symbolize “their voices being shut down.” Many RuNet users documented the protests on social media.

On Arbat musicians are holding single-person pickets against illegal police detentions.

The musicians’ main motivation for staging the protests is the rise in police detentions and fines, which they believe have no legal grounds. Oleg Mokryakov, a leader of one of the music collectives playing on Arbat, wrote on Facebook that with their actions, the musicians want to draw the attention of the public and the local government to the issue. Mokryakov, who uses his Facebook page to document the detentions across Moscow, posted a handful of photos from the protests.

Полиция бросается на артистов, отвозит их в отделения, конфисковывает инструменты, выписывает повестки в суды, которые приговаривают их к огромным штрафам по разнообразным статьям, на какую только хватит фантазии (обычно 10000 рублей за устройство несанкционированного собрания зрителей).

Police is attacking artists, taking them to police stations, confiscating their instruments, giving them court summons, and the courts then appoint huge fines based on various articles, depending on their imagination (usually 10,000 rubles for organizing an unsanctioned gathering of spectators).

Mokryakov promised the protests would continue and become “more creative” until those who abused their powers were held accountable.

Picket organizer Oleg Mokryakov recounted the promises of deputy Kapkov [former head of Moscow's department of culture] about legalizing street musicians.

Moscow residents seem to be sympathetic to the artists’ cause, both in their responses to the mainstream media and online. Journalist Yury Saprykin told Echo of Moscow radio station that he considers street performers to be “a natural adornment of the urban environment” and said that “loud music on the city streets” was “no cause for arrests.”

Arbat musicians are against being kicked out. And they're right, Arbat is nothing without music.

Other Twitter users questioned the unequivocal support for the buskers, and wondered why they deserved special treatment.

Are these the same musicians and artists who don't pay their taxes? Maybe that's the reason [for detentions]?

While the musicians on Arbat vow to continue their struggle, the Moscow authorities have seemingly reacted to the intitial protests. Aleksandr Kibovsky, head of Moscow's department of culture, spoke out in support of the idea of creating a system of patents for street performers, Slon reports. The patents, currently being developed by the department and a committee in the Moscow Duma, would allow to spread the musicians evenly across Moscow's districts, and the fees from the patents would flow back into the city budget. It is still unclear how the proposed patent system would work and whether it would mitigate the threat of “extralegal” police detentions.

The unofficial protest leader Oleg Mokryakov applauded the city authorities’ decision to address the artists’ demands, but pointed to the continuing police pressure against them, with several musicians detained in various parts of Moscow on the very day the authorities were discussing their plight.

Мы не примем подачек в виде разговоров о “диалоге”!
Мы требуем, чтобы полиция перестала приставать к музыкантам, художникам и другим представителям уличного искусства, выполняя уже существующие законы, уважая конституционные свободы.

We won't accept handouts in the form of discussions of a “dialogue”!
We demand that the police stop harassing the musicians, artists and other representatives of street art, abiding by the existing laws and respecting constitutional freedoms.

Single-person protests on Arbat. Poster says “Police, hands off the music of the streets!” Photo from Oleg Mokryakov on Facebook.

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