Thousands of Russian opposition activists held a rally in Moscow on May 6 to mark five years since the 2012 Bolotnaya Square antigovernment protest in Moscow.
Moscow authorities approved the rally on a section of Sakharov Avenue in the city center. But city authorities refused to allow an opposition march toward Bolotnaya Square itself.
Alec Luhn, a correspondent for The Guardian, tweeted that at least seven protesters were detained at Bolotnaya Square on May 6 after they held up placards with photographs of people who were jailed for taking part in the 2012 protest.
The latest May 6 protest in Moscow was named by the organizers: For Russia, Against Arbitrary Practices And Reprisals.
Participants chanted slogans like “Russia without Putin!” and “Putin is a thief!”
Organizers claimed as many as 10,000 protesters took to the streets for the anti-Putin rally. Independent observers estimated that about 3,000 people took part.
According to Russia’s Interior Ministry, about 1,000 people attended the rally, with participants listening to speeches and music.
“The police and Russian National Guard are ensuring public order and security,” the ministry said.
Sakharov Avenue was closed for traffic, while those entering the rally area had to walk through metal detectors.
Delay to protest
Meanwhile, the start of the demonstration was briefly delayed when municipal authorities and police tore down banners from a stage that had been set up for rally speakers.
Those banners contained slogans like “‘The Case Of May 6,” “Shame On Russia,” and “Enough With Kadyrov, Enough Despotism” — referring to Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Putin head of Russia’s Chechnya region.
Russian journalist Aleksandr Ryklin, a moderator of the rally, said municipal officials alleged that the banners were “subversive” and tore them down “because they believe that they contradict the purpose of our rally.”
Meanwhile, demonstrators carried Russian flags, posters, and other banners.
Many participants wore badges and ribbons reading: “Five Years Since The Bolotnaya.”
An 81-year-old rally participant named Alla told RFE/RL that she is “worried sick” about the things happening in Russia since Putin came into power.
“I became anxious since the very beginning when Mr. Putin came to power and the first thing he did was to shut down [independent] NTV,” Alla said. “It was very scary. Then I remember [the sinking of] the Kursk submarine. Then I remember Beslan [school siege]. I remember everything. I am doing everything [I can] to have this government changed.”
Another protester, who identified herself as Tatyana, told RFE/RL that the longer Russians accept living in an “isolated country, the harder our life will be in the future.”
Once the demonstration was under way, Russian opposition activist and former State Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov told the crowd that Russia has become “internationally isolated” because of Putin’s policies.
“The country is in a deep economic and — actually — systemic crisis,” Gudkov said. “The system of our governance is good for nothing. The country is getting involved in ever new armed conflicts. We lost 42 million [people] during World War II. Do we want to risk our lives, the lives of our family members and loved ones, the future of our children again?”
Russian Yabloko Party leader Sergei Mitrokhin said “the main danger for Russia today is a weak, cowardly, and dangerous government.”
On May 6, 2012, several thousand Russians demonstrated on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow against Putin’s reelection, and there were clashes with police during the event.
Between 400 and 700 people were detained. Dozens have been prosecuted and many have spent time in pretrial detention or been sentenced to prison. Some remain behind bars.
Fearing persecution, several other people, who had not yet been officially accused, left Russia and were granted asylum in Spain, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, and Germany.
Participants in the 2012 protest blame police for the violence and say that the severity of the charges laid against demonstrators has been grossly disproportionate to their actions.
The reaction of Russian authorities after the 2012 demonstration also included a crackdown against the country’s opposition leaders.
Nikolai Kavkazsky, an opposition activist who was jailed after the 2012 Bolotnaya Square protest and only recently was released, told the Moscow rally on May 6 that “Kadyrov has been de facto waging genocide in Chechnya.”
“Should we allow this to happen, it will begin in other [Russian] regions as well, because Chechnya is a certain testing ground of totalitarianism,” Kavkazsky said. “Russia may be transformed into one big Chechnya in the future. I believe we must resist. We must help political prisoners. We need to stand up against all sorts of repression.”
This report contains information from Interfax, Reuters and Tass.