Only the Brave

Russia Profile

This Wednesday, demonstrations in support of the Strategy 31 campaign took place not only in Russia, but also abroad, as a group of people gathered outside the Russian Consulate in west London to show solidarity with the protesters back home. It has been a year since this movement started in Britain, with people hoping to draw the attention of the West to the plight of those Russians who demand that their Constitution be respected. Their aim is to make the Russian government comply with Article 31, which reads “Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets.”

Every 31st of the month that has it, the campaigners organize mass protests across Russia, while their compatriots and sympathizers in the UK stand for the cause where they can. This happens to be much safer ground – according to Pavel Stroilov, who has been taking part in the London protests from the start, there have never been any problems with the local authorities: “All it takes is a brief phone call to notify the police in advance,” he said. Back in Russia, particularly in Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow, things are a lot more hectic: skirmishes with the police lead to many people getting detained. This time there were several dozen arrests in Moscow, where the police took a hard line when dispersing the crowd near the Mayakovskaya metro station, and in St. Petersburg, during the sit-in by Gostinny Dvor.

The latest demonstration in London focused on the plight of two people whose freedom is in danger. One is Maksim Petlin, a politician from Ekaterinburg and the leader of the regional branch of Yabloko, who was remanded last week. He is accused of trying to bribe local developers in order to save one of the city’s parks, but the pretext for his arrest was the fact that he participated in a meeting against the construction of a shopping mall on the site of the park.

Evgeny Legedin, another activist from Ekaterinburg, is facing libel charges. He was seen on the streets with a banner that accused the regional prosecutor of lying and corruption. Before he was due to appear in court Legedin left for London, and is now applying for political asylum in the UK. He is currently at a detention center awaiting the decision of the immigration authorities, so he could not attend the rally, but his name was held up as another example of oppression in Russia. Other slogans displayed at the protest included “Magnitsky’s murderers to justice,” “free elections,” “free assembly” and “freedom to political prisoners.” Passers-by turned their heads in surprise at the banners, which featured Vladimir Putin urging businesses to invest in Russia while pointing at his own pocket, and Mikhail Prokhorov proclaiming “Just Cause: Dodgy Idea.”

Martin Dewhirst, a retired lecturer on Russian literature and history who actively works to protect liberty in a country that still fascinates him, came to the demonstration despite the tiresome commute. “I attend these meetings because since 2000, Russia has become less free, less liberal, less democratic, more closed. A small demonstration like this is better than no demonstration, so I am glad people came to protest. It is easy to be brave in this country, which is why I am disappointed that so few Russians living or staying here chose to join us. It is deplorable and disgraceful that the majority feel indifferent,” he said. Indeed, there were only a few dozens of people on the street, Dewhirst not the only Brit among them; Ben Purton, who takes a strong interest in current affairs, also came along to support his friends. An avid chess player who won the UK Chess Challenge in 2004, he said: “It is important that people recognize the numerous problems that exist in countries that don’t get as much public and media attention as they should. Russia seems to be on its own; we do not often hear news of the way democracy is struggling there. It was the same when it attacked Georgia – can you imagine one European country invading another with so little reaction over here?”

Garnering support in the West is one of the goals of Strategy 31, although it may take some time to achieve. Edward Lucas, the international editor of The Economist, also attended the rally in front of the Russian Consulate in London. “I used to come here 30 years ago to protest against various things. There used to be slogans of all kinds: ‘free Sakharov,’ ‘Soviets out of Estonia,’ ‘Soviet tanks out of poland,’ ‘Soviet tanks out of Afghanistan,’ all the hot issues of the 1970s and 1980s. At the end of the day, history always finds ways to prove who is right and who is wrong. I think the ruling elites in Russia also understand that the system is doomed, otherwise why would they be sending their children to schools here? They can see the cracks in their regime, and they know it has to change,” he said.

This year’s rally was not as large-scale as last year’s and it may not have made UK headlines, but most participants said they will be returning on October 31 to keep the movement going. займы на карту срочно быстрые займы на карту https://zp-pdl.com/fast-and-easy-payday-loans-online.php zp-pdl.com быстрые займы на карту

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