Despite police violence, tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Russia. They demand freedom for Alexei Navalny – and the end of the Putin system.
MOSCOW taz | Stas Ivanov is familiar with these pictures, he has often seen them on his tablet and commented on them on his smartphone. Pictures of protesters demanding a life by law from their government; Pictures of police officers in full gear hitting people peacefully standing around; Images of injured people writhing in pain and shouting “freedom”.
He knows pictures like this from Ukraine, Belarus, and also from Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East. “It’s one thing to look at pictures like this on your comfortable sofa, but the other thing is to suddenly find yourself right in the middle. Up to now I had always avoided being in the thick of it, but now it’s enough, ”says the 28-year-old on Pushkin Square in Moscow. Here, in the center of the Russian capital, the team around the imprisoned Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny had called on people to protest. They should show that they no longer want to live with the arbitrary judiciary of the state. You should demand freedom for Navalny.
And the people come, they come en masse. In Moscow, in Saint Petersburg, in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, in Yakutsk, in Yekaterinburg and in Barnaul. In almost 100 cities, tens of thousands of dissatisfied people gather on the streets this Saturday, sometimes at temperatures of minus 40 degrees. Although the state had set up a strong threat in advance, they appear convinced that the intimidation tactic would work. They come as family and friends, regardless of whether they are 60, 40 or 20 years old. In Moscow alone there were said to have been more than 40,000 protesters.
Stas Ivanov also made the trip from the Moscow area with two friends, it is their first unauthorized demonstration that they are present at. “Something clicked in my head and I thought: today or never. Despite great fear. “
The locksmith looks around, the place is surrounded by OMON special police. One of them keeps shouting: “Dear citizens, pay attention to the hygiene measures that have been taken because of the epidemiological situation. Note the required distance, put on masks and gloves. “
Other “Omonowzy” go into the crowd and grab people at random, lead them away, some defend themselves, others let it happen without a word. Pushkin Square is impassable. In the surrounding streets, people stand along the curbs, they clap, they wave, they shout: “Freedom” or “Russia without mud” – and they respond to the new revelatory film, Navalnys. The anti-corruption fighter showed the alleged riches of the president in his almost two-hour video “Putin’s Palace” and attacked him directly. There is also a mud bath in it. But here, on the streets not far from the Kremlin, the people are concerned with far more than Navalny’s revelations and the detention of the politician after a more than questionable court hearing.
“Navalny is just a catalyst”
“I’m not here about Navalny, I’m here for myself and my children, who should have a future in Russia, one of which one shouldn’t be afraid,” says 42 year old Anna Yaryschewa. “Navalny is just a catalyst for all of our dissatisfaction.”
Navalny himself – like his closest employees – are in custody and have little access to the outside world. But his wife Julia comes to Pushkin Square – and is immediately taken to a police van. This is the case for everyone who is directly associated with the work for Navalny, across the country.
In some Russian cities, however, the police react cautiously and let the protesters have their way. A policeman from Kursk, who recorded a video in support of Navalny, is fired. There are also demonstrations outside of Russia. “The world sees this arbitrariness, it sees Putin going nuts. Sooner or later something will change here, especially since it is the younger generation who want to make a difference. They can’t be bought with slightly better pensions, ”says Anna Jaryschewa and disappears into the crowd, wrapped in her bright green jacket.
The drivers in passing cars honk, they too wave and make the victory sign. People are happy about each other – and know: the danger is near. “But not coming here is even more scary than being here,” says the 25-year-old Alexandra, who has already participated in dozens of protests with her mother Julia. “But this one has a more serious character.”
Just an hour later, dozens of special police officers rushed into the crowd, beating them with their batons, kicking them, and forcing them into the metro stations. The protesters walk towards the Kremlin, towards the secret service headquarters on the Lubyanka. They throw snow at the police officers. The police are chasing the men and women through the streets. At the end of the day, more than 1,600 people were arrested in Russia. The investigative committee announces that it will investigate “violence against civil servants”.