The rain came pouring down on the thousands in the crowd at the Solidarity movement’s protest rally at Chistoprudny Boulevard. “I hope that after this protest, the phrase ‘it’s raining like cats and United Russia’ will become part of the language. United Russia, no doubt, has gone to the dogs,” said critically acclaimed writer and journalist Dmitry Bykov.
It took a long time for the protest to start: the organisers were asking people as they arrived to wait, since the police were refusing to let the waves and waves of people making their way to the protest on through (more people were turning up than the organisers had stated in their application to hold the rally). People were standing shoulder-to-shoulder right up to the middle of the boulevard, having taken up the sidewalks and lawns. There were roughly ten thousand people present.
All the speakers said that yesterday’s election results were a victory for the opposition. “The Swindlers and Thieves Party (United Russia) suffered a devastating defeat. Yes, they announced on state-controlled television that they had received 49% of the vote, but who’s going to believe them?”, Boris Nemtsov roared into the microphone. Writer Viktor Shenderovich and Music Critic Artemy Troitsky pointed out that this was only the beginning, and that the main events would take place in March during the presidential elections.
“Thank you for voting. We showed (Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir) Churov and his bosses that we exist,” Alexei Navalny said. “They’re thinking, ‘well, they got to yell a bit and went home, while we have cosmonauts in spotted uniforms’ (a reference to the riot police). We’ll show them that we are the power, because we exist!”
The attendees were worked up. The chants “Russia without EdRo (United Russia)” and “Putin, go!” rolled down from the end of the boulevard like a wave, often interrupting the speakers. Roman Dobrokhotov, a supporter of the Nah-Nah movement, burned his ballot right up on stage.
After Putin was heckled and booed by fans at the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Jeff Monson fight, the whistle became one of the protest’s symbols. Whistles were passed out to the speakers on stage, and the protest leader, Ilya Yashin, suggested that every one give United Russia their best with a big, loud whistle. “Putin isn’t going to be showing up at any more public events,” Yashin proclaimed after the whistling had quieted down a big and people could hear him again.
At the end of the meeting, Yashin announced into the microphone, “Now let’s roll up our flags and posters and head on down the sidewalk, while not blocking traffic, toward the Lubyanka metro station, where the Central Election Commission is located, so that we don’t overcrowd the nearest metro station”. The protesters set off down the street, not the sidewalk, yelling, “Russia without Putin!” They weren’t able to get far: riot police, armed in body armour and helmets, stood in a line on Myasnitskaya Street. At first the crowd of protesters and police stood there opposite each other in silence, but then a minute later the riot police started moving forward in unison. “We aren’t retreating!”, someone in the crowd yelled. The people, however, fell back and a stampede started to take shape. The police were able to clear the crossroads at Myanitskaya Street and Chistoprudny Boulevard by pushing the people onto the sidewalks. The policeman with the megaphone had become more stern: “Don’t walk out onto the street. You’ll get squished and it’s going to hurt.” The police stuffed the people in the police vans, chaotically picking them out one at a time from the crowd. The protesters, nonetheless, didn’t leave the scene; roughly two thousand stayed on the Myasnitskiye Gates square, the sidewalk of Chistoprudny Boulevard and by the exits from the metro. There were a lot of young people and students, people that didn’t bear resemblance to opposition members, and all of them screamed “disgrace!” at the police and contended to the riot police cordoning the space off that they were protecting criminal in power. Spirited pensioners, those traditionally in attendance at democratic protests were nowhere to be seen.
Some of the people where nonetheless able to breakthrough to Lubyanka, and protest groups were downtown for several hours after the rally had taken place; the police detained Navalny, Yashin and other leaders by the Bolshoi Theatre. The path to Lubyanka metro station on Myasnitskaya Street had also been blocked off by a chain of police who fell back only to let the police vans and running riot police get through. It seems that they were rushing to where protesters had bunched together. The people standing around serenaded them with jeers and cries of “common, faster, let’s go!” Among them was a young kid with a drum that seemed to come out of nowhere that he used to set a rhythm for the people’s cries.
The city had become silent and occupied by the police at around 10 at night, with Manezhnaya Square completely blocked off. The police cordon had been put up along Teatralny Way and on Bolshoi Cherkassky Alley next to the Central Election Commission. Revolution Square was flooded with trucks and police vans, as interior military troops were using it for their forming-up.
5 and 6 December
I and dozens of others spent the night at two police departments where those apprehended – Navalny and Yashin – were being taken. Here’s how it went down.
After the protest rally on 5 December at Chisty Prudy, 300 people were detained, including Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin. I and dozens of others spent the night at two police departments to achieve one objective: give attorneys the chance to reach those detained.
I arrived at the Northern Izmailovo police department at around 1:30 in the morning. There were around 60 people who had gathered by the gates, with a hoard of cars in the parking lot covered in stickers proclaiming “United Russia – the party of swindlers and thieves”. Armed police officers in body armour surrounded the perimeter of the police department.
When I arrived, it had turned out that Boris Nemtsov and Gennady Gudkov were able to get inside the police department, and that food and water had been passed onto the people detained. Navalny and Yashin’s attorneys – Vadim Kobzev and Violetta Volkova – stood on the threshold of the police department and were not let inside.
After making a few phone calls, Navanly and Yashin were found to have been transferred to the Kitai-Gorod police department. At around three in the morning about 50 people had arrived here, and approximately a dozen or so police were blocking them from entering the building. The people continued to demand that the detainees’ attorneys be let in to meet with them, but the police refused to comply and called for back up. Some time later, around 10 police cars had pulled up and some 40 police officers were present, while the immediate street had been closed off. People started to yell out “Attorneys” and “Disgrace!” Subsequently, a lieutenant colonel came out and began to push people aside while being openly crass about it. He refused to give people his name, and after squabbling with them for a long time, he went back inside the police department, repeating his order to the subordinate offers to not let anyone inside.
Then the people called the police emergency hotline and were able to reach an agreement that called for the attorneys to be allowed to visit their clients within the next three minutes, if the protesters were to move away from the police department building and toward the street, which is exactly what they did; however, 20 minutes later the police did not fulfil their part of the bargain, so the arguing with the police ensued.
It turned out that the shift supervisor at the police department deceived the police emergency hotline by reporting that he wasn’t allowing the attorneys to enter, because they didn’t have the permits or orders, although all the documents they needed were there.
At around five in the morning, Vladislav Lovitsky, a stooge from the Young Guard youth movement whose nose Ilya Yashin broke a few months ago, approached the police department building. He had no trouble at all getting through the barricade and began to peacefully chat with the police. Enraged, I crossed the cordon and demanded an explanation for this, but they began to audaciously shove me back; the entrance to the police department was blocked off by policemen in heavy armour, at the time around 50 of them. They ignored my numerous demands to give their names and show their credentials and stopped acting illicitly only when several others came to my defence. We later found out through talking to them that the police had orders from their superiors to keep anyone from entering the building, and that they would follow these orders no matter what. They couldn’t even answer why Lovitsky was allowed to get through the barrier and why they were pushing back only us. I was able to work out an agreement that would have us leave the premises as long as Lovitsky did, which worked.
Just as Lovitsky walked outside the fence, he started yelling to the policemen: “Police, Police, I am afraid they’re going to beat me!” But the police ignored him completely. When he realised that he was crying wolf in vain, he began to walk around and make a call.
At about 5.30 in the morning, large groups of young people began to make their way from Red Square. What they were up to at such early hours was a mystery to us, but as soon we got word that a bus with members of the Nashi youth movement had pulled up on the neighbouring street, we realised what was going on. Groups of young people had gathered together behind the corner of Red Square and were patrolling the streets in groups of two to five to find out just how many people had gathered in the area and what they were doing.
At around six in the morning, the police declared that if we don’t leave the area by 9 a.m., then we would be detained. Some of the people left, but the majority of them stayed after a speech by Pyotr Shkumatov that was meet with thunderous applause. There were 20 buses with young people spotted on Bolotnaya Square, and groups of young people were seen walking around on Red Square, but we weren’t allowed to go there.
For the first time in many months, the police did not cordon off the colonnades of the Chaikovsky Concert Hall on Triumph Square; however, pro-Kremlin youth movements, dressed in green vests and white coats, blocked them of by lining up on the steps in several rows and waving Russian flags.
The movement leaders walked alongside them and prompted chants into their megaphones: “Russia! Putin!” and “Victory! Medvedev!” Activists from the Steel movement set the beat by banging on drums, seemingly fused to their hands, and drowned out all the other sounds. “Russia! Russia!” the Nashi members tooted. “Without Putin!” yelled a young man who had squeezed his way up against the theatre entrance. “I wanted to go to the gym, but this turned out to be more interesting!” a girl said to him who was balancing on a pot with a small artificial tree in it to get a better view.
Two forces had come together on the square: people upset with the election results, and members of Nashi; the latter were brought to Moscow and put up in one of the pavilions of the Russian National Exhibition Centre. Nashi didn’t have enough time to coordinate their actions for the mass rally: they decided to take Triumph Square unexpectedly, when, after the protest involving 10 thousand people the day before at Chistiye Prudy was broken up, the opposition leaders announced that a protest would be held at Triumph Square under the slogan “Free the detainees”. In other words, Nashi’s public actions were not approved by the mayor’s administration, but that didn’t stop the police from taking their side. The riot police jostled the “dissidents,” used police columns to force them off the square and used brutal methods to detain them.
Those to escape being detained tried to fortify their position on the other side of Tverskaya Street by the Peking hotel. They yelled “Freedom!” and “Russia without Putin!”
The leader of the political party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, was detained, quickly released, but then soon shoved back into the police van. As always, Eduard Limonov, the leader of Other Russia, was scooped up before he could even set foot on the square. All in all, Mitrokhin and Limonov ended up at the police department together. “Limonov and I are sitting here at the Tverskoye police department arguing about the political situation in the country,” Mitrokhin wrote on his Twitter page.
An hour and a half later, the protesters, around 500 people, centred their main efforts on the steps of the Satire Theatre and then closer to Aquarium Garden Park. The police were stuffing people left and right into the police vans. The dissidents jeered and yelled “Cops are Russia’s disgrace!” and “It’s shameful to be a Nashi member!” The youth-group members moved in the protesters’ direction and a fist fight broke out, but the police got in between the two sides. The drummers from the Steel movement were put out on the front line, and the protesters retorted by raising a poster with a picture of Putin’s many heads on it and “The Duma is illegitimate” written under it. The people holding the poster were immediately hauled in the police vans, but the poster was saved and again was raised up over the crowd. The Nashi members then took to tear the poster apart, and some objects were thrown at them, including a flare. The fight saw the protesters successfully rip one of the youth movements’ drums away from them and grandiosely carry it along toward the Garden Ring, where the police line was driving the people toward. The Mayakovskaya metro station had already been closed long ago, and around 1,500 people were marching from Triumph Square along the sidewalks where people continued to be detained.
P.S. Ilya Yashin and Aleksei Navalny were sentenced to 15 days in prison. More than 600 people have been brought to the police station, and many of them are not able to meet with their attorneys. On Saturday, 10 December, the opposition is planning to hold a protest at Bolotnaya Square in downtown Moscow, with over 35 thousand people having registered for the event on the protest’s Facebook page as of 9 December.