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Strategy 31 Loses Alexeyeva

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This month marks the end of Lyudmila Alexeyeva’s involvement in Strategy 31.  The movement, started in July 2009 by Eduard Limonov, held protest rallies at the end of every month that contained 31 days, an emblematic nod to Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, regarding the right to hold peaceful demonstrations.  The rallies were initially held in Triumfalnaya Square, and were never sanctioned by the Moscow authorities, which came up with all manner of excuses to prevent the gatherings including rival pro-Kremlin rallies and, finally, extensive construction work.  The protest in March of last year saw plenty of arrests and police scuffles.  But the group has been split since October last year, after human rights veteran Alexeyeva agreed to the authorities’ requests that the protests be capped at 800, whilst Eduard Limonov refused to compromise: ‘Let Lyudmila Mikhailovna, in her agreed-upon space, watch how we are hauled into paddy wagons.‘ 
Even with the new Moscow Mayor exhibiting more sympathy with the protesters, the gatherings are still only sanctioned if they are held at Pushkinskaya Square, which is where Alexeyeva and her followers have been gathering – until now, that is.  Alexeyeva says that she will no longer gather under the banner of Strategy 31, preferring to move on to other issues, namely free and fair elections.  Meanwhile the rest of the group, following the lead of Eduard Limonov, say they will continue to gather in unsanctioned force on Triumfalnaya.

Announcing that the protests would end, Alexeyeva claimed a victory for the movement’s efforts, reasoning that the authorities’ sanctioning of her protests shows that they recognize her and her supporters’ right to peaceful protest.  ‘Strategy 31 has fulfilled its task. The authorities have had to accept us,she said.  ‘This is the fourth time that they have sanctioned our rally.‘  But other human rights advocates disagree: ‘I think it’s silly to call for free assembly at a rally that has been authorized,‘ said Lev Ponomarev.  Limonov’s own take is that the ‘sanctioning’ is just a lip-service concession: ‘We have not obtained freedom of assembly, it is obvious,‘ he said.  And he’s right, of course: any limitation or condition on the freedom to gather peacefully completely undermines the notion of freedom itself.  

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82-year-old Alexeyeva’s role in the movement has been important, not least because of the press attention garnered by her presence at the rallies, and in particular, the outcry that followed her arrest in January 2010.  One can possibly understand Alexeyeva’s reasoning in claiming a victory for being granted the freedom to protest in peace, given both that arrest and the incident last March in which she was insulted and struck on the head by an unknown assailant whilst laying flowers at a metro bombing memorial.
Tomorrow’s protest, however, promises to be an eventful one, as it will coincide with a Dissenter’s March in St Petersburg, calling for the removal of Governor Valentina Matviyenko, which has been banned by City Hall.  Andrei Dmitriyev says the authorities have been particularly unwilling to sanction this march due to Matviyenko’s already-precarious position. Expect to see some clashes…
Photo: Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters