The Pageantry of the Strategy-31 Protest Movement

A Good Treaty has posted a translation of an interesting article by Oleg Kashin recounting his visit to the “Strategy-31” opposition rally in Triumfal’naia Square on May 31 in Moscow.  The perennial question of the Kremlin’s handling of the opposition movement is raised:  If so few people participate in these demonstrations, and pose so little chance of growing into something politically significant, then why are the authorities so scared to just let them march and, in theory, be ignored?

There are people — a thousand, maybe a thousand-and-a-half people. There are a great number of journalists. They stand on the steps and on the sidewalk. It’s crowded there because the space they occupy is limited by a police cordon. There is a crowd, and across the street from it is the back of the Young Guard’s blood drive stage, and between the stage and the crowd is an empty stretch of road, cordoned off by police. It’s on this piece of road that the police buses are parked. Some police are just standing in the barricade, some are running up in groups to the crowd, snatching away people, and dragging them into buses. (On what principle they do this remains unclear. This teenager standing next to me doesn’t understand, and neither do I, the journalist — and indeed it’s obvious that there isn’t really any principle at all.) Now they’re dragging someone along the asphalt, carrying someone else in their arms, and another person, with police officers close at hand, escorts himself. They detain them and, when they’ve sent everyone off to the various precincts, it seems it was about 150 people altogether — that is, every tenth person who attended. And so, one-out-of-ten are pulled into a bus, and nine-out-of-ten are left on the sidewalk and the steps. They applaud every person dragged off, but if they don’t applaud it’s because their hands are busy working a camera (of which there are many here, and not just in the hands of journalists). It seemed that people from two different dimensions had appeared in one place, neither noticing the other: police drag around detainees, not noticing photographers, and photographers dance around the police, snapping pictures, though the police couldn’t care less. And the people on the steps and on the sidewalk applaud and cry out “Shame!” and “Way to go, Shevchuk!” — at just the moment when the Young Guard’s side starts playing the poet [Viktor] Tsoi. (Now the teenager is probably thinking that the people are yelling about Shevchuk because Shevchuk is the ‘anti-Tsoi’ in the hierarchy of Russian rock musicians).