All people are sisters: women’s march on St Petersburg draws crowds

(Photo credit: Francesca Visser)

Unauthorised women’s march in St Petersburg results in numerous detentions

By Shima Vezvaei & Francesca Visser

A crowd of around 300 people gathered this afternoon at Malaya Sadovaya in an unauthorised feminist march to Palace Square in St Petersburg. The demonstration, although peaceful, was interrupted several times by police forces who detained a total of ten demonstrators throughout the march. Women and men of every age came to the streets to protest against patriarchy. Among the main issues raised during the demonstration were the recent decriminalisation of domestic violence, labour market discrimination, and the importance to defend the right to abortion.

2.45– Malaya Sadovaya

Demonstrators gathered in Malaya Sadovaya singing Russian feminist songs like Walls Will Collapse (стены рухнут), I Love Your Girlfriends (я люблю своих подруг) and Bread and Roses (хлеб и розы) while many others distributed handouts and newspapers to participants.

As the demonstration didn’t receive any approval from the authorities, police tried on different occasions to halt the march while filming the participants and checking IDs. The march started after police arrested two activists and took away the main banner with which people were taking pictures. Demonstrators responded by booing the police and shouting “for shame, for shame, for shame”.

3.15– Nevsky Prospekt

From Malaya Sadovaya, the march continued to the city centre under strong police surveillance. According to the Russian law, banners are not allowed at unauthorised protests. Many participants told Prospekt that their banners were not stating political agendas and found the police ‘brutality’ unreasonable. “Look at my girlfriend’s poster! It only says feminism is humanism. Mine said, ‘friendship among women is a beautiful thing’. Maybe they just can’t handle that,” says Kate, a St Petersburg LGBT activist whose banner was taken away from her by security forces.

Demonstrators were shouting slogans during the rally, among which were “all people are sisters”, “human rights are women’s rights”, “down to patriarchy”, “we can go anywhere we want, any time we want–day or night”.

“Nowadays in Russia any demand for our free will is not welcome. We are here from different groups and parties– the left, liberals, anarchists, feminists etc. We are all here because we are the people who care,” says Velentina Kovalishina, an activist from Russia’s socialist movement.

3.45– The bridge near the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

The crowd reached the bridge near the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood where a group of musician and performers were waiting for them with drum rolls and handmade instruments. The street performance lightened up the the intense mood of the rally after the arrests, but were stopped by the authorities after few minutes.

“The problem is feminism as a term is not very popular in Russia these days. People are afraid of us feminists. But are they afraid of music, dancing and happiness too? That’s what we want,” said one of the demonstrators while getting down to the upbeat performance.

Many men also stood alongside women during the rally. “I am here to support my girls but also I am here for myself because I think women’s rights are our rights,” said one performer playing the drum rolls for the crowd.

4.00– Arrests in front of Kazan Cathedral

Around 4pm, the demonstrators gathered in front of Kazan Cathedral where the drummers accompanied the slogans of the demonstrators with an improvised live performance. The show lasted about twenty minutes, where people joined in dance and song almost uninterrupted by the police. The main clashes followed when the demonstrators started marching again towards Palace Square. The police once again targeted the most prominent demonstrators and attempted to detain them, but were stopped by a large group of people who surrounded the police chanting initially “shame” and soon after “release them”. The chants seemed to have a positive effect since the police, obstructed in their arrest by the big crowd formed around them, decided to let the demonstrators go.

4.30– Palace Square

The demonstration ended in Palace Square where the group of remaining demonstrators gathered to exhibit the last banners and chant slogans defending women’s rights, the right to abortion and the necessity to criminalise domestic violence. The police, who followed the demonstrators until the very end, did not try to stop the demonstrators any further apart from asking them to take down their banners.

The demonstration ended on a bad note when some of the demonstrators, who were chanting the last slogans while leaving Palace Square, were attacked on Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa by a group of three young men. The attack was promptly stopped due to the one of demonstrators who took out a can of pepper spray from his coat and sprayed the aggressor’s face––who left giving the Nazi salute.

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