When it comes to defending the city, St Petersburg is loud and clear

(Photo credit: Till Rimmele)

Several thousand demonstrators attended a march in defence of St Petersburg’s culture and science  

By Francesca Visser & Shima Vezvaei

Several thousand demonstrators gathered today at the Field of Mars to protest once again against the transfer of St Isaac’s Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church. On the agenda of the event, besides the will to defend St Isaac’s Cathedral, was also the desire to manifest discontent with the city’s handling of cultural and educational institutions like the St Petersburg Public Library, the Pulkovo Observatory and the European University at St Petersburg.

Numerous speakers on the stage openly criticised both President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev for not doing enough to defend St Petersburg’s public institutions. In particular, Boris Vishnevsky, from the oppositional political party Yabloko, accused St Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko of “defending the will of the president rather than that of the citizens.”

Among the protestors was a group of students from European University at St Petersburg who were raising their objections against the situation regarding the suspension of the educational license of their university. “The issues that were raised today are all connected to each other. We are facing the same kind of undemocratic decision making process and unexpected power grab. They are applying political force on institutions like the Cathedral, university and the observatory and trying to take them over,” said Ilya, a graduate student from EUSP.  

The demonstrations drew crowds from all ages and across the ideological spectrum. “My mother is more excited than I am to be here today. Every time people are shouting ‘This is our city! This is our city!’, she presses my hand and asks me to join them in chanting,” said Kate, a young student who attended the demonstration with her mother.

A large number of participants hit the field sporting blue ribbons to show their support for the State Museum St Isaac’s Cathedral. “St Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia. Our Prime Minister can’t just gift the Orthodox Church with our monuments and museums,” said Jennya, one of the participants holding a banner of the cathedral coloured in blue.

The event, organised by concerned citizens and local activists of St Petersburg was permitted by the city authorities, however, a limit of 200 possible demonstrators was imposed. Although the limit was largely exceeded, the authorities did not try to obstruct the gathering and none of the organisers were fined.

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