Despite arrests, thousands attend Navalny rally against corruption in St Petersburg

(Photo credit: Till Rimmele)

Crowds of demonstrators took to the streets on 26 March, to protest government corruption, following a report accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of embezzlement

By Daniel Kozin and Andreas Rossbach

The protest on the Field of Mars attracted a large crowd demanding an official response to the allegations against the prime minister. The initial police reaction to the unauthorised protest was light, however, a smaller follow-up protest at Vosstaniya Square ended in the arrest of dozens of activists and journalists. 131 protesters were arrested in total throughout the day, according to Interfax, including journalists Sergey Satanovsky (Novaya Gazeta), Nadezhda Zaitseva (Vedomosti), Alexander Plyushev (Echo Moskvy), and others. Estimates for the total crowd ranged from 3,000 to 6,000 people.

Similar anti-corruption rallies took place across all of Russia today in a campaign initiated by the opposition leader and presidential hopeful Alexei Navalny, the author of the report (and YouTube video) targeting Medvedev, released earlier this month. Navalny was also arrested in Moscow along with more than 1,000 other activists in the biggest mass arrests in modern Russian history.

Because of the unauthorised nature of the demonstration, no stage or loudspeakers were allowed at the event on the Field of Mars. Rather, protesters discussed their grievances with each other on the square under the freezing rain, interspersed with chants that included “We demand an answer!” and “Impeach Putin!”

Polina Kostileva, the campaign manager for Navalny in St Petersburg, noted the peaceful nature of the protest and the presence of new faces.

“The atmosphere was good, the people organised themselves. It was peaceful and many young people came to express their discontent,” she said.

“Excellent, we thought. ‘Don’t lie’ and ‘Don’t steal’ are also traditional moral values,” Polina explained. The two phrases became the slogans of the rally.

People in the crowd shared everyday stories of corruption in places like kindergartens, hospitals, and at the workplace.

Elizaveta, aged 24, said it was her first time coming to a protest.

“I recently became a mother and I realised I’m not satisfied with the situation [in the country]. Before, I knew about corruption, but I never came out to demonstrations. Most of all, we want an answer and a reaction,” she said.

Igor, a young student of engineering, was another new face.

“I can’t say that I’m really interested in politics or want to support Navalny, but I felt that I needed to come here today. I don’t like many decisions taken by our government and how our police acts in many cases,” he said.

While many demonstrators wore symbols in support of Alexei Navalny’s presidential bid for the 2018 elections, others brought symbols of Medvedev’s alleged corruption—bright sneakers, toy ducks, and grapes.

After the main event on the Field of Mars, part of the crowd marched to Palace Square, before finishing at Vosstaniya Square, where the mass arrests occurred.

Nikolay Artemenko, an activist and main coordinator of the VESNA Youth Democratic Movement, expressed his hopes for the future:

“I really hope that something is going to change. Our government, the president, the prime minister and his inner circle of power are afraid and when they see so many people all over the country protesting against corruption, they will take some measures.”

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