Prospekt Magazine interviewed randomly selected people in central St Petersburg to hear why many didn’t attend one of the biggest protests in Russia in recent years
One week ago, on 26 March, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Russia in an anti-corruption protest targeting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The protest in St Petersburg was one of the best-attended in the city in years and took place along with rallies in 82 other cities across Russia.
News of the coming demonstration was largely spread through social networks and independent media, while federal TV channels—the source of news for the majority of Russians—only mentioned the event days after it already took place. Among the people Prospekt interviewed in St Petersburg, many said they hadn’t heard about the protests until afterwards.
“I am really surprised that people went, I don’t know how they got the information out,” said one pensioner. “Young people are so disinterested nowadays. They’re apolitical!”
Another man on Nevsky Prospekt said: “I heard that something happened in St Petersburg but I am not in the know, I don’t watch the news.”
Despite the fact that the rally was one of the best-attended in years, only about one in 1,000 people in St Petersburg participated. For many, 26 March was just like the end of any other weekend: a chance to relax and spend the day with family before the coming week. Meanwhile, for Russian opposition activists, the rally became the most significant civil society event since the 2012-2013 protests.
“I think it’s a huge mistake of our authorities that it wasn’t covered it in the mass media. It’s a real mess, they don’t even deny the corruption in the government,” said one young student, who didn’t attend the protest but who said some of his friends had attended. Many media outlets reported that there was a large percentage of teenagers at the protest rally.
In a statement about the protests, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov alleged that teenagers were promised financial compensation in case they were arrested.
“I wouldn’t have let my child go to the protest…no way,” said one elderly lady. “I think that the children were manipulated. They didn’t know what they were getting co-opted into. It’s something from the sphere of dirty politics,” she said.
In total, more than a thousand people were reportedly arrested in Russia as a result of the demonstrations on 26 March. Among them was Alexei Navalny, the author of the Youtube video targeting the Russian prime minister, and the initiator of the protests.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned Navalny’s fight against corruption as “an instrument of selfish political goals,” and called the protests an act of self-promotion before Russia’s presidential elections next year. He also warned about the bloody consequences that followed protests in the Arab Spring and Ukraine.
One week after the protests in Russia, there is still no indication that an official inquiry will be made to investigate the allegations against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Mr.Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said that the slogans and criticism of protesters in cities with sanctioned rallies would be taken into account by the authorities. St Petersburg was not one of those cities.