A large crowd gathered on the Field of Mars yesterday , answering Aleksei Navalny’s new call to protest against government corruption
Thousands St Petersburg citizens took part in an unauthorised anti-corruption demonstration on the Field of Mars on Monday. According to Fontanka, the crowd numbered over 10 thousand people. Protesters declined to comply with the authorities’ request to transfer the meeting outside the city centre. Consequently, as soon as people started gathering, the police proceeded with mass arrests. Besides anti-riot police, the Russian National Guard was deployed to curtail the protests. Police special vehicles were soon filled with arrested demonstrators. “This time, the police is behaving more harshly,” says Fyodor 20, a young protester who participated in a previous anti-corruption demonstration held in March.
Youngsters made up the majority of protestors. One fourth of people detained on the Field of Mars were underaged, Fontanka reports, referring to information from the authorities. Every arrest was met by shouts of “Shame!” and occasional resistance.
After a few hours spent protesting under the rain, the crowd began to move towards Palace Square and St Isaac’s Cathedral, but were stopped by the police, who blocked key access points to the squares. The police continued to arrest people who refused to comply with the restrictions.
The anti-corruption protest coincided with the Russia Day national holiday. Among the different banners waving in the crowd, Russian flags were the most numerous. They expressed a form of patriotism for Russia that is not conjoined with support for Putin’s government. Nicolay, 24, was among the protesters waving a Russian flag: “I don’t usually celebrate Russia Day but I realised that this country needs changes. And there is no more suitable day to express this need than Russia Day”. The goal of the protest was to demand an official response regarding corruption allegations against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
“Everybody knows about corruption but nothing is changing,” laments Diana, 23, a Navalny supporter. However, the demonstration soon acquired a generic anti-government nature. Besides corruption, other issues raised by the protesters included the war in Ukraine and the persecution of gay men in Chechnya. Slogans ranged from “Putin is a thief” to “Putin is a homophobe.” The chants were generally united by hostility towards the current regime and a desire for political change.
The spontaneous nature of the protest was enhanced by the absence of its main organisers. Activists Polina Kostyleva, Andrey Pivovarov, and Nikolay Artemenko wrote on social networks that they received a visit from the police which prevented them from joining the event. According to Pivovarov, the police declared they had material indicating that he was about to orchestrate mass disorders. Polina Kostyleva stated that the police wanted to interrogate her about what she calls a “made up charge.”
Anti-government rallies took place all across Russia. According to OVD, an independent monitoring group, 890 people were arrested in St Petersburg and 700 in Moscow. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny organised the protest on 12 June as a second attempt to demand official responses to his report “Don’t call him Dimon,” which accuses Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of colossal corruption.