On Voina, Khimki and Manezh Square

Source: hro.org (info), 15/12/10

· Human Rights Defenders · Ministry of Internal Affairs · Racism and Xenophobia

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis: If we compare the arrest of Vorotnikov and Nikolaev from the Voina art performance group after the overturning of a police car in St Petersburg, or the arrest of Solopov and Gaskarov after the events at Khimki Town Hall, with the reaction of the authorities to the pogroms on Manezh Square, a number of points can be made.

First, making arrests during such mass disorders, as at Manezh Square, is difficult. The police detain some people, but then it turns out that they have no evidence against them. This is because, unless they falsify the evidence, it is not possible to determine who did what. At most it would be possible to charge the person arrested with resisting the police. But none of those who specifically beat up people on the Square, or later in the metro, were detained.

Second, of course, comparing this with the situation of the Voina art group is senseless. This is a specific group of people who are well known. All that is needed is for the police to go and pick them up. But on Manezh Square it was necessary to work out who were the instigators, or those who were directly responsible for certain attacks. They could not arrest several thousand people. In addition, presumably, this would take time. Perhaps this will still come about. But perhaps not.

Third, in the case of Khimki, those arrested (and they tried to arrest others, but failed) were the ones thought to be the organizers, although I cannot say how much truth there might be in this. But on Manezh Square it was not possible to identify people in that way on the spur of the moment. In principle it can be assumed that some people will be identified by video, for example, and charged with organizing the disturbances, assaulting the police and other things of this kind. In Khimki they arrested those who were visible. Here it would have been possible to act in the same way: to arrest Belov, for example, and charge him with something or another. But here another question arises: in reality, the attacks were the work of other people. After all, it was not Belov who actually attacked anyone. And these people have to be found, which is difficult.

In addition, the authorities, of course, are afraid of fresh outbreaks of disorder. That is why yesterday, as a result of some ridiculous rumour, they cordoned off Manezh Square for several hours, although nothing was going to happen there. Tomorrow, probably, the police will all be sent to Kievskaya metro station. After riots of such scale, the authorities are concerned not so much with the identification and punishment of criminals, as to avoid a repetition. Generally speaking, it is a weak policy. But I must say that it’s not only in our country that things happen in this way.

The authorities feel very uncertain of themselves when dealing with a large mass of aggressive people. It’s a fact that, when the number of participants in disorders is measured in thousands, the authorities don’t want to get involved.

The OMON riot police were not able to break up the protests on the Square, as usually happens on the 31st of the month, simply because the relationship of forces was radically different. And in general, if the participants in the rally on Manezh Square had not wanted to leave the Square, they would not have left, there were not sufficient forces to move them on.

It comes down to a question of numbers. Roughly speaking, whenever the authorities are faced with a small group of people, no matter how deviant the behaviour, they can simply suppress them by force. But if the group is a large one, then negotiations begin. And arrests can of course be combined with negotiation, but this requires political art, and it is risky.

I do not want to make predictions, but I think after some time has gone by, after a week or two, everyone will realize that nothing more is going to happen, and then the arrests will begin. In the coming days it is unlikely that anything like the events of 11 December will take place. It would be difficult to organize anything. The authorities have had their fingers burnt and have now mobilized intensively. It is clear that the leaders of the nationalist groupings, which are the main beneficiaries of the events on Manezh Square, if they are not complete idiots, will not organize anything at the moment. But they will probably wait for the right moment to do it again. Mostly likely one arrest or other could prove to be the pretext. I think the authorities know this. Here it’s necessary to be very cunning. And I think some tricks have already been planned.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Centre for Information & Analysis

Source: Grani.ru
Rights in Russia,
15 Dec 2010, 12:10