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A few bright success stories...

7 May 2013 

Sergei Smirnov

A rally has been held in Moscow in support of the 6 May prisoners (more specifically the rally was against human rights abuses). A year has passed since the well-known events in Bolotnaya Square. Twenty-seven people are being held in custody and awaiting the outcome of the investigation and the verdict of the court.

The tragedy that took place the day before (when loudspeaker equipment fell on Maxim Melkov, 25, who was helping set up the stage, resulting in his death) meant that neither the stage nor the sound equipment needed for the rally was working properly. It took me around 20 minutes to make my way through the packed crowd to within 50-60 metres of the stage so that I could just about make out the barely audible sound coming from the loudspeaker. That was the only way of hearing what those addressing the rally were saying.

Anyone with less persistence would only have been able to catch the odd snippet of what was being said. The helicopter circling overhead did nothing to help. As it was impossible to concentrate on the stage and the speakers, people drifted from place to place looking for their friends, crowded together into little groups and discussed what was going on.

About half an hour after the start of the rally a narrow stream of people starting heading towards the exit and those who remained looked for a less crowded space. I was curious to know how the protesters would act, suddenly left to their own devices. Would they organise their own mini rallies? Stick around as a sign of solidarity? Or call it a day and head off to the nearest metro station?

Many of them did exactly that (you can hardly blame them). But mostly people stood around quietly, talking with friends and acquaintances, taking in the menacing and humorous posters, and reading the leaflets that were being handed out to everyone. Ordinary, adult, intelligent people. Hardly "mass rioting"! Somewhere in the vicinity of Luzhkov Bridge a plume of smoke rose in the air for a few minutes — someone had lit a couple of flares but nothing more came of it. It was also said that among those attending the rally was the Orthodox activist Tsorionov (Enteo) with a group of his associates holding up banners reading "Stop the Sodomites." He was looking for members of the LGBT community among the crowds of rally participants. He didn't find any, but managed to spark a brawl that was instantly snapped by the cameras and found its way onto the internet. That, I thought, is how "mass riots" are created.

As an observer at the rally on behalf of the human rights website, what interested me most were issues connected with human rights.

Those arrested following the events of 6 May 2012 were talked about both on the stage and among the crowd (not far from me I heard chants of "Free Gaskarov!").

The outstanding Liya Akhedzhakova read out a letter from Vladimir Akimenkov written from his prison cell. Poet Dmitry Bykov and writer Boris Akunin appealed more to the consciences than the political sympathies and leanings of the protesters. But overall the issue of human rights tended to get a bit lost among a wide range of other social and political concerns.

The revelation by Gudkov Sr. that there are no opposition parties in the State Duma and the subsequent address by leader of the Yabloko party Sergey Mitrokhin, in which he proposed, finally, to join forces and nominate Gudkov as the single candidate for the post of governor of Moscow region, had little to do with the declared theme of the rally.

As far as I could tell no one spoke about Russia's international obligations in the area of human rights (and the approved theme of the rally was "to protest against violations of Russia's international obligations").

The abundance of political slogans and the usual speakers created a feeling of déjà vu. If a certain clued-in IT expert had taken the stage to talk in figures about how many perfectly innocent websites had been blocked because of the clumsy attempts by the authorities to deal with drug abuse and child abuse sites, I'm sure many people would have started thinking that either tomorrow or the day after the notorious "register" could well include our favourite Live Journal or Facebook, if nothing is done today.

If an environmental scientist, whom the Public Prosecutor's Office is trying to label a "foreign agent" because of his environmental activities, had taken to the podium, would many of those gathered there have remained indifferent?

I know civil activists who are genuinely involved with protecting the rights of ordinary people. Members of non-profit organisations and municipal deputies. Instead of heartrending arias by Kashin about how everything is going to plan, in my opinion it would be better to have two or three smaller but bright success stories. About blowing the lid on some corrupt official, the halting of illegal construction work, or helping a victim of abuse of office defend their rights in court. And then the people gathered in Bolotnaya Square could say to themselves: There is some progress being made and it looks like we are seeing some results. So despite everything, rights can be defended. It means that we didn't go to the rally in defence of human rights in vain."