Site Archive‎ > ‎Freedom of assembly‎ > ‎May 2012‎ > ‎

Where You Can and Can't Go in Moscow When You're Dressed in White

Vera Vasilieva, 28/05/12


· Right of assembly  · Public protests  · Moscow city & Moscow region

On 27 May 2012, civil activists in Moscow held an unusual event entitled: "the White Promenade". This involved strolling around Red Square dressed in the colour white, a colour that has become a symbol of opposition to the current authorities. Preceding the "White Promenade" event was a demonstration held in Novopushkinsky Square against the adoption of an outrageous bill to increase the fines for holding large rallies to half a million roubles.

The demonstration started at 2 o'clock and had been organised by the Yabloko Party with the support of the United Civil Front, and the Solidarity and White Ribbon movements.

The demonstrators were herded into a small square surrounded by metal barriers and a dense cordon of law enforcement officers. Entrance into this "corral" had to be made via two airport-style metal detectors, which were located on the side of the square opposite the stage. Everyone's bags were then searched thoroughly by the police.

Photos by Vera Vasilieva, 

The rally was a theatrical affair. "Violators" of the proposed new law on demonstrations that has just passed its first reading in the State Duma performed community service to military march music dating back to Nazi Germany. Pinned to their chests were signs saying: "I was out walking with a white ribbon", "More than three of us gathered together", "I sat on the grass" and so on and so forth. Other people swept the steps dressed in striped convicts’ hats and Guy Fawkes masks. Incidentally, wearing these masks will also become an offence if this draft law is passed, which forbids anyone covering their face and making their identification more difficult. 

At the end of each Nazi march tune a recording of the text of the amended law on demonstrations was blared out of loud speakers in Russian and German. As Yabloko chair Sergei Mitrokhin explained in his opening speech, the point was to draw parallels between the changes to the law being proposed by United Russia and those imposed by the Nazis on the countries that they occupied during the Second World War.

"We want to show that the State Duma is planning to pass a law that has all the characteristics of a totalitarian state," Sergei Mitrokhin stated. "Using the reduction of the originally proposed fines from 1.5 million roubles to 300 thousand roubles as a smoke screen, the State Duma has passed a resolution on a series of monstrous amendments to the law." ed by United Russia and those imposed by the Nazis on the countries that they occupied during the Second World War. 

Sergei Mitrokhin invited everybody to come to a protest picket at the State Duma at 9 a.m. on 5 June when the second reading on the law will take place. 

At about 14:30 the proceedings were interrupted by Police Colonel Sergei Pavlov. He went up to the sound engineer and ordered him to turn the music off. The police then arrested and escorted the demonstration's organiser Pyotr Ivanchikov to a waiting police van. He was subsequently taken to the Basmanny District Police Station.

Colonel Pavlov justified his actions as follows: "A rally was called with regards the Moscow mayoral elections and here we have Nazi marches being played, the people of Moscow do not like this." 
In reply the demonstrators shouted: "Shame!" And Sergei Mitrokhin denounced Pyotr Ivanchikov's arrest as unlawful because the law does not prohibit organisers changing the theme of a demonstration. Nevertheless, other speakers did speak about the need for Moscow mayoral elections and new elections to the Moscow City Duma.

Among the speakers were Dmitry Kataev representing the Solidarity movement, Vladimir Milov the leader of the Democratic Choice party, Pyotr Mikheev and Evgeny Alyokhin from the White Ribbon movement and many others.

Of particular note during the speeches was an incident at the protestor's camp on the Arbat described by Pyotr Mikheev. A female demonstrator Irina Kalmykova had been hit in the face by an unidentified riot police officer for trying to take a picture of him arresting another protestor. As a result of the blow Kalmykova lost consciousness and fell to the ground. The victim who is confirmed to be in her second month of pregnancy was hospitalised at the Botkin Clinic. Doctors have diagnosed her with closed cranial and brain injuries.

The rally was held with an "open mic" format, which meant that anyone who wanted to make a speech could do so. Thus, Tatyana Chapaeva, a resident from Chsitiye Prudi Boulevard, expressed her disgust at the events that took place near to her home on 25 May at the memorial to Abai Kunanbaev. In her opinion the police unlawfully arrested peaceful citizens who had not committed any offences.

The closing speech was made by Just Russia State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomaryov. He declared that the Moscow City Duma was not legitimate and called for the launch of a campaign for new and fair elections.

At the end of the rally at about 15:30 some of its participants made the short walk from Tverskaya Street to Red Square to join the "White Promenade". They looked very festive, dressed all in white and adorned with white ribbons and flowers.

However, the police evidently perceive the colour white in a different more politically suspect and dangerous light. They followed and photographed the walkers all the way from Novopushkinsky Square to Red Square on foot and in their paddy wagons, while passing on information over their radios.

Several metal detectors had been placed in front of the Iversky Gate and once again bags and possessions were searched. As a result a queue formed. Nearby 11 police vans full of riot police kept watch.

It turned out that the heightened security measures had been put in place because a sporting event was being held on Red Square. As a result it had been fenced off, but it was still possible to walk across the Square.

The arrivals from Novopushkinsky Square were joined here by another group of afternoon strollers, which included Sergey Lukashevsky, director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum, who had come out with his family.

Despite the fact that the good weekend weather and the sports event had attracted a very large crowd onto Red Square, the only people the police were paying any attention to were these afternoon strollers in white. "When are you going to go home?" asked one of the policemen.

From Red Square some of the "White Promenaders" decided to make a visit to the opposition camp on the Arbat.

It was reported later that 35 of them were arrested there by riot police. People were grabbed from the crowd at random. The reason for their arrest..? Being dressed in white or wearing a white ribbon...