Medieval warriors, cossacks and rubber ducks: summary of June 12 anti-corruption rallies

A second series of anti-corruption protests hit Russia yesterday. Mass arrests, vikings riding a WWII tank and other details — in our digest

Russian officials refused to provide any proper comments on the subject of Anti-Corruption Foundation’s “Don’t call him Dimon” documentary and subsequent anti-corruption rallies on March 26. Because of this, the decision was made to organise a second series of rallies on June 12, or Russia Day, possibly the biggest and most important holiday in Russia. Alexey Navalny suggested everyone to go on the streets with Russian flags (which is the usual way to celebrate Russia day) and demand the same thing Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has stressed the importance of during one of the meetings: to “create an atmosphere of total intolerance towards corruption”. In terms of common sense, there seemed to be no reason for the government to have anything against such rallies. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

The rally in Vladivostok was one of the first to start among over 150 rallies all across Russia and in some foreign cities, as well as one of the most problematic. To begin with, local authorities decided to use the same square that was reserved for the rally to organize some sort of a “cossack” (militia dressed up in traditional clothing) festival with loud music. As a result, the protesters could barely hear each other, and no chanting was loud enough to outshout the music. As if this wasn’t enough, the “cossacks” (most of whom were seriously drunk) started insulting and assaulting the protesters, hitting them with their traditional whips and breaking their phones and tablets. As usual, the police did little to nothing to prevent these acts of violence.

Citizens of Kazan were real heroes of the day. Tatarstan authorities allowed the rally, but went out of the way to ensure that as little people as possible actually participate in it. The rally was to be held at 7 am in a village that’s 35 km away from Kazan itself, but still officially a part of the city. Despite all that, 400 people still came to the rally and took an active part in it. The organizer of the rally was arrested immediately after it finished.

In some cities, the rallies went almost perfectly, with little to no arrests and an unexpectedly high amount of participants. The best examples are Omsk with 6000 protesters and Novosibirsk with 5000. However, mass arrests happened in many other, even fairly small, cities. The police even “arrested” a couple of inanimate objects: a quadcopter in Novosibirsk and a giant rubber duck in St. Petersburg. Rubber ducks became a symbol of anti-corruption protest movement in Russia after it turned out Dmitry Medvedev has a pond with a “duck house” in it next to his huge mansion.

Speaking about St. Petersburg, the rally there was not sanctioned by the city authorities and got suppressed violently. The protesters got completely surrounded by the riot police shortly after they started gathering and arrests quickly followed. At some point, all police precincts in the city were full with those who got arrested during the rally, so the rest had to be transported to precincts in nearby towns. Overall, at least 900 people got arrested, but there are still no exact figures at this moment.

The rally in Moscow had by far the most bizarre atmosphere around it. Although it was sanctioned by the city hall and due to take place on Sakharov avenue (a common venue for protests in recent years), Moscow authorities made sure that not a single company would agree to set up the stage and provide audio and video equipment for the rally. As a result, Alexey Navalny urged everyone to gather on Tverskaya street and protest there instead. The city hall soon replied with a warning that anyone spotted on Tverskaya street holding a banner or chanting any slogans will be arrested immediately.

It needs to be said that Tverskaya street was already reserved by Moscow authorities for a festival of historic reconstruction, where people dressed up as warriors and soldiers from different time periods would pose for photos and show off their fighting skills. As a result, the street looked quite strange even before the protesters arrived: barricades with anti-tank hedgehogs, medieval warriors riding on a WWII tank and taking group photos with NKVD officers, and many other historical paradoxes. When the rally started and protesters, riot police and paddy wagons also joined the mix, some truly bizarre scenes could be seen, like ancient Rus warriors brawling with each other while surrounded by a crowd chanting “Russia without Putin!”

At first, riot police attempted to isolate the protesters from the participants of the festival and those who came to watch it. However, this soon proved to be nearly impossible, and the police simply charged into the crowd, damaging festival tents and decorations and arresting anyone they could grab. Before the charge, policemen were seen putting on gas masks, so rumors arized in the crowd that tear gas was going to be used. Luckily, the real reason for the police to do so were two young men who sprayed some pepper spray in their direction. The young men were soon arrested, along with over 850 other people

Just like during the March 26 protests, Anti-Corruption Foundation organised a livestream on Youtube, showing footages of ongoing rallies and discussing them in the Moscow studio. Unlike March 26, this time the studio did not get ransacked by the police. The light and the internet in the main studio got cut off at one point, but the live stream soon continued from a backup studio, and the main studio got back online after a couple of hours

At the exact same moment as the light was being cut off in the livestream studio, Alexey Navalny got arrested right after exiting his apartment and before even getting to the street. He was accused of repeated violation of rules and regulations regarding the organisation of mass events and convicted to 30 days of administrative arrest. ACF director Roman Rubanov, official organizator of the rally, was arrested on Sakharov avenue, where it was initially supposed to take place. The trial against him has not started yet.