Sunday, September 26, 2010

St. Petersburg: Article 31 Protests

From AP:

Putin predicted that Russian police would keep breaking up opposition protests unless the dissidents obtain official permission to rally – permission they are routinely denied in central Moscow.

"You will be beaten upside the head with a truncheon. And that's it," Putin declared
Every month in Russia civil society gets rocked by a series of protests throughout the country for the right to, well, protest. The "Strategy 31 Group" stands for the last day of each month and also refers to Article 31 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly. But in practice any group that wants to assemble needs to apply in advance to the powers that be for permission. And most of the time - *surprise* - it gets rejected.

This summer Yuko and I were walking down Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in St. Petersburg, when we came across a large crowd. Shouts began to fill the air and our attention flashed over to a vehicle that looked like a large military bus parked by the side of the road. A man was yelling from a small opening on the roof while the crowd cheered him on. At the same time police officers and other men dressed in military fatigues pounced on the poor guy and violently pushed him back into the bus. We had no idea what was going on.

I asked this young guy wearing a "31" badge what was happening. He explained that "It happens on the last day every month." Apparently, a group of protesters had taken over the metro station to draw attention to the freedom of assembly issue and the crowd was there to support them.

It was a peaceful demonstration, but what was shocking was the overwhelming show of force. We hung around for a little while and watched as the protesters - young men and women - were hauled from the metro and thrown into the bus as though they were the morning trash. It was a sad reminder of what Putin's Russia has become and what it could be if its constitution was actually upheld.

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