Opposition Divides for March of Millions
Published: September 19, 2012 (Issue # 1727)
ALEXANDER BELENKY / SPT
Protesters march in central St. Petersburg on Saturday. The local opposition fragmented into separate groups for the march.
While the March of Millions drew about 100,000 in Moscow on Saturday, according to organizers’ estimates, the St. Petersburg rally split into several and ultimately drew fewer participants than a similar rally on June 12.
The rally’s demands included early presidential and State Duma elections in the wake of massive electoral fraud revealed in December and March, and the release of political prisoners.
In August, during the buildup to the rally, which was planned to be the first major protest of the autumn, a number of liberal organizations led by the League of Female Voters’ chair Tatyana Dorutina refused to cooperate with the March of Millions’ local committee and set up another committee called Democratic St. Petersburg to hold a march of its own — on the same day and under the same name.
Although the Moscow march deliberately united people of different political views on the basis of the demands they have in common, the St. Petersburg splinter group said it would have a rally of democrats, excluding the left-wing activists and nationalists.
Moscow opposition leader Boris Nemtsov criticized the split as “beneficial to the authorities,” but the Yabloko Democratic Party’s Grigory Yavlinsky hailed it as “integration of democratic forces.”
The original march drew about 3,000, according to organizers’ estimates, and finished with a stationary rally on Konyushennaya Ploshchad, while the Democratic St. Petersburg rally’s organizers claimed their march drew between 3,000 and 5,000. According to some independent estimates, they drew between 1,500 and 2,000 each.
A smaller group splintered off and marched as the Citizens’ Committee co-chaired by activist Olga Kurnosova at the end of the main march. This group featured several dozen liberals, activists of the Left Front, and extreme nationalists such as the National Socialist Initiative (NSI) created and led by Dmitry “Shults” Bobrov, who spent six years in prison as the leader of the neo-Nazi gang Shults 88.
Yet another splinter group featuring some left activists and anarchists held a separate stationary rally on the Field of Mars, 50 meters away from the Democratic St. Petersburg rally.
The police reported that three people were detained during the rallies for unspecified “violations of the law.” Witnesses said that one of them was detained for wearing a balaclava in support of the imprisoned members of Moscow feminist punk group Pussy Riot.
Andrei Dmitriyev, The Other Russia’s local leader who co-organized the original march, said that the format of the March of Millions — proposed by the Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov and first held in Moscow on May 6 — had exhausted itself.
“It’s becoming clear that the protest wave that rose up on Dec. 5 is receding,” Dmitriyev said. “We can’t keep on marching and shouting ‘Revote!’ as we have done so many times before. Undoubtedly, the angered citizens have not disappeared and they remain, but the opposition should look for new formats. That is what we will do.”
According to Dmitriyev, even if the issue of electoral fraud persists, the Russian protest movement will become more left wing, fueled by a rise in utility bills, low wages, corruption among the authorities and an ever-deepening social split.
“We will be closer to ordinary people and social issues, closer to what ordinary St. Petersburg residents are concerned about. We’ll be thinking about new forms of protest, too,” he said.