A series of anti-government protests against corruption and political stagnation led by the Opposition swept through Russia on Monday, leading to the arrest of thousands of demonstrators including Opposition leader Alexei Navalny who has been sent to jail for 30 days. The protests are the second mass action since March called by Navalny who has announced his intention to contest the polls that are due next year.
The protests on Monday were sort of a litmus test to check if Navalny still enjoyed public support or the protest in March was an impulsive reaction that fizzled out.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took out rallies in places stretching throughout the country – from the Pacific to the European enclave of Kaliningrad against the corruption in the country. They marched through Tverskaya street carrying flags and banners of Russia and chanting “Down with the Czar.”
Ironically, Monday was a day of celebration for Russia as it was observing National Day on June 12.
What is the cause of dissent?
The mass-scale demonstrations follow allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The charges stemmed from a high-profile investigation that was made public by Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation earlier this year. The 50-minute report claimed that the prime minister had assembled a “corruption empire” that included properties, yachts and vineyards.
Why was Alexey Navalny arrested?
Under the Russian Law, applications need to be filed with the authorities for any public events. Only when the city authorities have cleared the place and the time, can rallies be held. Navalny had said the agitation would take place with or without their permission.
A Moscow court on Monday arrested the 41-year-old Navalny on charges of organising ‘unauthorised’ protests. The OVD-Info rights group told AFP that more than 1,500 of his supporters were arrested during the protests across the country, including 823 in Moscow where riot police tried to push the crowds back, sometimes by beating them with batons.
Symbolism in the protest
An integral part of the agitation has been the presence of rubber ducks, sneakers and green faces that the demonstrators use to show their support to the movement.
The ducks are a symbolic reference to the allegation that Medvedev keeps a house for raising ducks at one of his lavish estates. Sneakers are used as a snide reference to the Prime Minister being a compulsive online shopper and owning 20 pairs of sneakers in just three months. Some agitators hit the streets with green paint splashed all over their face in solidarity with Navalny, after green antiseptic was thrown at him earlier.
The Russian government had taken notice of the protests that happened in March. With elections coming up soon, the authorities do not want Nevalny to garner more public support. On Monday, the state televisions chose to blank out the agitations. While they did report on the arrest of Navalny, they remained silent on the protests in the streets. They instead spoke about the ‘festivities and celebrations’ on the National Day.
Although there is no significant clarity on whether President Vladimir Putin would contest the election next year, he is widely expected to stay on for another term. While Navalny enjoys decent support, many suggest he will not make it as a winner in the ballots.
World’s reactions to the protests
The United States condemned the arrests and violations of human rights in Russia. White House spokesman Sean Spicer called “on the government of Russia to immediately release all peaceful protesters” detained in nationwide marches as quoted by AFP.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani also voiced his concern over the arrest of Nevalny. Amnesty International also condemned the ‘alarming scenes’ of detention and violence and called for their immediate release, the AFP reported.