Saturday, December 10, 2011

Muscovites Protesting in the Street: Birnam Wood Comes to Dunsinane!


"I pull in resolution and begin To doubt th' equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth. “Fear not, till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane”; and now a wood comes toward Dunsinane.—Arm, arm, and out!—If this which he avouches does appear, there is nor flying hence nor tarrying here. I 'gin to be aweary of the sun, and wish th' estate o' th' world were now undone.—Ring the alarum-bell!—Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back."---Shakespeare's MacBeth

The New York Times (12-10-11), Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (12-10-11), the Washington Post (12-10-11), and the Guardian (12-10-11) are covering today's large, peaceful demonstrations in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square, across the river from the Kremlin.


In the past, Bolotnaya (bog) Square in Moscow's Yakimanka District was the site of public executions. Peter the Great executed Russian guardsmen called Streltsy (shooters) there in the 17th Century. The last person executed there was the peasant revolutionary Yemelyan Pugachev who was sent to Moscow in a metal cage and executed in 1775.


Well-dressed, middle-class protesters are demonstrating against the fraud and ballot-stuffing that took place on behalf of Mr. Putin's ruling party United Russia during last Sunday's Parliamentary elections. The protesters demand that the elections be annulled and are shouting "Russia without Putin!" and "New elections!"


Gennady Onischenko, the Kremlin's top doctor, warned that people who attend the demonstrations risked getting sick with the flu or another disease. RFE/RL (12-9-11) reports that Onischenko warned:


“I recommend that people don’t go to the demonstration and, considering the cold weather and forecasts saying it will get worse, this goes especially for people with chronic illnesses and endocrinic illnesses,” Onishchenko told the RIA Novosti state news agency.


“With the increase of people falling ill that we are observing at the moment, a mass gathering of people on the streets could facilitate the rapid infection of flu with ensuing consequences.”


Dr. Onischenko has a history of making health recommendations with political overtones. RFE/RL (12-9-11) reports:


Chief Health Inspector Onischchenko has gained infamy for making medical and health pronouncements that have an overtly political flavor.

At the height of souring Russian relations with Tbilisi and Chisinau, he declared that Georgian and Moldovan wines were not fit for consumption, leading to Russian trade embargos decimating the countries’ most lucrative exports.

Most recently, amid a diplomatic spat with Dushanbe when a Russian pilot was jailed in Tajikistan, Onishchenko suggested making it harder for Tajiks to enter Russia on the grounds that they have a higher incidence of HIV and tuberculosis.

Vladimir Churov, the head of the election commission is claiming that video appearing on the Internet of election violations has been fabricated. RFE/RL reports (12-9-11):

On December 9, Churov told journalists that he has appealed to police to find the people who “ordered and sponsored” this “fabricated” material, suggesting he remains unswayed by the YouTube videos after his last comments outraged many of Russia's 51 million Internet users.

“There’s a lot of rubbish on the Internet about the elections,” Churov said in an interview with the Itogi magazine ahead of the elections. “Even before polling day, I knew about several fake election polling stations in apartments where they would make videos. I think we will see this film.”

The videos, allegedly shot in apartments, appear to contain footage of multiple storey polling stations at schools, buses shuttling “carousel” voters around to cast their votes several times, and election officials signing dozens of ballot papers in favor of the ruling United Russia party.

According to media sources, the December 10, 2011 demonstration is the largest demonstration since the fall of the Soviet Union. Tens of thousands turned out; some observers claim that as many as 100,000 people are in the streets, but probably the number was about half that. There have also been smaller demonstrations in dozens of other Russian cities. The Guardian (12-10-11) are blogging about the demonstration and posting live updates.


Environmentalist Yevgenia Chirikova, the Khimki Forest defender and a key opposition leader, told RFE/RL (12-10-11):

"The first [demand] is the release of political prisoners who were jailed after the so-called elections and the second is new elections," she said. "Of course, having new elections is one of our definite demands, but there are rather a lot of conditions."

Those conditions include a call for the resignation of Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov and an investigation into his work, as well as an investigation into vote-fraud allegations, and changes to the law on registering political parties to allow all opposition parties to participate in future elections.


The organizers say they will protest again on December 24 if the government has not acceded to their demands.


The Washington Post (12-10-11) reports:


Almost no one appeared to be seeking revolution — bloggers called it the Great December Evolution, a play on the Bolsheviks’ Great October Revolution of 1917.


“We don’t want blood,” said Dmitry Raev, who works for an international law firm. “We don’t want revolution. We earn enough money to live. But the authorities need to understand we are really fed up.


Their specific demands — for good government, with new and honest elections, and the the freeing of the nearly 1,000 protesters arrested last week — are unlikely to be met, at least right away. But protesters said they suspect that Saturday marked the beginning of an inevitable change in the political culture.
The Moscow crowd was full of people like Raev: young and educated, with good jobs, but willing to stand for four hours under a gray sky and lightly falling snow to make themselves heard.
Disgust has been building for years over both the extent of corruption and the state of politics, managed so adroitly by Putin that no real political opposition exists.


“Putin appointed himself the next president,” said Viktor Melchikov, referring to the way Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev announced in September that they will be swapping positions next year. “Why didn’t anyone ask us? We hope the forces arrayed against these thieves and crooks will consolidate today and find a way out of this mess. Putin is a thief. He should be in prison.”

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