KAZAN, 10 December—Hundreds gathered today in Ploshchad Svobody to protest alleged fraud in the parliamentary elections that were held on 4 December.
Nearly 200 people turned out for the protest, according to the Tatarstan Ministry of Internal Affairs, although Business Online and Vechenyaya Kazan put the number of protesters as high as 500, and Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote that “not more than 1000” turned out. Whatever the number was, the area on Ploshchad Svobody (Liberty Square) between the statue of Lenin and the Musa Jalil Ballet and Opera Theatre was packed with people—many of whom were students—chanting “Honest elections!” and “Shame!”
The Kazan protest was organized to coincide with others happening in more than 69 cities across Russia. At least 25,000 attended the protest in Moscow, according to The Moscow Times. The Kazan protest’s Vkontakte event page listed 6 demands: a repeat of the elections, without falsification; legal inquiries into all allegations of vote rigging; reforms to ensure that the March 2012 elections are fair; an end to political censorship; equal airtime for all political parties in the media; and the resignation of Vladimir Churov, Chairman of Russia’s Central Election Commission.
These demands all stem from allegations of vote rigging to boost United Russia’s results in the election. United Russia—the party of President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov—won just under 50 per cent of the vote across Russia, but 78 per cent of the vote in Tatarstan.
Beginning at 3 pm, the protest in Kazan included speeches by representatives of the Communist Party and Yabloko. The protesters were closely supervised by scores of police and OMON officers and vehicles—Tatarstan Minister of Internal Affairs Asgat Safarov even showed up at one point. Aware of this presence, many of the protesters were quick to take proactive measures to exclude their provocative and agitating peers, pushing them away from the main area of the protest.
Tatarstan Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that, after the protest had ended, roughly 100 “active participants and organizers” were arrested for gathering without a permit, in violation of law 20.2 of Russia’s Kodeks Administrativnyx Pravonarusheniy (Administrative Violations Code).
Whether the protest was legal or not had been a point of contention between the organizers and authorities. Activist Dmitry Berdnikov claimed that he had filed the necessary paperwork on 25 November for a protest against “criminality and unlawfulness” scheduled for today on Ploshchad Svobody, but the authorities disagree. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the meeting was not officially sanctioned, as the City of Kazan had not received a request to hold the protest, as required by Russian Federal Law No. 54.
Yesterday, Head of Kazan Department Internal Affairs Rustem Kadyrov and City Prosecutor Ildus Nafikov held a press conference warning that the protest would be illegal. “We know who is behind this,” Business Online quoted Kadyrov as saying. “Young people, 18-22 years old. It seems that, because of their youth, they’ve decided on this emotional form of self-expression, but they have no idea why they are doing it.” Kadyrov continued to explain that, thanks to the Vkontakte group, they were tracking down the organizers and in the process of trying to convince them to cancel the meeting.
“10 December at 15:00 Protest Kazan,” the Vkontakte event page that spearheaded the organization of the protest, lists 8 organizers—Anastasia Planovaya, Aleksei Borisov, Vechnyy Vorchun, Eduard Ruki-Nozhnitsy, Ruslan Savitsky, and Zelyonyy Svit—and has 2,255 people who promised to attend the protest and 4,280 who said they might attend. As Kadyrov explained in the press conference, the event page proved to be useful for the police, who used it to try to convince people not to attend the protest. The police apparently enlisted university support in explaining to students that the protest was unsanctioned, distributing a list of students who had RSVPed to the protest’s Vkontakte group to university officials. In Kazan Federal University, meetings were organized to inform students of the possible consequences of participating in unsanctioned protests, reported Pro Gorod Kazan.
Several of the page administrators were also the focus of police attention prior to the beginning of the protest. On Friday at 5:19 pm, a post on the Vkontakte event’s wall authored by a page administrator advised protesters to avoid sleeping at home that night, so as to make it more difficult to be located by the police. In the end, though, the police seem to have caught up with the organizers. On Saturday at 12:04, a wall post from the Vkontakte event admin signed by Ilya Karev call out for help from anybody with a car or video camera. The organizers were apparently trying to help transport Berdnikov and documents proving his claim that that the protest was legal to Ploshchad Svobody. “Police cars are waiting for him in several places,” the post reads. “We need to get him to the square any way we can.”
One hour later, another admin post on the wall signed “Savitsky Ruslan, activist” informed protesters that many of the organizers would probably not be able to make it to the protest. “They have physical descriptions of all the organizers. They are following us and arresting us,” he wrote. “DON’T BE AFRAID! JUSTICE IS ON OUR SIDE!”
Vechernyaya Kazan later reported that, prior to the protest, Savitsky had been “blocked” into his home, Ilya Karev had been arrested while in a cafe with his friends, and Aleksei Barisov was allegedly being held in the Dalny Police Station.
During the protest, the Communist Party announced that they had secured permission to hold another protest on Ploshchad Svobody on 18 December.
President Minnikhanov did not comment on the protest today, although he did earlier this week on Twitter. In reply to a question by ruslan_kazan about the upcoming protest, Minnikhanov tweeted: “The world is full of different people, maybe there is someone that this interests.” The President did not tweet on any subject today.