2012: A Chronicle of Resistance
2012 was marked by heavily attended protests by the Russian opposition. For the first time since the early 1990s, the protest movement in Russian attracted worldwide attention. Many people anticipated an “orange” revolution.
Beginning with the elections to the State Duma, on December 4, 2011, and until November 2012, I kept a graphic “chronicle of resistance” in which I made on-the-spot sketches of all important protest-related events. I will try now to recall and describe the protests, in which I was involved as a rank-and-file albeit regular participant.
United Russia election observer
December 4, 2011. On election day, I worked as a artist/reporter in Khimki. At my polling station, journalists and all observers, except those from the United Russia party, were removed under various pretexts, but the female artist was allowed to stay as an amusing oddity. I witnessed one bus after another bringing people who voted with absentee ballots. The people were from various enterprises and quite often from other towns. The drivers shouted at them to vote faster because they had to get them to the next polling station. Ordinary residents who had come to vote on their own were unable to get through to the table where ballots were issued.
By evening and in the days to come, the Internet was chockablock with photo and video evidence of election fraud. Observers wrote about gross violations. Coupled with Putin’s decision to become president again, this evidence undermined any illusions about civil liberties in Russia and hopes for change.
Women on phone: “We’re yelling at an opposition rally.”
Man with megaphone: “Russia! Putin! Medvedev!”
December 6, 2011. I missed the December 5 rally at Chistye Prudy. The same evening, protesters created an event on the social networks—a rally on December 6 on Triumfalnaya Square. Protests in defense of the freedom of assembly, launched by [Eduard] Limonov, have taken place on Triumfalnaya since 2009. Although the December 6 rally was not allowed by the authorities, thousands of people gathered for it. At the exit from the subway, people were greeted by Nashi members pounding drums and battalions of police in “diving suits.” Police were rough when detaining protesters. Security services officers in plainclothes and Nashi members videotaped the proceedings from the other side of the barriers. I stood next to them: I was taken for a Nashi member and praised for my talent. I added the speech bubbles later at home.
“We’re fucking tired of them”
December 10, 2011. News of the arrests on Triumfalnaya added even more fire to the desire to protest. Around forty thousand people signed up for a “Rally for Honest Elections” on Facebook. Revolution Square was the meeting place. On the Internet, in kitchens and offices, people discussed the possibility of revolution and the likelihood that the demonstration would be dispersed by force of arms. Liberal leaders (Nemtsov, Parkhomenko and Ryzhkov) made a deal with the authorities that the rally would be allowed if the protesters were moved to Bolotnaya Square and away from the Kremlin. On December 10, the first opposition rally since the early 1990s involving tens of thousands of people took place, and the police did not detain anyone. I think many people were so excited to be present in the throng of the one-hundred-thousand-strong demonstration and so impressed by the beauty of the march under flags of various colors that they ceased to critically evaluate what was happening.
Woman on phone: “All of Moscow is here.”
December 24, 2011. The December 24 rally on Sakharov Avenue was memorable because of the clear presence of the “common people”—folks without iPhones, poorly dressed, and without party allegiances. The “people” took to the streets without creative placards and used foul language when commenting on Ksenia Sobchak and Alexei Kudrin, who addressed the rally from the stage.
Caption (upper left): We beat Hitler, we’ll beat Putin!
February 4, 2012. On a frosty afternoon, the March for Fair Elections proceeded from Bolshaya Yakimanka to Bolotnaya Square in four columns—a non-aligned “civic” column, liberals, right-wingers and leftists.
February 26, 2012. The grassroots “White Circle” flash mob resembled an unwitting reprisal of the 2007 action “White Line,” when artists from the so-called Trade Union of Street Art enclosed the Garden Ring in a white chalk line. During “White Circle,” protesters sporting white symbols joined hands along the entire length of the Garden Ring. White clothes, white balloons, white flowers, white toys, white dogs, white ribbons waved from passing cars, and the falling snow: the mood was bright. It was spoiled only by Nashi members holding placards that read, “Only 8 days left until Putin’s victory.” After “White Circle,” Sergei Udaltsov and his supporters led protest round-dances on Revolution Square.
Election observers observing the vote count
March 4, 2012. Thousands of activist observers worked during the presidential election. I was part of a mobile group organized by the Citizen Observer project. Shuttling between polling stations, we saw rows of buses from Belgorod, Vladimir, Saratov and many other towns; at the polling stations themselves, we saw lines of provincial workers and students with absentee ballots. A festive concert on Manezh Square awaited them in the evening.
Despite the fact that all opposition forces were mobilized in the сapital, Putin mustered 48.25% of the vote in Moscow, and 63.6% nationwide.
We will begin carrying out peaceful acts of civil disobedience
March 5, 2012. The next day, Pushkin Square was the site of another For Fair Elections rally. There were fewer creative placards and more anger—people shared their impressions of the election. We stood in the cold, knee-deep in snow under a full moon. Udaltsov urged protesters not to go home “until Putin leaves.” Police dispersed the several hundred people who heeded his call and stayed. Many of them were sentenced to fifteen days in jail.
Valentina, 73 years old
“Well done, Pussy Riot! I’d sing ‘Mother of God, Drive Putin Out!’ with them.”
Placard: What a talent for treating the people like idiots
March 10, 2012. The last For Fair Elections rally took place on Novy Arbat. Maxim Katz and other victors in municipal district council elections urged the crowd not to despair and switch to solving social issues. Speakers mentioned the political prisoners from Pussy Riot, and the first placards supporting the group appeared amidst the crowd. The next protest was scheduled for May 6.
Nadya Tolokonnikova: “I wish those who put us here a life like ours in prison.”
In between the thousands-strong rallies, “Pussy Riot Court Festivals” were held outside courthouses where hearings in the Pussy Riot case took place. Artists were heavily involved in these protests, producing leaflets and placards, and organizing performances.
Woman on left: “I’m trying to dissuade my husband from emigrating—I want to raise the kids here.”
Placard: It’s important to believe in a happy future
Woman on right: “I want to live in Russia.”
Placard: Changes have already taken place in our hearts
May 6, 2012. Despite the start of the summer dacha season, around fifty thousand people gathered for the March of Millions. For the first time during the recent large rallies, the police dispersed people with billy clubs and tear gas. Right in front of me, police hit a young man over the head, and he fell to the ground bleeding. “They have murdered him! They have murdered him!” women wailed. Several protesters overturned portable toilets, and the shit from them flowed under policemen’s feet. The police divided protesters into groups, drove them through the streets, beat and detained them, but they were unable to force people to leave the area between Bolotnaya Square and the Tretyakov Gallery until nightfall. At present, nineteen people who attended the rally, arbitrarily chosen by the police, have been charged with organizing a riot. Twelve of them are in jail. One of the so-called prisoners of May 6, Maxim Luzyanin, has already been sentenced to four and a half years in a penal colony.
Woman: “Why are there riot police everywhere?”
Policeman: “Because of the folk festivals.”
May 7, 2012. Putin once again became president of Russia on this day, but disgruntled citizens began holding round-the-clock “folk festivals” in downtown Moscow in protest.
Pushkin Square (Moscow), May 9
Veteran: “We defended the motherland!”
Riot Cop: “And we’re clearing the square.”
May 9, 2012. On May 9, it seemed like Moscow was celebrating Police Occupation Day, not Victory Day.
By midday, the opposition—people from the “folk festivals,” mainly—had begun closing ranks at Chistye Prudy. In the evening, paddy wagons appeared on both sides of Chistoprudny Boulevard. The police for some reason did not disperse the fifteen hundred activists. Despite the threat of arrest, at least a hundred people spent the night at Chistye Prudy around the monument to Kazakh poet Abai Kunanbayev.
Lecture on civil disobedience
May 10, 2012. The Occupy Abai camp took shape at Chistye Prudy the next morning. It was organized by civic activists, liberals, leftists, anarchists, nationalists, members of the LGBT community and others. The core Occupy Abai activists almost never left the camp during its existence; they slept on the ground in sleeping bags. They took responsibility for cleaning the camp, running a people’s kitchen fueled by donations, and maintaining order. Other members of the protest movement also tried to spend as much time as possible in the camp; many of them blew off classes or took a vacation from work. Every day, activists gave free lectures on political and social issues. Some people came to the camp with guitars and organized improvised concerts: they sang about freedom. Poets held a reading of civic poety, Theater.Doc performed a play entitled “BerlusPutin,” and I had a show of drawings, Everyday Occupy Abai. People of different political persuasions discussed the prospects of the protest. Occupy Abai was crowded even in the cold and rain. Everyone regarded the camp’s existence as a miracle.
On May 13, tens of thousands of people joined the “Test Stroll” organized by writers, which went from Pushkin Square to Chistye Prudy. At the end of the stroll, many people remained at Occupy Abai.
Man: “I left my business six months ago to take part in the protests with my girlfriend.”
May 16, 2012. At five o’clock in the morning on May 16, Occupy Abai was dispersed by the police. The pretext was a suit filed in the Basmanny District Court by several residents of house no. 9 on Chistoprudny Boulevard, who complained of “noise, filth and trampled lawns.” Occupy moved to Barrikadnaya, but it proved impossible to organize a kitchen and sleeping space at the new location and thus live in the camp round the clock. Most activists came only in the evening for the general assemblies, during which further plans were discussed; everyone could express their opinion, and decisions were made by voting. Unity among people could still be sensed at Occupy Barrikadnaya. I remember a young woman who would come with plastic bags stuffed with sandwiches to feed the hungry activists. Her sandwich gave me the strength to continue drawing for another couple hours. Another time, it started to rain, and nationalists gave me a raincoat. It was the police who poisoned life in the Occupy camp: they detained people, stole food, and once they seized a donations box for the camp. On May 19, Occupy Barrikadnaya was also dispersed by the police. In the following days there were attempts to reestablish the camp, but each time they were stopped by the police. Some protesters relocated to the Old Arbat, where Occupy degenerated into street gatherings involving peaceful songs accompanied by guitar, flirting, and idle conversations about various topics.
People on right: “Antifa are fags!”
June 12, 2012. The second March of the Millions started on Pushkin Square. Columns of anarchists and nationalists marched on opposite sides of the boulevard ring, with the neo-Nazis shouting insults at the antifa. The march ended on Sakharov Avenue. The Interior Ministry estimated that 18,000 people attended the event, while organizers put the number at around 100,000.
Policeman: “Citizens, keep the peace!”
Crowd: “Mother of God, drive Putin out!”
August 17, 2012. The verdict in the Pussy Riot case was announced in the Khamovniki District Court. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in prison. Hundreds of the punk group’s supporters surrounded the courthouse, and a spontaneous demonstration began. Police pulled people from the crowd—teenagers in colored balaclavas, old women with placards, and prominent opposition figures—and threw them into paddy wagons.
Nationalists: “Moscow without wogs!”
September 15, 2012. After a summer lull, the third March of the Millions, the least well attended, took place. It repeated the route of the previous march. A fight between nationalists and anti-fascists broke out. People in the communist column blamed liberals for the petering-out of the protests. Liberals expressed their fear of both rightists and leftists. The event was scheduled to last until ten in the evening, but by five o’clock people had already begun to go home. Sergei Udaltsov urged the hundred or so protesters who remained to organized a Maidan or veche. Udaltsov was arrested at 10:01 p.m.
2012 was an eventful year in Russia politically. What did the thousands-strong rallies and marches, the Occupy camps in Moscow, and the Pussy Riot trial change?
We have the trials of the “prisoners of May 6,” one of whom has already been sentenced to prison; the new laws on rallies; opposition leaders who are inscrutable (and unpleasant) to most of the Russian population; and the provinces, practically untouched by the protests. On the other hand, we see a growth in social activism and political awareness, which would hardly have been possible without the massive involvement of citizens in opposition rallies and protest actions. I feel that involvement in the protests has greatly changed me, and I see that my acquaintances who were involved in the protests have also changed. The overall growth of civic consciousness cannot be measured in numbers, but we can hope that it will make itself felt again.
Editor’s Note. Originally published (in Russian) in Volya 8 (40), December 2012; subsequently published on Liva.com.ua. Photo of Victoria Lomasko (with Volya editor Vlad Tupikin on her left) by Vlad Chizhenkov. Thanks to Victoria Lomasko for her permission to translate her chronicle and reprint her drawings here.