On October 26, traffic was stopped for three hours on Leninsky Prospect, Barnaul’s central boulevard. In terms of the intensity of outrage and format, such spontaneous popular protests have not taken place in the Altai Krai since winter 2005, when several thousands of demonstrators practically paralyzed the region’s two major cities, Barnaul and Biisk. It was once again pensioners who decided to express their unhappiness with the social policies of the regional administration: they protested the plans of the governor’s team to cancel discounted transportation passes for welfare recipients.
According to eyewitnesses, the first spontaneous groups of unhappy pensioners gathered on October Square, from which they headed towards Square of the Soviets, Barnaul’s central square. It was there, opposite the regional administration building, that the old people formed a human chain and blocked traffic in both directions. Arriving on the scene, regional police commanders (the operation was personally supervised by Generals Oldak and Novikov) put patrol cars in place to cordon off the block and detour traffic. Ambulance crews were also on standby.The demonstrators made only one demand: reinstate discounted transportation passes in the region. Several days earlier, the regional administration made public its decision to cancel them. However, it is still unclear what amount of monetary compensation welfare recipients will receive in place of the the passes or which groups of recipients will receive this compensation. At present, the bill that details this innovation has not even been made available to the deputies of the Altai Krai Legislative Assembly, who on October 30 are supposed to turn this plan into regional law. Nevertheless, the sale of discounted transportation passes for the month of November was halted by order of the governor’s representatives.
After a long showdown, a delegation from the protesters, headed by a number of CPRF activists, went into the regional administration building for negotiations. According to Deputy Governor Sergei Loktev, who came out onto the square after the talks were concluded, regional authorities promised during the negotiations to reinstate discounted passes for the month of November and resume sales of the passes on October 27. In addition, Mr. Loktev announced his intention to hold consultations with any and all protest organizers beginning October 27. To this end, he invited everyone to sign up for this event, which is supposed to take place in one of the meeting rooms in the administration building. The question asked time and again by the assembled old people—why did regional authorities push this issue to the point of inciting outrage amongst the population?—went unanswered. Mr. Loktev ignored such questions.
Aside from Sergei Loktev, Deputy Governor Yakov Ishutin also came out to address the outraged old people. It is still not known whether the governor himself, who many believe is personally responsible for the proposed reforms that set off the street protests, will participate in this process. Barnaul Mayor Vladimir Kolganov also came out to talk to protesters. Although a large group of old people gathered around the mayor, their conversation quickly segued to a discussion of specific issues surrounding municipal services. Legislative Assembly Deputy Igor Volfson was forced to act as a makeshift leader of the outraged old people. During the past several weeks, he had unsuccessfully attempted to warn regional authorities about the destructiveness of their policy initiative to cancel the discounted passes.
After the results of the negotiations were announced, CPRF representatives publicly declared them a significant victory and even garnered applause from the assembled protesters. They called on the old people to disperse, but to gather again on October 30 for the opening of the Altai Krai Legislative Assembly session. Nevertheless, many of those gathered announced their intention to shut down the main boulevard again on October 27.
According to as yet unconfirmed reports, during the course of the protest police officers detained a number of leftist youth activists as a preventive measure, which evoked profound outrage on the part of the old people.