Daily Archives: April 6, 2011

March to Smolny

Opposition Declares Dissenters’ March a Success
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1650 (12), Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Also called the March to Smolny (City Hall), the march — spearheaded by Moscow-based oppositional politician and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov — was banned by the authorities, but protesters, whose number was estimated at between 1,000 and 2,000, managed to march most of the 4.5-kilometer route despite the police’s attempts to block them.The Dissenters’ March for the Dismissal of Governor Valentina Matviyenko that took place on Thursday was described by the opposition as one of the biggest and most successful protest events during the past three years, despite arrests and intimidation.

Many protesters were eventually stopped on Mytninskaya Ulitsa, where the most arrests were made. But a handful of marchers managed to reach the final destination near City Hall, and were able to chant some slogans before being surrounded and detained by the police.

According to the organizers, the police detained about 150 people near Gostiny Dvor department store on Nevsky Prospekt and alongside the march’s route, including Nemtsov, Moscow activist Ilya Yashin and the local Solidarity and United Civil Front (OGF) leader Olga Kurnosova. The police confirmed that “more than 100” were detained. More than 90 spent the night in police cells.

The authorities deployed a helicopter to follow the protesters and at one point hover over Nevsky Prospekt, drowning out slogans such as “Russia Will Be Free” and “Dismiss Matviyenko” and sending road dust and dirt into people’s faces.

One policeman was hospitalized, having been hit by a car after “trying to save a resident by pushing him off the road,” the police reported.

But a video made available on the Internet showed that the policeman was in fact hit by a passing car while dragging The Other Russia member Igor Chepkasov with two other policemen across Ligovsky Prospekt to a police bus. Fontanka.ru, which published the police report, later published a correction.

An estimated 500 people who arrived late at the march gathered near Gostiny Dvor, where arrests were also made.

At one point, a man in professional climbing gear descended from the roof of Gostiny Dvor and hung a banner from it that read “Free Khodorkovsky, Imprison Putin.” Oleg Ivashko, who does not belong to any political group, was detained and sentenced to three days in prison.

Four members of the Other Russia party who were detained near Gostiny Dvor — one of them, Maxim Gromov, while attempting to recite a poem — were also sentenced to three days in prison.

While most protesters marched along Nevsky Prospekt’s broad sidewalk, a group of anarchists carrying smoke bombs took to the road after the crowd passed the Anichkov Bridge, and when dispersed, were replaced by a group of The Other Russia activists carrying a banner reading “Dismiss Matviyenko!”

Members of art group Voina, two of whom have been released on bail after spending three months in a St. Petersburg prison for an art stunt that involved overturning police cars, marched with anarchists and carried plastic bottles containing urine to counter the police when attacked.

Speaking on Tuesday, Oleg Vorotnikov said he and other Voina activists were deliberately singled out and beaten, while Kasper, the toddler son of Vorotnikov and fellow Voina member Natalya Sokol, was taken from his parents and eventually sent to hospital with a suspected concussion.

Sokol, who is still breastfeeding her son, spent the night in a police cell but managed to escape when the police were preparing to drive her and other activists to court.

Vorotnikov said they took the bottles filled with urine exclusively for self-defense.

“We agreed to use them only if attacked,” he said.

“And we were attacked, but we didn’t use them until they attacked Kasper. When Kasper was attacked, the anarchists couldn’t stand it anymore and used our rather humble biological weapon — our own urine.”

Vorotnikov, who got Kasper back from the hospital with the help of his lawyer late Thursday, said that he, Sokol and their son had evidence of their injuries documented in a hospital. According to Vorotnikov, who described the police’s behavior as “senseless hysteria,” the activists were beaten both during detentions and at a police precinct.

“I am used to clashes with the police,” Vorotnikov said.

I was beaten on March 3; we have collided with them before. I have spent some time in prison, too, but even I did not expect to face such absurd, ungrounded cruelty on that day.”

City Hall refused to authorize the march organized by the OGF, Solidarity, The Other Russia, Rot Front, Oborona and Mikhail Kasyanov’s People’s Democratic Union (RNDS) on the grounds that building facades were being renovated along all of the five suggested routes. Instead, the authorities suggested the would-be marchers hold a standup meeting on Pionerskaya Ploshchad or a march in the remote Polyustrovo Park.

All photos by Sergey Chernov. They are used here with his permission.

Leave a comment

Filed under protests, Russian society

Springtime: The New Student Rebellions


On 10 November 2010, fifty thousand students marched through the streets of London demanding the government scrap its plans to restructure higher education.  Windows were smashed at Tory HQ, Millbank, and a fire extinguisher thrown off the roof of the building, unleashing a media storm.  But the real story was the rebirth of the student movement.  A wave of university occupations, protests and direct action gripped the country, while simultaneous agitation was spreading across Europe, California and North Africa.

Although the UK student movement has been “leaderless”, a few faces have become synonymous with the struggle in our personality-obsessed media – none more so, than the formidable Clare Solomon.  The ULU President’s infamous stand-off with Jeremy Paxman and NUS President Aaron Porter on Newsnight, refusing to denounce the protestors at Millbank, inspired many a radical student, invited the wrath of the right and the curiosity of the liberal left.

This week Verso is publishing its book on the student movement – Springtime: The New Student Rebellions; and what better person to edit it than Clare.  Springtime chronicles the uprisings in the UK, Italy, Greece, France, California and Tunisia.  Along with essays by activists, it is interspersed with tweets, occupation maps, images and historical “flashbacks” recalling previous student movements.  I met up with Clare to critically discuss her first book.

What was the purpose of the book?

Anybody that saw any of the media portrayal of the student protests last year may take away from that a certain vision either of what the protests were about or how they were carried out.  Therefore I think it’s important that we record history in our own voices in an attempt to cut through the media bias.  So the purpose of the book was to try to bring as many different perspectives and topics together ensuring that all political persuasions were covered, different ages and a gender balance to highlight and to celebrate how magnificent the protests were.

But do you think the people who believe the media hype about the protests will read the book or will it be people who were involved in the protests who are more likely to read it?

I do think it’ll have a broader appeal than just those who are already involved and that’s one of the purposes as well – to inspire more people to get involved both in student activism and the wider struggle against the cuts.

How did you choose the contributors for the book?

Initially I set up a blog to crowd-source information but I quite quickly realized that to give it some focus I needed to guide the narrative, otherwise I was ending up with far too much of the same stuff.  So after a couple of weeks of receiving submissions I had to see where the gaps were and deliberately commission those to fit in.  I was particularly careful to make sure there was no sectarianism.  If there was any hint of sectarianism I ensured that it was re-worded because I don’t think that’s good for the movement.  I tried to make sure there was autonomous stuff, anarchist stuff, people from various different groups, political parties, non-parties, older people, younger people…

You’ve interspersed the contemporary texts with historical “flashbacks”.  How did you choose those and why did you decide to do that?

I think it’s important to show the connection between what is going on now and what has happened historically.  We choose them in conjunction with Verso – a lot of it came from what they’ve already published.  The 60s, the explosion of student activism, produced a plethora of amazing artwork and analysis, so it was quite easy to get hold of.

Were you surprised how relevant it was?  When I was reading the book sometimes I thought I was carrying on reading the contemporary work, then realized it was a flashback.

It’s amazing isn’t it, how the system works?  How it doesn’t really change.  Well we haven’t had a revolution yet have we?  So it’s not surprising that the system hasn’t changed that much and this is the big debate between reform and revolution isn’t it?  Does reform just appease the system and pacify people, make it harder to fight?

There are a lot of similarities between the UK, European countries and California – they’re all struggling against the privatization of education.  But the Tunisian struggle is slightly different because it’s about removing a dictator.  So why did you think it was connected and why did you include it?

Clearly there’s a connection in that we live under capitalism, we live under a system that is global and it’s important for us to show solidarity to each other, to make those connections so that people know that it’s not just us in Britain fighting against the government.  Of course, we can’t make comparisons in that the effects that we are feeling here are nowhere near as dramatic as what’s been happening in Egypt and Tunisia.  But there is always crossover from different countries, different issues, different subjects, where people can learn from each other.  It’s a multi-dimensional process, so I thought it was important to make that connection.

There’s quite a strong anti-capitalist theme throughout the book, do you think that’s entirely representative of the student movement?  In the UK there are people involved who aren’t necessarily anti-capitalist, they were just against the Browne Report.

It was people on the left traditionally associated with anti-capitalist movements that pushed and argued for the protests in the first place, and I think the point of us doing that is to try to bring in as many people as possible.  It has to be a mass movement.  We’re not going to bring down the government or make significant changes if it’s just a small group of lefties talking to themselves.  It has to be about reaching out and bringing in the wider movement.

I don’t think the book was intended to be deep analysis.  I think it’s too soon to take a position like that, to attempt that.  But I did feel that there were things in there that were not from the organized Left.  Some of the FE quotes, for example. Also, mainstream views – mainstream in the sense of the anti-Browne views – I think have a lot of oxygen already and it’s important to give the other viewpoints an airing.

In the introduction it says – “We hope that its cumulative impact [the book’s] will be to develop alternatives that challenge the priorities of capitalist society”.  I felt that theme ran throughout the book.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I just thought it was quite an interesting editorial decision to go down that route.

I think you have to be politically principled and produce the more radical alternatives, the more radical approaches.  I’m not going to sell-out and produce a nice lovely liberal book for you!

Do you think the book was premature because you’ve got Tunisia in there, but only a postscript on Egypt and nothing on Bahrain, Yemen or Libya.  The article on LSE didn’t mention the funding of Gadaffi or Howard Davies’ resignation, and then there’s March 26…  Or is there another book waiting to be written?

History doesn’t start or finish at one particular time – even if the deadline for the book was next week, there’ll still be things happening after it.  I think it was specifically about the recent student uprisings.  Or course students are going to continue protesting, of course things are going to continue developing, so you make a decision as to when you want the book out and it was felt that it was important for the book to be out around this time, for people to see what’s been going on, to reflect on it and hopefully give them some inspiration to link up with the wider movement against cuts.  So no I don’t think it was premature.

There were a lot of women contributors in the book…

I made sure of that!

Do you think that’s because women are more politically involved now or because their voices are respected more?

First of all, it’s through political activity – activism – that people gain confidence regardless of their background whether it’s women or people from other oppressed groups, and so it gives women the confidence to put pen to paper.  However it is still a struggle.  In political meetings, in political situations, it’s still a struggle getting women to actually commit their thoughts in a specific way; partly through fear of not being taken seriously, I think.  It’s very noticeable at political meetings when it comes to the questions and answers, it’s almost 100% guaranteed to be the men that have their hand up first.  We have accumulated experience of not being encouraged to take a lead.  We can only hope through this recent activism that it has given women the confidence to contribute.  However, I was also deliberately ensuring that women did speak in it.  I made sure it was a good gender balance.  That was one of my directives.

Are you surprised by how much activism there’s been recently?

I don’t think surprised is quite the right word.  I think this is expected.  It’s not surprising that students were angry about what the government is doing to our education and the wider society and if you’re going to do that, people are going to be provoked and will resist.  People don’t just go on protests and break windows and whatever for the fun of it; they do it for a particular reason – cause and effect.  I’m not surprised but definitely pleased that this is the year that I’ve been doing what I’m doing.  I’m very glad to be a student this year.

Maeve McKeown is a student activist and blogger at UCL. Clare Solomon is President of the University of London Union (ULU). Springtime is published by Verso and is available now.

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, interviews, protests, student movements