Who could have ever imagined that in the bitterest Russian frost, when eyelashes get covered in ice from freezing breath, tens of thousands of Russians would leave their homes on a weekend day to speak out their view on a political situation in the country through a march. These citizens who call themselves “not the opposition, but the employers of the government” (“Government, we are not opposing you, we are firing you!”), are demanding fair presidential elections before they even started, knowing that post factum, as it happened with Legislative elections in December, 2011, it might be too late.
“-20С. It’s not cold when we are together.”
It’s been the 3rd large official opposition meeting in the center of Moscow, hold for the second time at the Bolotnaya Square, and throughout the country.
Judging from numerous photos made at the event, handmade posters people were carrying, were especially creative, filled with brilliant sense of humor despite the not-so-pleasant reason for the meeting: “Not the third time – our head aches”, “Don’t rock the boat – our rat is nauseous”, “We are for fair amphorae”, “No one hired us, we don’t like you for free”, “Veni, falso,vici!”.
Poet Dmitry Bykov with a poster “Don’t rock the boat – our rat is nauseous.”
At the end of the event a legendary Russian rock star Yuri Shevchuk performed his philosophical song “Motherland” with the whole crowd singing along with him.
However, that was not the only meeting of people on that frosty February Saturday: Poklonnaya Gora (which in Russian means “Worshipful Submission Hill” or “Bowing Hill”) gathered the opposed to the opposition – the pro-Putin citizens, who came to support his candidacy and policies. Though they claimed to have positive attitude unlike the opposition (who are “against Putin”, “against unfair elections”, and “against everything”), the speakers at the meeting were speaking in a negative tone, accusing the opposition in “revolutionary goals”, “venality”, “working for U.S. Department of State”, and using other insults in the address of their fellow citizens. People at Poklonnaya Gora were holding posters as well, though most of them looked like printed by same person, their mottos were pretty plain and cliché too: “Putin is the best”, “Russia is for Putin”, “Who if not Putin?”, “Vote for Putin” and so and so on.
A few days before the meetings, Russian bloggers started sharing phone tapes of employees of government-financed organizations of Moscow, like schools, post offices and hospitals, telling that they were being pressed by their supervisors to attend the pro-Putin meeting in exchange for a monetary bonus or extra vacation days, or under the threat of being fired. The government was passionately denying giving any of such orders, but there was a weird thing: at the Poklonnaya meeting people were hiding their faces from cameramen, when independent journalists were trying to ask them a couple questions. When one man started talking to a journalist, some woman (supposedly, one of those who supervised the meeting) said to the man: “Don’t you dare speak to them, you are not allowed!”
Another strangeness: to Bolotnaya meeting people, mostly Muscovites, were coming on their own by Moscow subway, and to Poklonnaya – by specially organized federal buses, that caused a great – even for Moscow streets – traffic.
These buses, according to the labels seen on their front windows, were bringing people from such regions as Ulyanovsk (15 hours from Moscow), Bryansk (6 hours from Moscow), Tambov (7 hours from Moscow), and Rostov (16 hours from Moscow). Would a person from Chicago drive for 16 hours to New York City to attend a 2-hour outdoors meeting with the temperature below -10F in the name of a candidate who is most likely going to win by hook or by crook? Hypothetically speaking – yes, we can allow that there might be such a person. But thousands of such people?! Now that sounds like magic!
The last but not the least is meeting statistics. Thus, the Moscow administration said, that Poklonnaya Gora was attended by 135 000 people (Putin named even bigger number – 190 000), Bolotnaya gathered only 36 000, and Saint Petersburg opposition meeting counted 5 000 people. Just yesterday, after processing the videos from these three meetings, independent correspondents, including foreign ones, named completely different numbers: Bolotnaya – 150 000; Poklonnaya – 50 000, Saint Petersburg – 30 000. Looks like someone doesn’t know how to count right. Or doesn’t want to.
Photos are taken by various meeting attendees, all copyrights belong to them.