MOSCOW – Opposition activists in 70 cars from 55 different Russian cities are descending on the capital for anti-Kremlin demonstrations on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s May 7 swearing-in, following a 10-day car rally across Russia that began in the Far East’s Kamchatka.
The quirky protest-on-wheels, which ends with activists driving in a convoy around the Moscow Garden Ring on May 5 and then holding a demonstration next to the 1905 Street Metro Station, kicks off a series of anti-Putin demonstrations planned for the weekend in Moscow.
On May 6, thousands of protesters are expected to gather on Bolotnaya Square as part of the “March of a Million” protest rally. Though a large turnout is expected, the crowd isn’t likely to attract as many people as the 100,000-strong anti-Kremlin protests late last year.
The national car-rally protest is just the latest example of how like-minded Russian activists are using the Internet to overcome the country’s vast distances and defy its tightly controlled media to find each other.
But the solidarity has cracks, in the form of internal divisions within the opposition movement.
Svetlana Peunova: "We believe the elections we took part in were absolutely unfair and falsified."
Svetlana Peunova, who heads the left-wing opposition Volya party, which organized the auto protest, told RFE/RL that she was “not invited” to attend the mainstream opposition protest on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, and so she won’t.
Nevertheless, she said the car rally had already gotten her party’s point across.
"We decided to express our opinion about the inauguration of the president and about these elections," she said. "We believe the elections we took part in were absolutely unfair and falsified and we want to show that like-minded people are not just in Moscow but from all over the country. This is why we are holding this car rally.”
The rally’s official website
says “the people are deluded” by state media, so activists in cars decorated with balloons and “Kamchatka To Moscow” signs stopped en route to distribute anti-Putin and left-wing political pamphlets.
That was met with police harassment, Peunova said.
"Law enforcement officers are really dishonestly detaining and literally robbing our cars, seizing leaflets and my books, which activists are taking to the people," she said. "Without referring to protocol, they are detained for 24 hours, overnight. This has happened in Yoshkar-Ola, Voronezh, Lipetsk, and Belgorod."
Yevgeny Yegorov, a rally participant who was briefly detained in Voronezh on May 3 while handing out leaflets, told “Komsomolskaya pravda"
that all the pamphlets were confiscated by police officers, who did not present search warrants.
“It eventually became comical," he said. "They even seized Svetlana Peunova’s book, 'We And Our Children,' and said that it was extremist literature. We don’t know what to do! We tried to get back our documents but so far haven’t managed to.”