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Moscow Activists Take A Walk On The Mild Side To Get Message Across

  • Daisy Sindelar

Authorities might have hoped that Moscow's tenacious protest movement would die down after hundreds of demonstrators were summarily arrested at a May 6 rally ahead of Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration.

But rather than giving up, protesters are adapting their tactics.

This week has seen activists in the Russian capital gathering in public places for group strolls, sit-ins, and playful performances they say do not constitute political protests -- but still get the message across.

At a series of "people's walks" this week hundreds of Muscovites -- many dressed in white or wearing white ribbons, the symbolic color of the protest movement -- gathered in loose groups in central Moscow, singing, playing games, and listening to music.

Political slogans and speechifying were kept to a minimum, with most messages scrawled unobtrusively on skin or scribbled on the ground in chalk.

One participant who brazenly displayed a political banner earned a chorus of boos from a group of peaceful participants including talk-show darling Ksenia Sobchak.

"This isn't a protest, this is a walk," she scolded him.

Inspiration From Belarus

The low-key gatherings -- which take place under the gimlet eye of large numbers of OMON troops and city police -- have been encouraged by opposition leaders like Aleksei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, both of whom have been detained and handed 15-day sentences for their role in protests this week.

The newest wave of protests is similar in style to civic actions in neighboring Belarus, where activists experimented with more imaginative forms of protests following a massive police crackdown on demonstrators last year.

In some instances, protesters in Belarus gathered and simply clapped their hands or coordinated their cell phones to ring simultaneously.

Such actions did not prevent police from making arrests, often violently. But they were seen as sustaining a protest movement that might have otherwise died out after having been forced from more traditional arenas.

'Maintain Order'

The same has been true in Moscow as well. Dozens of participants in the public-walk protests and various sit-ins have been detained, prompting complaints of gross violations by local law enforcement.

Speaking to RFE/RL, Vladimir Platonov, the speaker of the Moscow City Duma, denied reports of an overzealous police presence, saying local officers had simply been deployed to "maintain order" during Putin's inauguration and the Victory Day holidays.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said the new protests are an effective weapon against an increasingly unpopular Putin as he returns to office for a controversial third term.

"The fact that Putin is deathly afraid of his own people but hasn't done things as terrible as Lukashenka is because we're out on the squares," Nemtsov told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "We need to continue to build a peaceful protest movement. Marches, rallies, pickets, strikes, a nationwide political strike -- these are the requirements for impeachment."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service

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