Word emerged this week that the Moscow city authorities have OKed a concert on downtown Pushkin Square in support of the activists and citizens who are protesting against the destruction of the Khimki forest. The August 22 concert is expected to include headliners such as DDT (whose front man, Yury Shevchuk, has been much in the news lately with his aggressive pronouncements against the Kremlin; at a concert in March, Shevchuk slammed Russia’s “brutal, cruel, and inhumane” system), Televizor, Barto, and others. It will be hosted by outspoken journalist Artyom Troitsky and could possibly include the red-hot rapper Noize MC.
It was nothing less than jaw-dropping news. Why would the authorities give their blessing to allow thousands -- possibly tens of thousands -- of young people to gather in the center of the city for such a politically charged event? After all, until now they have been almost comically afraid to allow even handfuls of people to demonstrate in Moscow. This video shows scores of police deployed to prevent one elderly man from entering a downtown square and then bodily hauling him off after he does.
It should be noted, of course, that Moscow gives and Moscow takes away. There is a lot of time between now and August 22, so don’t be surprised if the authorities suddenly discover that Nashi has already booked the square for a tag sale to raise money to buy copies of Vladislav Surkov’s latest book for victims of the recent fires.
On top of this came the news today that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has returned to his vacation, which was rudely interrupted by the fact that no one in the capital could breathe. If the concert gets out of hand while Luzhkov is off having his tennis elbow looked at, it is hard to imagine how he’ll hang on to his job. Of course, being out of town can provide plausible deniability if the plan is for some sort of crackdown or violent provocation.
So, the $64,000 question is: Why?
We have ruled out the possibility that the authorities are counting on the veracity of this report from Emmy-nominated RT television asserting that “Earth’s natural resources will run out in four days.” That is, on August 21, one day before the concert, life on earth will come to a grinding halt and the Kremlin’s problem will be solved. “We wanted to allow the concert,” a concerned spokesman will intone, “but the lack of water and oxygen and energy on the planet simply makes this impossible.”
Or are the authorities counting on the event going off smoothly and therefore being a demonstration that Moscow supports democracy and civil society? Could the authorities be counting on Troitsky, who although a liberal, remains a mainstream cultural figure who has been moderate in his criticisms of the authorities, to keep a lid on things?
Or are the Moscow authorities simply in such disarray over the seemingly inevitable removal of Luzhkov (and are some of them bent on accelerating that process?) that they don’t know what they are doing? That seems unlikely, since as recently as the attempted demonstrations on August 12 and 15, they seemed to know just fine.
Or is it part of the conflict between Luzhkov and Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov? Could the municipal authorities be thinking the event will remain focused on the Khimki confrontation and will make the oblast authorities look bad?
All this seems unlikely. In its August 16 press release announcing the concert, the opposition Solidarity movement seemed pretty open about their intention to expand the political dimension of this event. “The demonstration/concert on August 22 is not just an action of solidarity with the defenders of the Khimki forest, but part of a broad civic campaign against bureaucratic and police arbitrariness.”
“The action of August 22 is intended to demonstrate that civil society in Russia has developed to the point where it can, when necessary, mobilize itself to defend its constitutionally guaranteed rights, including the right to clean air,” the press release concludes.
Televizor leader Mikhail Borzykin similarly told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the Khimki situation "has become a symbol of survival in Russia, of the struggle againnst the cutting down not only of a forest, but oall all that is best in the residents of Russia, of all that is human. It has become a metaphor." He characterized the actions of police as "extremist" and as "terrorism practiced across Russia and directed at its own citizens."
So? What do you think? Have the authorities lost their minds? Are they playing a cynical game? Have they suddenly become defenders of the public’s right to assembly freely?
Your guess is as good as mine – we’d love to hear what you think. See comment box below...
-- Robert Coalson