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Filmmaker Warns Russian Leadership Against 'Civil War With Schoolchildren' In Light Of Protests

Police intervene against two young protesters at an anticorruption rally in central Moscow on March 26.
Police intervene against two young protesters at an anticorruption rally in central Moscow on March 26.

MOSCOW -- Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov used his acceptance speech at the Nika film awards to condemn police violence against protesters and appeal to the Kremlin to heed the calls of young people.

"We mustn't start a civil war with schoolchildren and students," Sokurov told the audience after receiving a Nika film award for "honor and dignity" on March 28. "We must listen to them. None of our politicians wants to listen to them. No one talks to them."

Other prominent directors joined the call, which followed mass detentions at an antigovernment rally in the capital and other Russian cities and came with some groups appearing on social networks calling for a follow-up demonstration on April 2.

Drawing applause from the hall, Sokurov decried police "violence" at the nationwide rallies on March 26, when more than 1,000 demonstrators were detained in Moscow alone, and described some of the angry young people as a dormant force.

WATCH: Aleksandr Sokurov At The Nika Awards:

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, suggested after the detentions that teenagers had been egged on to protest by the opposition in return for money. That allegation appeared to be a reference to jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's promise to win financial compensation via the European Court of Human Rights for anyone mistreated by authorities.

Sokurov also called for legislation that would prohibit the arrest of women and girls at protests. "If you saw what happened on Sunday [March 26], then you will have seen that there were many victims when girls, schoolgirls, were grabbed by the arm or leg and dragged somewhere. It was rough. It was violence."

The March 26 rallies captured the attention of other notables at the Nika awards, too. In comments carried by the TASS news agency, Aleksei Krasovsky called on filmmakers to "use their power to change something in the fates" of the scores of protesters who remain in police custody.

Police Disperse Anticorruption Rally In Moscow
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Filmmaker Mark Zakharov was quoted by TASS as saying, "I'm happy that Krasovsky spoke about some of the painful and heavy problems of our lives."

Sokurov -- who is best known for the films Russian Ark and Faust -- paid particular attention to the apparent emergence of young demonstrators. "Many times, over many years we have said, 'Where are you? Where are the students? Where are the schoolchildren? Don't you see what's happening in your country?'" he said. "There was silence; they weren't there. Now they have appeared."

Sokurov's speech came as groups of people identifying themselves as "normal students" appeared on Facebook and VKontakte calling for follow-up rallies in Moscow.

The Internet news portal reported on March 27 that the VKontakte group was created from a fake account, and its authenticity could not immediately be verified.

'Peaceful Action'

The VKontakte group lists 1,700 members and is called We Demand Systemic Changes In The Country! At first, the page reportedly called for a protest on Red Square, but it is now calling for a "peaceful" action on April 2 at a location in central Moscow that is still to be determined.

In the blurb, the group says: "Let the Kremlin see that not only the opposition can gather protests, but that people can gather themselves and that they shouldn't be afraid of us. We are not demanding anything undeliverable or extremist. And we don’t intend to be pawns in their political intrigue. We don't care who is in power, we want whoever is there to hear to us!"

Sokurov began his speech by saying he is waiting for Putin to take a decision about Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director serving a 20-year sentence on charges of having plotted terrorist attacks in Crimea after Russia's occupation and annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.

In December, Sokurov appealed to Putin to free Sentsov and told the auditorium at the Nika awards that "The president said that he would think about this problem," adding that he is "awaiting the president's decision."

'Intelligentsia Revolt'

Sokurov also said his political views have made him something of a pariah on Russian television screens and that he has been "forced to make his most recent films" abroad.

The Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper on March 29 described the critical statements from Sokurov and others as an "intelligentsia revolt."

The paper pointed to Vitaly Mansky, who won an award in the non-feature film category for a work about North Korea. Mansky said in his acceptance speech that Russia is "not yet North Korea," but "we ****ed up our country so we're worse than North Korea."

Kommersant also noted that actress Yelena Korenevaya, who won the Nika for best female supporting role, referred to "political prisoners" in her award speech.

Valentina Matviyenko, the influential chairwoman of Russia's Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, has called on authorities to enter a dialogue with protesters.

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