Big-Name Writers Lead Protest Rally of 10,000
Published: May 16, 2012 (Issue # 1708)
MOSCOW — A week after bloody clashes between radical youths and riot police tarnished the first major protest rally in months, the moderate middle-class opposition appeared to re-assert itself Sunday with an unexpectedly large march of thousands in Moscow led by some of Russia’s most prominent writers.
Organizers said about 10,000 marched peacefully from Pushkin Square to Chistiye Prudy, where they merged with a four-day-old open-air camp that had become the headquarters of the fledgling street movement to oust President Vladimir Putin. Police put the number of marchers at 2,000.
Unlike the May 6 rally, police presence was minimal, and there were no reports of violence or detentions.
Prominent opposition-minded writers, including Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Dmitry Bykov, Lev Rubinshtein and crime novelist Grigory Chkhartishvili, who writes under the pseudonym Boris Akunin, took center stage at Sunday’s unsanctioned Test March, which doubled as a book-signing event for many.
“It’s great that the protest movement is taking various forms and genres, that it’s changing and mutating but isn’t dying down,” said Rubinshtein, a poet. “The fact that so many people showed up is also evidence that literature still carries some weight in our society.”
The event was called the Test March to see whether anti-Kremlin activists could walk around freely. Last week, people were detained for just wearing white ribbons — the symbol of the protesters, or for no clear reason at all. “We are now fighting for our right to walk where we want to,” satirist Viktor Shenderovich said.
As the crowds walked on Rozhdestvensky Bulvar, which slopes down a hill, cheers began whenever a new group reached the top of the hill. The mass of people on the street was a striking contrast to the empty city on the day of Putin’s inauguration.
Mathematician Fyodor, 63, held up an electronic reader with the words, “If you come up against a lie, use it,” a quote he attributed to Thomas Carlyle, the 19th-century Scottish writer.
Under a statue of 19th-century poet Alexander Griboyedov, poet Dmitry Bykov recited Griboyedov’s verse and collected manuscripts from aspiring authors in a plastic bag.
Marchers said they were appalled by the violence at the May 6 rally and welcomed the authors’ march. “It was scary. It seemed like a completely different group from the one that had been going to the rallies,” said Ksenia Velembovskaya, 60, editor of an academic journal. “Today, I feel great. These are our people.”
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