Campaign diary

Irkutsk and Kemerovo rallies

Navalny Irkutsk3

The crowd at Navalny’s rally in Irkutsk. Photo by Evgeny Feldman from https://navalny.feldman.photo/

By Sarah Hurst

After filing his lawsuit against Vladimir Putin for refusing to give him permission for rallies, Alexei Navalny held two more successful rallies in Irkutsk and Kemerovo this weekend. He bypassed local authorities altogether by getting invitations to appear on private property. The owner of a furniture showroom who hosted Navalny in Irkutsk wasn’t deterred by thugs who left a pig’s head on his door a few days beforehand, and hundreds of people streamed down a muddy back street to the venue.

Navalny had strong words at the rally about the mayor of Irkutsk, Dmitri Berdnikov, whom he called a “gangster, a swindler and a thief”. Before the rally he visited Lake Baikal and a fish market, where a middle-aged woman working at one of the stalls said she watched him on YouTube and asked about his lawsuit. Navalny’s reach across the country has been remarkable considering that he is invisible on state TV. It is hard to imagine how many people would show up to his rallies if he weren’t banned from the election and if so many of his supporters weren’t constantly being arrested and threatened.

Police detain nationalists and tourists

Yesterday was “Unity Day” in Russia and some people gathered at official events with concerts and portraits of Putin to wave. It was also the day of the annual nationalist and neo-Nazi Russian March,  which takes place in a suburb of Moscow. Most of the participants oppose Putin, and some of their leaders are in prison. Dozens of people were detained, some violently. An OMON riot policeman knocked a young woman down, and she lost consciousness. An alternative “patriotic” march in Moscow went off more peacefully, with people carrying a huge banner of Nicholas II depicted as a saint.

In Kemerovo authorities went to great lengths to deter people from coming to Navalny’s rally, offering alternative events at the same time such as a fireworks display and a tour of a new street, and even cancelling public transport going in the direction of the venue. Today was a tense day anyway in Russia, two days before the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, and also the day when supporters of exiled nationalist Vyacheslav Maltsev gathered for their own long-planned revolution. Over 300 people around Russia, but most in Moscow’s Manezh Square, were detained in connection with this. Many were just tourists or people who had come out to catch Pokemon or attend an Adam Smith reading.

Pensioner speaks out

The preventive measures in Kemerovo didn’t work, and Navalny spoke in front of another big crowd. One man grabbed the microphone and accused Navalny of “bamboozling young people” using US funds. Someone next to him shouted that it is the government that bamboozles young people. The most poignant moment came when an old lady addressed Navalny and told him she has a pension of $236 a month, and had to pay to stand in a queue at a clinic. “Do young people want the kind of life I’ve lived?” she asked. “No!” the crowd shouted. “Alexei, you’ve taken on a lot, people are very grateful, I’m very grateful. I want everything to work out for you,” the old lady said.

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