Campaign diary

Obstacles don’t stop Navalny’s rallies

Navalny Saratov

Alexei Navalny’s rally in a playground in Saratov. Photo by Evgeny Feldman from https://navalny.feldman.photo/

by Sarah Hurst

Alexei Navalny held rallies in Saratov, Pskov and Samara this weekend, overcoming increasingly creative efforts by local authorities to stop him. In Saratov police confiscated his stage, and he was forced to speak in a children’s playground after a handful of “patriotic singers” occupied the public area where he had planned to appear.

Lacking a sound system, Navalny addressed the crowd through a megaphone. At one point he got into a battle with a policeman shouting through his own megaphone that Navalny’s rally was illegal. The crowd shouted “Navalny! Navalny! Navalny!” and drowned out the policeman. The crowd’s energy was not diminished by the unusual venue, but boosted.

In Pskov authorities sent Navalny to a remote suburb for his rally, but it still gathered a large and enthusiastic crowd. Some supporters even travelled 3 ½ hours by road from St. Petersburg to see Navalny, he wrote on his blog. The average salary in Pskov is $250-300 a month, according to Navalny, but Estonia, where people are much better off, is only a short distance away. So the Russian and regional government is to blame for this poverty, Navalny said.

Bellydancing festival

The rally in Samara was the most dramatic one, with authorities detaining eight volunteers as they set up the stage, and taking the stage away. This despite a rare court decision overruling the mayor’s office, saying that Navalny’s rally should be permitted. Authorities nevertheless put up big signs warning people that the rally was illegal and that participants could be prosecuted.

Navalny again spoke through a megaphone, standing between the columns of a large building with a banner over his head inviting people to a bellydancing festival. This appeared to be one of the hastily-arranged events designed to interfere with Navalny’s rallies. A vocal crowd shouted “Putin’s a thief! Putin’s a thief!” in response to Navalny’s words. Police brought a pile of speakers to the edge of the square and switched on loud bellydancing music. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” the crowd shouted. Meanwhile, Russian TV channels obediently reported on protests against Petro Poroshenko in Kiev.

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