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Sans Permit, Russian Opposition to Converge at Security Headquarters

For the past week, Coordinating Council negotiators have been trying to obtain permits for a “Freedom March” from the Moscow city government on December 15, 2012. Earlier, RuNet Echo described [GV] a Coordinating Council eDemocracy initiative designed to help the negotiators determine their strategy. An overwhelming majority of more than 10,000 people who voted insisted on holding the rally at the Council's preferred location of the Lubyanskaya Square, home to the FSB headquarters, Russia's main domestic security agency and main successor to the KGB.

The strategy appears to have misfired. Negotiations failed, and, as the negotiators have refused offers of less central venues, no rally permit was granted. This means that any organized public gathering on December 15 will be unsanctioned, making it illegal to solicit people to attend it. Nevertheless, it seems that the Coordinating Council has arrived at a sort of work-around. On December 13 it issued the following statement [ru] on its website [ru]:

Координационный Совет российской оппозиции заявляет, что в сложившейся ситуации у каждого гражданина России остаётся его неотъемлемое конституционное право самостоятельно определять место и время своего пребывания.

The Coordinating Council of the Russian opposition declares that in the current situation every Russian citizen still has the inalienable constitutional right to individually determine the time and location of their being.

“Freedom March” website. Screenshot. December 14, 2012.

What does this mean? Several opposition leaders have elaborated in blog posts. Alexey Navalny gave the following explanation [ru] in his blog:

Прийти по любому возможному маршруту, дойти до точки, куда можно дойти свободно. Постоять там некоторое время. Подышать морозным московским воздухом, пойти домой.

Walk along any route, get to the destination where you can freely walk to. Stand there for a while. Breath the wintry Moscow air, go home.

He later expanded [ru] this point:

Ни сцен, ни митингов, ни организованных шествий. Не надо ни с кем связываться – не пускает вас милиционер, ну и обойдите его с другой стороны. Символическое присутствие на Лубянской площади или на прилегающей территории с любой стороны (там, куда можно будет физически попасть) – вот единственное, что требуется от каждого из нас.

No stages, no rallies, no organized marches. Don't get on anybody's case — if the policeman isn't letting you through, just walk around him. All that is required of you is symbolic presence on Lubyanskaya Square or its surroundings from any side (where you can physically get to).

Sergey Davidis's explanation [ru] was slightly different:

[...] очень многие граждане намерены в 15.00 прийти на Лубянскую площадь и возложить цветы к Соловецкому камню в качестве акта солидарности с современными политзаключенными [...]

[...] many citizens are planning to come to Lubyanskaya Square and place flowers at the Solovetsky Stone [ru] as an act of solidarity with modern political prisoners [...]

Writer and professor Alexander Arkhangelsky preferred an even vaguer description [ru]:

Я лично не буду ни дома сидеть, ни на площадь прорываться; я пойду в МИМОШЕСТВИЕ, вдоль кордонов, ни звука не произнося и никаких плакатов не держа.

I personally won't sit at home, but won't try to break through to the square; I will go on a SIDEMARCH, along the cordons, without making a sound and not holding any signs.

Ksenia Sobchak simply announced [ru] that:

15-го числа я пойду гулять в район Лубянки

On the 15th I'll go walk in the general vicinity of Lubyanka

Essentially, protest organizers are trying to get around their lack of permits by pretending that the rally won't be a rally at all, a transparent loophole similar to last summer's “Control Stroll.” [ru] However, while the Control Stroll was planned that way from the start, this last minute “un-rally” strategy has drawn fire from other figures in the opposition. Some, like Marina Litvinovich and Alexey Blindul, wondered whether refusing to cooperate with the authorities was a smart move. Litvinovich asked the question [ru] on her Facebook profile:

Почему все же нельзя было согласиться на Бульвары, Сахарова, Болотную? Ведь это вполне себе центральные площади. Сказки про “нельзя повторяться”, “было голосование” – это все менее важно, чем согласованная акция – ведь на нее выйдет на порядок больше людей.

Why was it impossible to agree to the Boulevards, Sakharov [Square], Bolotnaya [Square]? These are pretty much central squares. Tall-tales about “we can't repeat the past”, “there was a vote” — these are all less important than a sanctioned rally, since an order of magnitude more people would attend.

Blindul was on the same page [ru]:

Понятное дело, что Лубянская площадь или Манежка намного предпочтительней Бульварного кольца по целому ряду оснований. [...] Но ведь на каком-то этапе стало понятно, что никто не собирается пускать марш на Лубянку [...] я глубоко убежден в ошибочности отказа от санкционированной акции [...]

It's understandable that Lubyanskaya Square or the Manezh [Square] are much more preferable than the Boulevard Ring for many reasons. [...] But at some point it became obvious, that no one is going to let the march through to Lubianka [...] I am deeply convinced that the refusal to hold a sanctioned rally was a mistake [...]

DemVybor Deputy Chairman Kirill Shulika, who blogs under viking-nord, went further than rhetorical questions, accusing the Coordinating Council of being disingenuous [ru]:

Есть вторая стратегия, ее адепт это Лимонов. Ему по фигу, что закон запрещает агитировать выходить на несанкционированную акцию, он выходит сам и призывает других. [...] Акцию не разрешили. Можно было отказаться от нее или согласиться на предложенный мэрией маршрут. Если уж есть решение не соглашаться, тогда надо повторить действия Лимонова, описанные выше. Но сейчас происходит удивительное – за внешней решимостью лидеры протеста снимают с себя ответственность за пришедших сторонников и говорят, что мы просто идем погулять, возложить цветы.

There is a second strategy, [Other Russia leader Eduard] Limonov is its adherent. He doesn't give a damn that the law forbids campaigning for unsanctioned rallies, he goes himself and urges others. [...] The rally was't sanctioned. One could give it up or agree to the route proposed by the mayor's office. If the decision is to not agree, then one should repeat Limonov's actions, described above. But now something strange is happening — behind an outer decisiveness, protest leaders relegate their responsibility for the supporters who've showed up, and say that we are just going for a walk, to leave some flowers.

Journalist Oleg Luriye agreed, insinuating that the Coordinating Council could have even deliberately engineered the situation, in order to create a more newsworthy protest. He also predicted that [ru]:

Ни Собчак, ни Быков, ни Ашурков, ни Касьянов на несогласованном марше не появятся. А некоторые из особо активно призывавших, вполне возможно, неожиданно «заболеют»

Niether Sobchak, nor Bykov, nor Ashurkov, nor Kasyanov won't show up at an unsanctioned march. And some of those who were the most active in campaigning, will suddenly get “sick”

Luriye is referring to the fact that Alexey Navalny did not attend the recent nationalist-organized “Russian March” because he was down with the flu. Curiously, it appears that Alexey Navalny's newly-founded party “The People's Alliance” is holding a convention on the day of the march [ru], and Navalny himself is scheduled to speak. While it's unclear whether the engagement will interfere with Navalny's plans for a stroll to Lubyanskaya Square, some Coordinating Council members like Georgy Alburov have already announced that they will not be able to attend the “un-rally.” Since convention plans have been in place since the beginning of November, the last minute announcement incensed [ru] DemVybor activist Stanislav Yakovlev:

То есть на КС продвигали дату 15 декабря – ЗАРАНЕЕ ЗНАЯ, что в этот день состоится съезд Народного Альянса. Охуительно, охуительно

So at the Coordinating Council they moved forward with 15 December as a date — KNOWING IN ADVANCE, that on this day there will be a People's Alliance convention. Unf*ckingbelievable

Yakovlev strongly hints that the convention will be an excuse for skipping the unsanctioned march, which will likely result in arrests and detentions.

In the end, the situation remains fluid. Will the “Walk to Lybyanka” be a success? Will people show up? Will the organizers actually attend? How effective are the opposition's online efforts to drum up popular participation? Hopefully today's events will shed some light on these questions.

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