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Russian Political Prisoners Ignored by Everyone

Sergey Udaltsov, a leftist protest leader currently under house arrest pending investigation of his alleged planning of the May 6, 2012 Bolotnaya Square riots (the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case), exemplifies the popular saying: “out of sight, out of mind.” Prohibited from staying in close contact with anyone but his family and lawyers, he has struggled to maintain relevancy in the opposition movement ever since his arrest. Udaltsov is not alone in his plight — the twelve men and women currently on trial for their involvement in the riots (most of them have remained in pre-trial detention for the past year) also appear to have been largely forgotten. In an interview recently published [ru] in Novaya Gazeta, Udaltsov explained why people seem to have lost interest:

Да, сейчас все увлечены осенними выборами, да — «болотное дело» тянется очень долго, разбито на несколько частей, что не способствует поддержанию острого интереса общества и средств массовой информации.

right now everyone is preoccupied with the Fall elections, [...] the “Bolotnaya Case” is being stretched out, is broken up into several components, which isn't conducive to maintaining interest from the public and from the media.

Udaltsov called on protest leaders to combat this malaise, to “actively go to court hearings, conduct a strong information campaign” and “prepare for new rallies and marches of solidarity.”

His complaint was echoed by Maria Baronova [Global Voices Report], one of the accused in the case. Baronova, who unlike other defendants is out on bail, has been attempting to raise awareness through blogging, social media, and journalism, but feels [ru] that her efforts are in vain:

[...] люди добавляют, что конечно же интерес к Болотному делу появится, ну, когда будет приговор. Ну и тогда, дескать, “Болотная” что-то с этим сделает. Например, напишет классные колонки [...]

[...] people [say], that of course there will be interest in the Bolotnaya Case, well, when there is a verdict. Then, they say, “Bolotnaya” will do something. For instance, write really great op-eds [...]

Maria Baronova asking people to come support the Bolotnaya prisoners.

Maria Baronova asking people to come support the Bolotnaya prisoners. YouTube screenshot.

Baronova's frustrations came to a head last Friday, when she ran into notorious internet troll Egor Prosvirnin in a Moscow bar. Both were attending an impromptu outing organized by DemVybor's Stanislav Yakovlev (the list of participants [ru], from ultra-nationalist Prosvirnin, to liberal journalists Ivan Davydov and Elena Kostyuchenko simply serves as a reminder of how insular and cliquey the Moscow political “tusovka” is, no matter how fractured it seems from the outside).

Egor Prosvirnin at a nationalist rally. YouTube screenshot.

Egor Prosvirnin at a nationalist rally. YouTube screenshot.

Baronova apparently asked Prosvirnin, who runs the popular nationalist internet publication Sputnik & Pogrom [ru], why he hasn't covered her trial. Prosvirnin's answer was either brutally honest or a cynical troll (your mileage may vary) — he doesn't care, and no one else does either. Baronova tweeted quotes from their conversation, and later collated them into a Facebook post [ru]. Prosvirnin spent the night telling her that the courtroom drama isn't popular on social media, and that it won't become a conversation topic until it is adopted by Alexey Navalny in his campaign for mayor (Navalny himself faces jail time in a political case):

- Writing about Bolotnaya Prisoners, – says Egor Prosvirnin, – you'll get 15 [Facebook] likes. This is like battling windmills. You shouldn't write about it.

- I won't write about Bolotnaya prisoners because no one f*cking cares about them (c) Egor Prosvirnin

- You are writing about a completely losing battle, because if Navalny becomes president tomorrow, people will forget about the Bolotnaya case even faster (c) Hedgehog [Prosvirnin's nickname on the popular forum Lepra]

- The story of the Bolotnaya prisoners will have some meaning when Navalny starts covering it. Before that, there is no point (c) Prosvirnin

If I was Baronova, I would come to Navalny's HQ and take off my top until he started writing about the prisoners (c) Prosvirnin

Baronova eventually left, saying:

On this note, our live coverage of Hell is over. This was the best thing I've heard about the Bolotnaya case during the past year. Many people have had these thoughts, but now they've been aired

The sad thing is that Baronova, who rather naturally finds the topic of her trial very personal, is probably fighting a losing battle. If the fickle Russian public forgot about the much more memorable Pussy Riot case, just a month after their sentencing, what chance have the defendants who haven't danced in a cathedral wearing colorful masks?

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