All Russia stands united behind the governments course in Ukraine – or does it? Not all Russians see supporting hostile rhetoric and concealed warfare as their patriotic duty. Widely ignored by the state media, they bring their protest to the streets. On Sunday, 21 September, anti-war demonstrations are planned in several cities of the Russian Federation. Four attendants tell us about their motivation to join the rally.
Will Russia’s “angry urbanites” make their disapproval for warmongering and their demands for peace heard? How many protesters will join the call for a sustainable and peaceful solution of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on Sunday “march for peace”?
Recent opinion polls have painted a rather dull picture of Russians’ readiness to take up actions and rally in the streets. According to the study conducted by the Levada Centre on 22-25 August, only 8 percent of respondents would personally take part in mass protests. Compared to the 14 percent ready to join demonstrations in a similar study back in February, it is a rather sobering view on the potential of political mobilisation.
For the upcoming anti war protests a glance at social network activities gives a more hopeful view. For the Moscow march, Facebook shows over 40 000 user invited. So far, relevant entries on both VKontakte and Facebook show 8 000 confirmed attendants each.
The pacifist movement in Russia is far from lethargy. Russian citizens had shown their discontent with the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity earlier this year. On 15 March, the “march of peace” gathering protesters against the annexation of Crimea took place on the eve of the contested referendum. With an estimated number of 30 000 – 50 000 attendants, the march is likely to account for the biggest mass demonstration after the so called Bolotnaya protests against the election fraud in 2011.
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Stepan Goncharov (22), sociologist at Levada Centre, Moscow
It will be the first post-annexation anti-war march in Russia that Stepan is going to attend. On Sunday, he will join his friends and colleagues to demonstrate their discontent as well as citizen engagement. For Stepan, the discussion in social networks is much more important for civil mobilisation than any call from a political group – a party affiliation does not really matter. Basing on his research of political participation and the mass demonstrations that followed the contested elections in 2011, he doesn’t expect any major interruptions during the march this Sunday.
“In the Russian state there are no other ways to show your civil attitude. For me joining the Sunday march is rather a moral obligation. I don’t expect that this event will change much about the situation in Russia. It is a question of responsibility to show that there are Russians who speak out against the war”.
For me personally the march is an anti war movement as well as an action to support democracy and pluralism in Russia. I think our domestic political issues are often concealed in this conflict.
However, I think that the Sunday demonstration will be peaceful and non-violent. Earlier protests were much more oppositional.
As I said, I don’t believe the march will change much about the situation in Russia. But I will feel personal satisfaction afterwards, showing my political engagement”.
Anton Barbashin (24), PhD student at the Moscow State University and analyst in International Relations.
Being in his former home town Novosibirsk at that time, Anton didn’t have the chance to join the Moscow anti-war protest in March this year. This time he will go with his fiancée and friends. Dealing with political economy in his studies, he is concerned about Russia’s aggravating isolation and wants to raise awareness of the risks and costs of this politics. Admittedly a difficult task, since he has no doubts that the protest march will be later portrayed as an anti patriotic act in the state controlled media. Nevertheless Anton still expects a clear statement against the official course of the Russian authorities’ and many people to come.
“I believe what is happening in Ukraine is completely wrong. Morally wrong. Russia has no business in participating in the events that are unfolding right now. I do believe it is immoral to send Russian troops to die there and to fight Ukrainians. I believe that decisions made by Vladimir Putin and his associates in the Russian military staff are wrong. As many Russians as possible should know what the real situation in Ukraine is. They should understand the consequences of their actions in Ukraine for the Russian Federation. How severely it will fall back on us in the future.
For me the primary objective of attending is to protest against the war. My position towards the current authorities? I don’t support them. We should have a complete change of government. But the particular reason for me to go out on the streets on Sunday is that I am against the war. Against the bloodshed.
I will bring no placards, but will chant NO WAR!
Honestly, I am quite pessimistic here. The march will be portrayed as an action of national traitors. Of those who do not value their Russian citizenship or heritage. Of those who oppose everything that the government stands for. I don’t believe that we are going to be seen as doing the right thing but in the long term … Well, actually it doesn’t matter. As long as there are enough people gathering on Sunday, it will be good enough.
No, I don’t expect repressions from police. I think they will be very cautious. Nobody wants exciting pictures. The government doesn’t want Western journalists report on clashes with the police. Incidences like that would only draw additional attention. That would in the end help our cause. So I think the state is going to be very cautious not to provoke anybody and to act as professional as possible. They would want this to go peacefully, and quietly, so no one notices. There might be incidents but I’m convinced that the authorities will be very persistent in preventing any escalation from happening.
What do I wish we achieve on Sunday? To get as many people as possible! The major problem is that most people don’t know that there is a war. So in order to make it effective we need to be as loud as possible”.
Olga Irisova, (24), journalist and senior contributor at World Economic Journal living in Moscow.
For Olga it is also the first anti-war march in Russia after the annexation of Crimea. She will attend the Sunday gathering with her family, wearing Ukrainian colours to show her support. Olga is upset about the fact that views that differ from the official government standpoint are marginalised in the media. She perceives the march as an opportunity to make alternative voices heard – and will report from the event.
“I’m fed up with Russian politics towards Ukrainian as well as Russian citizens. Russian society is living under total propaganda so most people are simply unaware of what is happening in the east of Ukraine. All they can see on TV and read newspapers makes them think that there are nazis in Ukraine who kill the Russian-speaking minority. They believe that because there are no other available and free sources of information. So, maybe our movement will implant doubts in their minds.
The Sunday rally is, first of all, an anti war movement, a movement against Putin’s actions towards Ukraine. But I think there will be also people who agree with some traits of Putin’s strategy – the economic part for instance – but disagree with foreign policy. And that’s why we can’t call it purely an anti-government demonstration.
Overall, I’m pretty pessimistic about the outcomes. If the best happened, a few thousands of people in Russia will rethink their position. But the most important for us is that we will be heard in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians will know that there are people in Russia who support them.
I believe that it is in the interest of Russian authorities to not attract public and international attention to this event – they will do their best to prevent any aggression upon the participants.
I just wish people finally consolidated and showed up in great number”.
Andrey Kalikh (41), journalist and analyst at the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights living in St Petersburg.
Andrey plans to join the crowd of protesters in St Petersburg, wearing a t-shirt with a Ukrainian flag. No other signs are allowed – the authorities of the city did not officially issue a permission for a demonstration. Moreover, unlike in Moscow, police repressions and provocations by counter activists are quite possible in Russia’s second biggest city – without an agreement with the authorities no police protection can be provided for the march. Still Andrey expects a broad coalition of the city’s lively civil society actors to show up at the event. He sets special hopes in attendants linked to non-governmental organisations such as the “Committee of Soldier Mothers” based in St. Petersburg.
“I have many friends in Ukraine and I consider Ukraine as a sister country. The Jewish family of my father came from Ukraine. I have spent a lot of my childhood in Ukraine, in Odessa. First of all I think Ukraine and Russia don’t have to fight against each other. I don’t know who is right. But we need to stop that war. I am very ashamed for the Russian policy and rhetoric of aggression. They are supporting separatism and not the democratic development in Ukraine.
I count on the coverage of the event that will be seen also in Ukraine. And I think of the message to our government that not the whole country does support the war. They need to know that!
Many people should come. The more the better! There is a danger of repressions against protesters but this is not a reason for me to stay away from the march. Of course there are people who will not attend the event because they fear to be detained.
I hope very much that the rally is going to be peaceful! Though it depends of the number of people. We should not respond to any provocations. And yes, I hope I won’t be detained”.
Общероссийский Марш Мира | All-Russia March for Peace
21 September 2014
Moscow | St Petersburg
Apart from the metropolitan hubs – Moscow and St Petersburg – rallies have been announced for larger cities all over the Federation such as Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Voronezh, Perm, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don and Krasnoyarsk.