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Latest Country Blogs: Russia
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'Monstrations' take aim at Putin's regime

Dire Straits former front man Mark Knopfler has cancelled his June gigs in Moscow and St Petersburg. With good reason.
“Given the crackdown by Russian authorities on groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, I have regretfully decided to cancel my upcoming concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg,” he says on his website.

Knopfler’s boycott strengthens opposition to the continuing crackdown on opposition to the rule of President Vladimir Putin, which began last year. Putin’s authoritarian regime is being increasingly compared to that of Joseph Stalin by critics. Next week, opposition leader Alexey Navalny is due to go on trial on concocted corruption charges.

The most notorious protesters to be jailed are the Pussy Riot girl band, who were found guilty of “hooliganism” after a performance praying for deliverance from Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral back in February 2012.

Their trial provoked a worldwide storm of protest supported by Madonna, Sting, Patti Smith, Paul McCartney and many others, but two Pussy Riot members remain incarcerated.

Corrective Labour Camp No.28 in the Perm region in the Urals mountains, where 24-year-old band member Maria Alyokhina is serving her two-year sentence, has broken the law by holding her in solitary confinement for over 90 days.  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, is being overworked in another prison while she awaits her parole appeal on April 26.

Knopfler’s support will hearten the hundreds of protesters who gathered yesterday in central Moscow, holding up placards with the faces of jailed activists and calling for the “freeing of hostages” and an end to Putin’s regime.

A former opposition deputy, Gennady Gudkov, said that the rally was for all political prisoners in Russia. Gudkov said there were “dozens and even hundreds” of political prisoners. A bigger protest is planned for May, the anniversary of repression in the run-up to Putin’s re-election.

Up to 2,000 organisations have been targeted with inspections and searches in connection with the NGO law. Organisations raided include the respected Memorial group, which was founded in the late 1980s to document the crimes of the Stalin period and beyond.  

The new law says non-governmental groups (NGOs) linked to politics must register as "foreign agents" – an accusation which was scrawled on the walls of Memorial’s offices.

Before the crackdown, Memorial released a CD documenting the 44,500 people whose deaths were personally authorised by Joseph Stalin. Facsimiles showing Stalin's initials (which appear on 357 lists) scribbled in bright red pencil were published by Moscow News online last week

“For any normal person, this proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Stalin knew,” said Memorial’s project director Yan Rachinsky,” said. Memorial also provided arrest shots for "La Grande Terreur," an album of arrest shots from the archives of Memorial and the State Archive of the Russian Federation.

Pussy Riot T shirts
Pussy Riot T shirts

The scale of artistic protest against the regime is extraordinary, according to Russian art curators. It includes activist Artyom Loskutov from Novosibirsk. “The police did a lot to promote him as well,” writes Dmitry Sukhodolsky.

Special agents who usually deal with terrorists and the Russian mafia turned up on his doorstep and searched his apartment. They “found” a few grams of marijuana.  Loskutov was eventually made to pay a fine, became a star on the Internet and moved his “Monstrations” to Moscow. The “Monstration” is a parody of Soviet-style parades, where workers from different factories plodded through the streets “voluntarily” on holidays, bearing placards and slogans.

“The return of this Soviet-era practice in the early 2000s prompted Loskutov’s ‘Monstration’ – an annual carnival where young people rid themselves of negative energy by taking these ‘grown-up’ traditions to absurd lengths”, says Sukhodolsky

“Siberian police were extremely irritated by these brightly dressed throngs of youth brandishing placards with statements like: “MAMA, FORGIVE ME, I PROMISE I’LL VACUUM!”; “PIGS ARE PEOPLE TOO!”; “KEEP YOUR CITY CLEAN, EAT A PIGEON A DAY!”

Parodying such slogans goes deeper than a joke just as Putin proposes to re-introduce Stalin’s award for the “hero of Socialist Labour”. Toppling the Putin regime needs more than cultural boycotts of course. But pricking the bubble of the system's rhetoric is a great start.
Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
8 April 2013

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