Europe

Russians seize three-hour protest offer before World Cup

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Groups from across the political divide are using every opportunity to voice their message, even if it means standing side-by-side.

With the World Cup just days away, grassroots Russian opposition groups from across the political divide have taken up a rare opportunity to protest legally in the heart of Moscow.

Over 1,000 people attended the authorised rally under grey, rainy skies on Monday, waving flags representing dozens of political parties and movements.

The protesters were granted a rare three-hour window to air their grievances, hemmed in by hastily arranged steel barricades and watched on by a heavy police presence which maintained a solid cordon around the site.

Police set up body scanners and frisking stations at the protest
Police set up body scanners and frisking stations at the protest
SBS

“Disparate groups that would normally be at war with each other are uniting here,” said one protester, Olga, who is associated with a Socialist alliance.

“There’s a very rare opportunity in Russia to protest because the government doesn’t allow people to actually protest. So we found the opportunity and we seized it.”

The protesters’ causes célèbres ranged from high gas prices and the cost of transport in Moscow to the inconveniences caused by the country’s hosting of the World Cup.

But by far the most common cry was about a government crackdown on dissent and politically motivated detentions.

Protesters wave flags according to their political affiliation
Protesters wave flags according to their political affiliation
SBS

A decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin drastically curtailed rallies leading up to and during the World Cup. While rights groups cite countless examples of hefty prison terms dished out for participating in unauthorised peaceful protests.

One man, Alex, held a sign for his friend who he said had been in jail for six months after taking part in anti-government protests the authorities said were illegal.

That rally also involved Russia’s opposition leader and Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny, who is also serving a short jail term for organising unauthorised protests.

“Police took him ... when he tried to stop police from taking Alexei Navalny,” said Alex. “Today, yes, we fight for our freedom and our rights.”

Hundreds of others held signs in Russian which showed the face of an opposition protester in detention and the hashtag #svoboda, which translates as 'freedom'.

Protesters gathered slowly over three hours
Protesters gathered slowly over three hours
SBS

“It is a shame when a country with plenty of political prisoners is holding a such an important [tournament] as a World Cup,” said one protester named Nikolas.

He said he took some heart from the decision of some Western nations to boycott the tournament over ongoing diplomatic tensions with Russia following a nerve agent attack in the UK in early March.

“The leaders who represent the opinion of western nations, they don’t come. And it’s a sign,” he said.

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