No picnic in the park

Anti-Putin protests on the streets of Moscow have been ticking over quietly for the past week.


    Anti-Putin protests on the streets of Moscow have been ticking over quietly for the past week. Despite President Putin's re-inauguration on Monday, protesters wearing white ribbons on their glasses or their wrists have vowed to continue to gather despite a ban on unsanctioned demonstrations.

    Hundreds of protesters have been detained in recent days.

    The latest protest site is a leafy park in the centre of the city called Chistye Prudy (which means Clean Ponds). It's an attractive place to eat one's lunchtime sandwich. But something different and exciting is happening there now. 

    About 200 protesters are sitting around or resting on mattresses and under blankets. People are distributing free food and cigarettes. A group of small trees demarcates a makeshift meeting point and noticeboard. 

    There's a schedule detailing other gatherings, a seminar on how to interact with police and a list requesting singers. Those who've written their names all use hashtags. Every second person clutches an iPhone or an iPad. 

    This is the protest movement's weakness. Young, middle-class and educated Muscovites who love their Apples and their Twitter accounts cannot bear the thought of another six or even twelve years of Putin. But they haven't yet clicked with working class Russians employed in declining manufacturing industries across Russia. 

    They too are worried about the way things are heading. But the first public visit Putin made this week was to Nizhny Tagil, where the main employer in town produces battle tanks and railway carriages. 

    Plant workers promised to disperse opposition rallies when the protest movement began late last year. And Putin has thanked them for their support by announcing $833m worth of state contracts to keep the factory afloat. 

    Back on Chistye Prudy, Nikita told me he wasn't a typical middle-class Muscovite, but people like him are in the minority. 

    "I'm from Volgograd. I'm an orphan and I'm broke. I've put all my money into the food we're distributing here. 

    "Where I come from a lot people are ok with the way things are. They're afraid of change, because they are afraid things would be worse not better".

    Putin's press secretary allegedly said that protesters who attacked policemen in clashes last Sunday should have had their livers squashed into the road, in comments blogged by a parliamentary deputy.

    But most of the activists on Chistye Prudy come across as peace-loving hipsters holding conversations about their country's future and sharing their experiences on social networks - and hotly disputing the behaviour of the police. 

    One viral video caught the moment an officer booted a protester in the groin as he was being dragged into custody. Online, opposition pundits claimed the victim was a pregnant woman. The authorities have reportedly opened an investigation into the officer's conduct. 

    But the argument appears to have centred around the identity of the victim. This blogger has been able to gather a surprising number of different videos and photographs to demonstrate that it was in fact a man. 

    The writer focuses his ire on the type of 'creative morons' and 'glamourata' who exaggerate stories. It's possible he has the young kids on Chistie Prudy in mind, but he makes no apology for the policeman's behaviour, regardless of the gender of his victim.



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