Well well well. What have we here? We have, dear readers, gonzo "alternative" journalist Mark Ames selling out wholesale, in the International Herald Tribune, no less. Apparently the mainstream press is full of garbage right up until the time they're willing to pay Mr. Ames for his scribbles, and then they're just fine and dandy. So much for Mr. Ames and his lofty "principles" and contempt for the establishment! Quotes Edward Limonov as a source unquestioningly (he's just "the opposition leader Edward Limonov"), and the same for Garry Kasparov. When you lunatic fans of the eXile scrape your jaws off the floor, remember how LR is laughing at you heartily.
The big guessing gameby Mark Ames, Agence Global
Published: July 5, 2007
At the end of an anti-Kremlin demonstration in central Moscow last month, Garry Kasparov, one of the leaders of the Other Russia opposition movement, announced that he and the other organizers had decided against marching out of the designated rally area in Pushkin Square, a move that the city authorities had already rejected and that would have led to clashes with the riot police and the OMON, Russia's paramilitary forces.
"There are too many OMON forces waiting for us," Kasparov said into the microphone. "But the fact that we have decided not to march out of here isn't our defeat, it's the Kremlin's defeat, and that . . ." Kasparov's voice suddenly vanished. The police had pulled the plug on the sound system. Their allotted 90 minutes was up.
Thus ended a surprisingly peaceful weekend of protests in St. Petersburg and Moscow. There was a palpable sense of letdown when the rally broke up without any serious incidents. Many of the protesters - most of them young and curious, ranging from middle-class bohemians and professionals to left-wing radicals - had come expecting to confront The Man. Unruly swarms of Western journalists, who vastly outnumbered their Russian counterparts, also had come with expectations of witnessing the Russian police state in action.
Until these protests, there appeared to be an increasingly dangerous trajectory in the Kremlin's strategy to crush the opposition movement, which seeks to end President Vladimir Putin's ever-tightening control over the country's politics and its media. It was a trajectory that seemed to be leading inexorably toward greater bloodshed and violence, perhaps something cathartic and awful, like a Russian Tiananmen Square. Rallies in St. Petersburg in March and April, and in Moscow in April, all featured overwhelming government forces pitted against a few thousand protesters, capped by savage beatings and arrests.
The one exception was a planned protest in May in Samara, a Volga River city, during an EU summit meeting there. Rather than attack protesters, the authorities allowed the march in Samara to go ahead but arrested scores of activists in the days leading up to the protest and detained the opposition leaders, along with scores of Western journalists, at the airport in Moscow, thereby strangling the rally in its bed.
This "softer" strategy didn't lead to a quieter reaction: Opposition leaders came off as victims and heroes in the Western press and what remains of Russia's free media, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany openly clashed with Putin during the postsummit press conference in Samara. Observers and opposition leaders were left wondering if the Kremlin had intentionally created a public relations fiasco, and if it meant that Putin had now decided that he didn't give a damn what the West thought about him.
It was under this atmosphere that the opposition headed into the June rallies. Things got weird even before we flew to St. Petersburg. While Putin was hosting chief executives from around the world at his Economic Forum conference in Russia's second city, the authorities in Moscow scrupulously checked the Other Russia entourage's documents in what seemed like a possible repeat of the Samara strategy. But at the last second, we were allowed onto the plane. When we landed in St. Petersburg, the flight attendant announced that all passengers had to show their passports to police guards waiting at the airplane's door. Although we did not know what to expect, the St. Petersburg rally, like Moscow's, ended peacefully - a move that has only increased the paranoia and guesswork.
Now that the first half of this year's protest season is over in Russia, both sides will take time to consider their position. What is the Kremlin strategy? Why did it change tactics so often, and what does that bode for this autumn, when protests are set to resume? And does the Other Russia movement really have a chance?
The answer to the last question lies in the answer to the first: Even though the June rallies drew only about 2,000 protesters in each city, the Kremlin's overwhelming response makes clear that it takes the protests extremely seriously and is fishing around for an effective strategy to crush them, experimenting with both brute force and "soft authoritarianism," as the opposition leader Edward Limonov calls the harassment. The reason the Kremlin is worried lies partly in the makeup of the protesters - they're not the usual crusty protester-trolls, but rather overwhelmingly young cross-section of students, intellectuals and even a growing number of professionals.
I asked Limonov if he wasn't disappointed that the opposition leaders had allowed the authorities to stop their planned march, restricting them to a mere rally in a single place. His answer was surprising: "We decided collectively that since the authorities fulfilled their promises in St. Petersburg and allowed us to march without attacking us, in Moscow, even though we didn't get to march as we wanted, we thought it would be better to show them that we can hold back also, so long as the authorities are willing to negotiate."
"In a way," he added, "it is like a kind of dialogue that the Kremlin is having with us, and we don't want to be the ones who are seen as being responsible for breaking it off."
It was the most surprising possible ending to the first big round in the Kremlin-Opposition standoff: After months of violence, the first signs of dialogue.
As both sides take a two-month break, the question is: What will happen when September rolls around and the protests start again? Will the apparent Kremlin relaxation lead to swelling numbers of protesters? Or will it deflate the movement's energy by taking away the sense of danger, excitement and possibility that fuel the rank and file's interest?
Mark Ames is the editor of the Moscow paper The eXile, and the author of "Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond." This article was distributed by Agence Global.