The marchers appeared more buoyant than chastened. They began gathering at Pushkin Square at noon, and many were soon soaked by the torrential rain. Then, as a hot sun emerged to dry them off, they passed through a wall of metal detectors and walked 11
2 miles to Sakharov Prospect, denouncing President Vladimir Putin and declaring Russia free along the way.
‘We won’t be afraid’
An onerous law regulating protests — and setting fines as high as $9,000 for violations — had gone into effect Saturday after parliament passed it quickly last week and Putin signed it Friday. Then came searches of opposition leaders’ apartments early Monday and the summonses Tuesday.
“It only made more people come out,” said Mila Basenko, a 25-year-old architect. “It’s typical, this kind of crackdown. We won’t be afraid.”
She and two young men had fashioned a three-letter word that means “shoo” out of giant pieces of polystyrene foam and colored the letters bright orange, holding them high as they walked along.
“That’s what we want to tell Putin,” said Yaroslav Polyansky, a 24-year-old architect. “It’s short and to the point. Shoo.”
Unlike at the demonstration that turned violent May 6, on Tuesday, the riot police — called cosmonauts for their helmets, face guards and extensive body armor — stayed mostly in buses parked just off the march route until the rally ended. Regular police clustered at intersections, wearing special-occasion white shirts and dress uniforms, with assorted troops in camouflage, olive khaki and gray on the sidelines, away from the protesters but ready to thwart any change of route.
Tuesday was Russia Day, commemorating the republic’s declaration of sovereignty in 1990, 18 months before the Soviet Union fell apart, and there were shouts in favor of upholding the constitution as people walked slowly along the leafy, 19th-century Boulevard Ring, about a mile from the Kremlin. Nationalists clad in black were accompanied by a bagpiper playing Irish music. Communists flew their red flags, environmentalists their green ones. Libertarians handed out literature. One man had printed “tickets” for rides in prisoner vans, and they became a sought-after souvenir.
From the stage on Sakharov, a lawmaker from A Just Russia asserted that citizens have the right to gather as they choose and to tell the authorities what they think.
“If they start to take the street away from us,” said Gennady Gudkov, “if they put us behind bars and order us to pay fines, we will launch acts of civil disobedience all over the country.”