Russia’s Victory Day marked by persistence of protesters


Fireworks explode above the Yenisei River as part of the Victory Day celebration in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. Russia celebrates the 67th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany on Wednesday. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)
May 9, 2012

Russia commemorated its World War II victory Wednesday, reminding its citizens of their capacity for suffering and sacrifice. With the weather brought to heel for the moment, 14,000 uniformed men marched smartly through Red Square, and President Vladimir Putin spoke of glory, triumph and grief.

But as the last tank rumbled off the square’s cobblestones and the marching band lowered the tubas and silenced the drums, the younger generation was working on its own version of history, determined to add the word “democracy” to the national narrative.

Since Sunday, police have steadily harassed demonstrators opposed to Putin. On Wednesday, protesters used a celebrating city as cover to elude their pursuers. They infiltrated a Communist parade, mingled with families strolling near the Kremlin and joined a city-sponsored festival in a park where riot police routed them the night before.

They would not all get away with it. On Wednesday evening, courts sentenced two protest leaders, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and leftist Sergei Udaltsov, to 15 days in jail for disobeying police orders. Their supporters said they had done nothing more than take a festive stroll around the city Tuesday night. Navalny called it a People’s Promenade.

“The city is effectively in a state of emergency,” Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader, told an Interfax reporter. “People are being held for being out in the street.”

Navalny, idolized by many young protesters, had served 15 days for protesting in December, and his popularity surged even more. Udaltsov has been in jail a number of times in the past year. The new sentences set off a storm on blogs and Twitter, with calls to gather at Chistye Prudy park in protest, an unexpected turn of events on a day celebrated as one of national unity. The park was the scene of the first spontaneous protests in December.

World War II remains a memorable trauma here. The Soviet Union lost more than 26 million people in the war, and few families escaped the hardship. Every year on Victory Day, their leaders remind Russians of how they prevailed against Nazi Germany. There are speeches and parades, and flowers are bestowed on elderly veterans.

This year, the huge Red Square parade began an hour after a downpour, and news agencies said clouds had been seeded to make it rain elsewhere. But not long after the weather started cooperating, anonymous hackers took down the Kremlin and presidential Web sites.

When protesters appeared on the streets — some identified by their white ribbons, others because they looked suspiciously like hipsters — police were thrown into temporary confusion. Protesters complained of random arrests and said several people were detained for singing World War II songs.

No official arrest totals were reported Tuesday and Wednesday. But police had said more than 800 protesters were detained Sunday and Monday, most of them quickly released.

Earlier in the day, Yelizaveta Simakova, 87, recalled her own youthful resolve when she was among those determining Russia’s future. She went to war at age 16, and was 20 on Victory Day in 1945.

“I reached Berlin,” saidSimakova, a small woman wearing a black hat, white lace collar and row upon row of medals that looked as if they might weigh more than she does.

Today’s young people are good, she said. Somehow, everything will work out.

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