“We respect the point of view of the protesters, we are hearing what is being said, and we will continue to listen to them,” he said.
Large but peaceful protest
The color of the moment is white. Protesters wore white ribbons and carried white balloons. A few dug out white winter coats, but in a slushy city where black outerwear is the preferred choice, they were few and far between.
White was also the color of the czarist forces in the Russian civil war, but Saturday’s protest brought together communists, nationalists, liberals — people from all stripes of the political spectrum except United Russia. Professors and administrators at the business school at Skolkovo, where Medvedev hopes to create a Russian Silicon Valley, skipped their end-of-year party and came to the protest instead.
Police expeditiously directed everyone through metal detectors at the entrance to the square. Throughout the damp, cold afternoon, a steady stream of demonstrators left even as others arrived. Shortly after 6 p.m., the stage was dismantled and the square emptied without incident.
The protests had gone unreported by most television stations here until Saturday, when state-controlled channels could no longer ignore it. The Internet, which helped bring out the crowd, amplified protesters’ unity Saturday. They rapidly published reports on blogs and on YouTube. In Novosibirsk, protesters held signs complaining of vote counts adding up to 146 percent. In Ufa, a man shouted for everyone to join together on the Internet. In Ulyanovsk, Lenin’s home town, people held little signs saying “I didn’t vote for United Russia.”
‘There is hope’
From his jail cell in Moscow, the influential blogger Alexei Navalny was able to smuggle out a written message, which was read to the Moscow crowd by Oleg Kashin, a journalist who was badly beaten a year ago. The protesters’ most powerful weapon, Navalny wrote, is self-respect.
Putin will run for president in March, and there is little expectation that he could be defeated. But the conduct of that election could be crucial, said Alexei Tsellarius, 60, a zoologist.
“Putin can’t turn back,” Tsellarius said. “He’s like a little frightened boy who got to the top. And now he’s too scared to give anything back.”
It must lead — somehow, at some point — to his downfall, Tsellarius said.
Demonstrator after demonstrator said the change would take years, not weeks or months. But they came to the square Saturday and presented themselves in numbers that could not be ignored.
“I love the way all these people have come out,” said Artyom Zhilin, 36, a psychotherapist. “There is hope, and that is great.”