Graham Jones on Toy Story Russian Style

16 February 2012

By Graham Jones

The Moscow Times has reported on the banning of the demonstration involving Lego men and Kinder toys staged by pro democracy activists in the Altai regional city of Barnaul. The demonstration application specified the likely participants as 100 Kinder Surprise toys, 100 Lego men, 20 toy soldiers, 15 stuffed animals and 10 toy cars. The opposition group planned to attach signs to the toys with slogans denouncing violations of election law in advance of the Russian Presidential elections in March.

The Russian Presidential elections are to be held next month and the mini-characters bear placards including "I'm for clean elections" and "A thief should sit in jail, not in the Kremlin".

The Guardian on 26th January reported the stern words of the local police chief Andrei Mulintsev:

"Political opposition forces are using new technologies to carry out public events – using toys with placards at mini-protests. In our opinion, this is still an unsanctioned public event."

It was reported in The Guardian on 15th February that Andrei Lyapunov, a local official told the media:

"As you understand, toys, especially imported toys, are not only not citizens of Russia but they are not even people."

"It is possible that the people who have applied are inspired by their toys … and consider them their friends but the law unfortunately has a different point of view," said Lyapunov. "Neither toys nor, for example, flags, plates or domestic appliances can take part in a meeting." 

In response, Lyudmila Alexandrova, a 26-year-old graduate student and protest organiser said “The authorities’ attempt to limit citizens’ rights to express their position has become absurd.

Lyudmila added that:

They tried to tell us our event was illegal – they even said that to put toys in the snow, we had to rent it from the city authorities. The authorities’ attempt to limit citizens’ rights to express their position has become absurd. We wanted to draw attention to this attempt and show the absurdity and farce of officials’ struggle with their own people.” 

Amnesty international
provides some context to this action in Barnaul where a civil society protest was broken up by police last December:

The Russian authorities have, however, invested more effort into managing civil society and controlling criticism, than creating the conditions for its organic growth and expression. State control and influence over mainstream media has thinned the range of information and critical opinion that most Russians are exposed to. Protests, even by small groups in low numbers, are regularly banned and violently dispersed.”

Banned or not, the brave pro-democracy activists in Barnaul have vowed to continue their protest in one way or another. Watch this space.