Stanislav Dmitrievsky: "I took out my Putin puppet and my placard with Nadson’s poem” [OVD-Info]

posted 18 Oct 2017, 09:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2017, 05:04 ]
3 October 2017

By Stanislav Dmitrievsky                        Source: OVD-Info 

On 2 October a district court in Nizhny Novgorod jailed human rights defender Stanislav Dmitrievsky for 14 days. Dmitrievsky had been detained on 29 September on the city's Markin Square where a public meeting with Aleksei Navalny had been planned. That same day Navalny was arrested in Moscow, preventing him from travelling to Nizhny Novgorod. The city authorities announced that another event, named “Positive Nizhny,” was planned on Markin Square. However, local activists who had planned to attend the meeting with Navalny nonetheless assembled there. Police detained seven people. OVD-Info publishes Dmitrievsky’s impressions of the events.

A few comments in the way of a “post-mortem” on the recent events.

It seems that, for the first time since the Dissenters' Marches (2007-2008), supporters of the political opposition in Nizhny Novgorod have met such a level of obstruction – a total ban on holding any rallies or meetings with Aleksei Navalny on any city squares; preventive arrests of the main participant and the chief organizers; campaigns of intimidation against activists and their relatives by cops (my tongue can’t manage to call these animals police officers), and against the population via the media; a blockade of our headquarters for three hours before the event, which those organizers not yet arrested were prevented from leaving followed by their subsequent arrest when they tried to leave; the seizure of the organizers' property, including the stage; and the super-fast installation at the location where the meeting was planned of an expensive imitation of a city festival, with the square and surrounding area completely fenced off, checkpoints erected at the entrances with wholesale examination of members of the public, along with deafeningly loud music, which made it impossible not only for there to be public speeches, but made even simple conversations between individuals extremely difficult. The only good thing was that the activists' windows were not smashed in the night, but I think we can expect that and more in the future.

After Navalny was arrested in Moscow, [Leonid] Volkov was arrested in Nizhny Novgorod, and the stage was put up overnight, it became clear that the planned meeting had to be immediately transformed into a protest. A refusal to do so would have meant that we were recognizing our own powerlessness and moral defeat before the face of the exultant Putinist rabble. The authorities' task was to prevent, at times when the meeting was scheduled to take place, any noticeable protest activity in the city centre, to demonstrate that we were morally crushed and that they completely controlled the situation. Our task was to show the city and the world that we are alive, and not demoralized. To show that we are many, and we are not afraid of these sons and daughters of bitches. To what extent did the two sides succeed in achieving their given aims? Who won in this conflict?

I believe that what happened can fairly be said to have been a draw. Our opponents succeeded in foiling the meeting with Navalny, and the number of protesters was in the event significantly less than on, say, 26 March. As for us, we nonetheless succeeded in attracting a fairy large number of participants to our protest, we succeeded in holding the rally despite unprecedented counter measures – and we managed, despite everything, to take the shine off the paltry show put on by Kholkina [Maria Kholkina – deputy head of the city administration of Nizhny Novgorod – ed] with cheap comedy acts and performing cops.

This is how I saw what happened. 

While conducting reconnaissance that morning, I realized that sticking my nose inside the enclosure was a losing tactic. They would have on eye on everything there. On the other hand, just nearby, on the stretch of Rozhdestvenskaya near the Bezukhov restaurant from St. Ivan’s Church to the first police post, there was a wonderful little square free of public transport where we could assemble 3,000-4,000 people peacefully, without weapons, and show who was boss in the house: us or the authorities. When I got to our headquarters, I proposed changing the assembly place and was supported by Anna and the activists there. A brief discussion ensued about when to inform people that we would be assembling outside of rather than going into, the enclosure. We decided to do it not more than an hour before the event. Whether such an announcement was ever made and, if so, at what time—that I don’t know. I warned those assembled that based on my experience our office would be blocked off a few hours before the event, and it would be better for everyone to leave here as quickly as possible if we wanted to get to where the action was being held.

After which I quickly made myself scarce. But I did something foolish in going to my own office, that is, I fell into the same kind of trap. There hadn’t been any provocations at my office since 2013, if you don’t count all the various NOD [National Liberation Movement] campaigns and goings-on outside our doors, which was why I, fool that I am, had let down my guard. Anna called between 3 pm and 4 pm and told me that most of the activists had left the office but hadn’t been able to get away and had been blocked—everyone who left was detained. They asked me to be the action’s organizer. I agreed, realizing, unfortunately, I had basically no personnel or time to coordinate actions. Half an hour after this conversation, the cops started beating on my office door, and I barely managed to get out of there.

I claim no credit for this. It was only thanks to the exceptional scatter-brainedness of the dipshits from Centre E [the police department responsible for combating extremism] (people say the dumbest cops from all over the region are sent to this department, well matched to their boss, Colonel Aleksei Trifonov) that I was able to extricate myself and get to Rozhdestvenskaya. There I saw that hardly anyone was on the stipulated stretch of Rozhdestvenskaya—twenty or so people were gathered there, no more. I understood that the information about the change of assembly point had not been widely disseminated. Then Anya Stepanova called and told me she was in the middle of the enclosure on Markin Square, where quite a few activists had gathered. So we headed there.

Quite a few people were there, and some of them were dancing and singing. The music drowned everything out, and the only way you could talk was by shouting in your companion’s ear. I took out my Putin puppet and my placard with Nadson’s poem about “a land without rights or law.” It took about fifteen minutes to realize that virtually all the people present were our supporters, that there was no one else on the square but them and the cops. My wife says she didn’t realize that right away either. I saw an empty stage with speakers blaring music. Reconnaissance told me there were four guards by the stage and it wouldn’t be hard to distract them, turn the music off, and start the rally. I asked them to pass it along through the rows that we were going to go toward the stage. After a few minutes the round dance reformed and people headed in the direction of the stage . . . but went past it and down Rozhdestvenskaya toward the bridge, at which point I realized my information hadn’t reached its goal. People had organized themselves. But the chanting began--“Putin’s a thief,” and so forth, which was great--and the music wasn’t drowning us out anymore. At the police post the people turned back, again bypassing the stage and . . . for some reason returned to the round dance place, to the center of the enclosure, where the music was still blaring. At that point I attempted to turn the speaker around, stood up in front, and said we were going to take a walk to Minin and Pozharsky. After which the cops rushed at me. The people standing nearby tried to form a chain, but no luck. My wife and daughter tried to protect me from cops; Ilya Myaskovsky, Dmitri Kalinychev, Vladimir Kravtsov, and a few more, I think, tried to organize a chain, and as a result the last three ended up in the police van with me.

Well, everyone knows what came next.

To sum up our successes:

We did hold a notable protest action after all and spoiled the nice little scenario planned by Antonov and Kholkina [Roman Antonov – deputy governor of Nizhny Novgorod region; Maria Kholkina, deputy head of the Nizhny Novgorod city administration – ed.].

The round dance was an excellent idea. The cops were totally unprepared for it and were too dumb to understand what to do about the situation in general. Separate thanks to Anna Stepanova, who, as I later realized, organized the whole action.

Unlike 26 March, none of those detained walked to the police van on their own two feet. We are strengthening our sense of our own worth.

To sum up our shortcomings:

Up until the very last moment, the staff and activists were working from one single scenario—an unimpeded meeting with Navalny, a stage, and the absence of serious opposition. We were utterly unprepared for a scenario involving tough opposition. Even our security group had only worked through a scenario of repulsing provocateurs but hadn’t thought about our main opponent being the cops.

The round dance was an excellent idea that allowed those protesting to close ranks and disorient the opponent. But we needed to switch gears much faster—either occupy the stage or else go for a “stroll” through the town.

We don’t know how to form chains and not give up our own. That is very bad. The main principle is we mustn’t give up our own! Whereas we had one person dragged to the police van while five were photographing it. The disgrace! This doesn’t mean we have to punch cops and risk criminal charges. But it does mean we hold onto our people’s hands and feet, hang on to them, use the full gamut of all the nonviolent means of resistance and collective defence.

Why did the protest fizzle out after the arrests? At the least, we should have gone toward police station No. 5, since it’s right nearby—that’s experience gained since March--and demanded the release of all those detained, starting with Volkov. Did the old cop who threatened punishment scare them? We mustn’t forget the main principle: listen closely to what the cop wants from you (don’t confuse him with a police officer) and do the exact opposite.

Everyone waits for a leader who’s going to lead everyone. That’s a mistake. Each person has to try to be a leader wherever he is, here and now.

And then the main thing: I think, through all these events, our successes and failures, a real team is starting to shape up. A team that includes those who have been taking part in the struggle against the thieving regime for years and some who have only just joined the protest. A team that’s capable of synthesizing the bitterness of past defeats, the experience of success, and the enthusiasm of neophytes. This is how we will win!

Dear colleagues! On Tuesday, there will be a summing up of the results of the rally at our offices. If the court jails me tomorrow, please, discuss these thoughts, too.

Translated by Marian Schwartz