The parallels between Moscow and Montreal at the moment are startling; both have been experiencing a season of unprecedented protest, and both have seen legislative attempts to suppress that protest. While Quebec’s legislature has passed its Law 78 restricting freedom of assembly in astonishingly undemocratic ways, Russia’s federal Duma has been discussing a proposed law on street demonstrations, drafted by Putin’s party United Russia (Единая Россия), that would raise the fine on violations of regulations concerning the organization of public demonstrations.
In the original Russian bill, the fine for violations by ordinary participants (currently 100 rubles) would range from 5000 to one million rubles, while the fine for violations by organizers of protests (currently up to 300 rubles) would range from 50,000 to 1.5 million rubles – that latter figure is over 36,000 euros / 45,000 U.S. dollars. In the second reading of the bill, these figures were lowered somewhat, but still remain draconian.
Dmitry Gudkov and Ilya Ponomarev, Duma deputies of the party A Just Russia (Справедливая Россия), have been fighting the bill, and are planning a kind of filibuster in the Duma when the bill comes up for its final vote (planned for June 5). As he explains in his blog, Gudkov likens it to an “Italian Strike” (the Twitter hashtag is #ИтальянскаяЗабастовка), although it is not precisely either –the idea is to introduce numerous amendments to the bill (each of which allows the proposer to speak for 1-3 minutes), enough so as to tie it up indefinitely.
On May 29th, Gudkov and Ponomarev also introduced their own alternative bill, prepared in collaboration with former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and his newly established organization Committee for Civil Initiatives (Комитет Гражданских Инициатив). Their proposed law consciously adheres to OECD guidelines for freedom of assembly.
And how fitting that as I write, on the 31st of May, the group “Strategy-31” is carrying out one of their regular flash-mob-style street protests and being dragged off and shoved into waiting police vans, as this Novaya Gazeta video shows. This is a group that predates the current wave of protest in Russia, but has since 2009 been regularly protesting on the 31st of every month that does have 31 days, in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which states:
“Citizens of the Russian Federation have the right peaceably to assemble, without weapons, and to conduct gatherings, rallies and demonstrations, processions and pickets.”
Clever use of the oldest schoolboy’s trick in the book to turn one’s opponent into one’s promoter (photo Evgeny Feldman, Novaya Gazeta).
P.S. there was no pun intended with the title of this post. I had actually composed the title the day before I received the video about Montreal’s pots-and-pans protest. But I find the irony delicious (okay, that might have been a pun!).