Today in Moscow, and apparently in about 50 other locations across Russia, thousands of people marched in an anti-government demonstration called “The March of Millions”. The exact number who turned out is unclear; as usual, the city police estimated a ridiculously low number (14,000), while the most optimistic of the participants estimated an outrageously high number (150,000); the most common number reported is plus or minus 20,000.
The march was similar in many ways to others that have been organized since December 2011: a permit was obtained from the Moscow city authorities for a pre-defined march route that would end in a gathering in a pre-defined location, in this case on Prospekt Sakharov.
There, a stage was set up to accommodate speeches by notable leaders of the opposition movement. Speakers included Gennady Gudkov, Aleksei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov, Ilya Yashin, Boris Nemtsov, Dmitry Bykov, and Yevgenia Chirikova.
The march was different in some subtle ways: there was a significantly larger contingent from the left, including, for the first time, open participation by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation; the slogan “For Honest Elections” has evolved to “For Early Elections”, shifting the emphasis from dissatisfaction over election fraud to dissatisfaction with the activities of the currently sitting Duma deputies; the platform of the opposition leaders was expanded to include social and economic issues, such as the high price of city utilities. And unlike other marches, it seems that none of the protesters was detained by the riot police. There were plenty of references to the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, and also to the 15 prisoners awaiting trial on charges of creating mass disorder during the May 6 demonstration.
Another difference is that participants’ tweets described a more subdued, even pessimistic mood in comparison to past marches, especially the first ones that took place last December. Although the city permit allowed the march to continue until 10pm, the meeting had for the most part broken up by about 6 pm. The pessimism, according to some commentators, seems to be connected to the feeling that the same sort of march keeps taking place over and over in Moscow with no visible result; no one in power reacts in any way, except to continually increase the number of riot police and soldiers on the streets; and meanwhile, the dominant political party in the Russian legislature – Putin’s party United Russia – becomes ever more bold and thug-like in their tactics. For example, just the day before the march, by a majority vote of the Duma (which is dominated by United Russia), the opposition-oriented Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov was stripped of his legislative status. Even former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a one-time close associate of Putin, commented in his Twitter feed, “Depriving Gennady Gudkov of his parliamentary mandate is an example of selective application of the law, and is moreover very weakly substantiated.”
In a post-march discussion with Gennady Gudkov and others on the Internet-based Russian television network TV Rain, Gudkov at one point remarked, “Excuse me for my unparliamentary language…” and when others chuckled, he smiled and said, “Yes, I am already allowed (to use unparliamentary language)”. But for the most part, he looked very, very tired.