Thousands are calling for opposition candidates to be allowed to stand in the citys election, says Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev
On a typical weekday, Moscow is a modern, rapidly developing metropolis, a far cry from its dark, litter-strewn, dilapidated self 20 years ago. Its formerly abandoned industrial parks are hipster havens serving artisanal cocoa milk lattes and avocado bruschetta to crowds that wouldnt look out of place in east London or Brooklyn, while its public transport system is one of the cheapest and most efficient in the world.
But by the weekend, downtown Moscow is a warzone. For several weeks, Muscovites have been peacefully protesting in the streets, and the state has responded with unprecedented repression. Armies of masked riot police greatly outnumbering the protesters are viciously beating them with rubber batons. There have been multi-pronged pre-dawn raids on protesters homes and summary arrests of opposition leaders. Military recruiting officers have been hunting for draft dodgers at rallies and courts are dispensing harsh sentences for offences such as throwing an empty plastic bottle at the police. Universities are threatening to expel students spotted at protests.
Egor Zhukov, a political science student, was arrested and charged with mass rioting (a criminal offence that carries up to eight years of prison) for making a gesture pointing to the right, according to prosecutors. They also brought a custody challenge against a couple who brought their infant son to what was supposed to be a peaceful rally, threatening to have child protection services seize him for them endangering his physical and mental safety. Even moderate Kremlin loyalists were aghast at such vindictiveness.
State TV offered its usual dose of lies and smears against the protesters, while Moscows authorities are busy distracting Muscovites with hastily cobbled together food and music festivals with a solid lineup of rock stars. Some of the biggest names on the bill refused to participate for political reasons, with Max Pokrovsky, the lead singer of Nogu Svelo!, joining the protests instead.
But none of the scare tactics and attempts to distract Moscows youth from protesting with state-sponsored entertainment worked. On 9 August, an anonymous Telegram account linked to the police doxxed thousands of people who turned up at previous rallies or signed petitions for independent candidates. The next day, 50,000 people came out to protest: the biggest crowd in years.
What makes Moscows protests unique is the almost surreal peacefulness on the protesters part. State propaganda chose the familiar route of justifying police violence: look, TV pundits and officials said, in Paris, Hamburg and Hong Kong riot police used teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets, seriously injuring some, so were going easy on you! These false equivalences couldnt be less relevant. Unlike Paris, not a single shop window in Moscow has been smashed, not a single car torched. State media talked about business losses caused by the protests, but failed to mention that it was Moscows authorities that ordered cafes and shops to shut down (and even degraded cellular service in the city centre on purpose).