Issue #1471 (33), Tuesday, May 5, 2009
May Day Celebrations in the City Marred by Mass Arrests
By Sergey Chernov
Alexander Belenky / SPT
A bicyclist is arrested by a detachment of special task force police officers
during the May Day demonstration on Friday.
Mass arrests were made in St. Petersburg early on Friday as people gathered on Ligovsky Prospect in the center to take part in May Day demonstrations. The police said the arrests were made to prevent anarchists from attacking nationalists, but anarchists denied that any attack had been planned.
May Day, introduced as an important official holiday called International Workers Day under the Soviets, continues to be celebrated (under the new name Spring and Labor Day) with mass demonstrations in post-Soviet Russia. However, unlike the Soviet era, the Kremlin’s opponents take part in protest marches, as well as the pro-Kremlin parties United Russia and Just Russia.
As reported by Interfax, the Interior Ministry announced that more than 800 public events were planned in Russian cities, including over 300 rallies and about 200 marches. Around 36,000 people took part in May Day events in St. Petersburg, police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said on Monday.
Thousands of OMON special force police, regular police officers, Interior Ministry troops, and civilian volunteers were deployed in the center of St. Petersburg on Friday. Although the Interior Ministry disclosed that a total of 100,000 policemen and 4,000 Interior Ministry troops were to be deployed countrywide on Friday, the local police declined to provide specific figures for St. Petersburg.
Shortly before 11 a.m. dozens of OMON officers, complete with helmets and body armor, attacked a 250-strong group of anarchists and anti-fascist activists. They arrested over 130, some brutally, hustling them aboard two buses. Ten minutes later a group of nationalists of approximately the same size were backed up against a building, and about 20 activists were detained as well. Both groups had permits issued by City Hall.
The majority of demonstrators, however, were from pro-Kremlin parties such as United Russia and Just Russia as well as the official Federation of Trade Unions. They marched on Nevsky to Palace Square, where they held a rally. Estimates of their number ranged from 2,000 to 3,000.
Unlike last year’s May Day, democrats chose not to march with Eduard Limonov’s banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP) as part of Limonov and Garry Kasparov’s pro-democracy coalition The Other Russia, but under the banner of the new Solidarity democratic movement, which was formed with Kasparov’s participation late last year. Joined by the Yabloko Democratic Party, Solidarity had a meeting on Pioneer Square that drew around 350 people.
A 100-strong group of National-Bolsheviks, carrying red flags and a banner that read “There Is Such a Party,” marched behind the larger group of Communists (about 1,000) and joined them for a rally on St. Isaac’s Square.
Extreme nationalists such as the Movement Against Illegal Migration (DPNI) and the Slavic Union (SS) marched with nationalist slogans such as “The Russians Are Coming,” “We’re the Russians, God Is With Us” and “Serbia Is Kosovo,” as well as Russian imperial flags.
Police spokesman Stepchenko said the arrests on Ligovsky Prospect were made because the police had received inside information about an “active action” (i.e., violent attack) that anarchists were preparing against ultranationalists. He said 100 anarchists and 20 nationalists were detained, adding that some of the detained nationalists had self-defense weapons in their possession.
But anarchists denied any such attack was planned. They claimed that what they were organizing was a “street party,” which was to include a disco and a concert. The event was meant to show solidarity with Pirate Bay, the Sweden-based torrent tracker whose organizers were recently sentenced by a court in Sweden. The anarchists brought musical instruments, pirate paraphernalia, and anti-copyright slogans.
Despite the police claims of the planned attack, most of the arrestees were charged with “jaywalking,” although the area was closed to traffic and there was no other street to cross except Ligovsky Prospekt, where thousands of marchers had already gathered along with hundreds of police. Only a few of those arrested were charged with minor offences or with using profane language.
“We were not planning anything like this – what we were planning was a disco and a concert,” Dmitry, one of the organizers of the anarchist rally, who asked that his last name not appear in print, said by phone on Monday.
The detained anarchists were later taken to four police precincts, although a reported thirty anarchists managed to escape when the police bus they were in got lost, and the police officers accompanying it were busy asking passersby for directions.