Russian president Vladimir Putin has been going to great lengths to cleanse Moscow of any sign of dissent. Ahead of his inauguration a week ago, police cleared the streets of protesters and arrested more than 700 of the 50,000 demonstrators who turned out to show their opposition to his rule.
Yet one group of protesters managed to avoid arrest for over a week. Camping in the Chistye Prudy ("Clean Ponds") district, they avoided run-ins with the police by refraining from using anti-Putin signs or slogans. Instead, they made their point by wearing white ribbons and carrying white flowers. The result: the authorities didn't know what to do with them.
Now, at last, a court has decided to shut them down. But not before they'd sent a powerful message.
A lesson in respect
On Sunday, over 15,000 Russians came out to show solidarity with the group – named "Occupy Abay" in honour of the statue of a 19th-century Kazakh poet Abay Kunanbaev that watched over their camp. Much like other Occupy movements across the world, the group held lectures and gatherings for participants, maintaining a level of calm that, according to the novelist and protest organiser Boris Akunin, could “teach the authorities to deal with their people politely and with respect, not via sticks or the police".
It worked – up to a point: instead of sending in the thugs, the authorities went to court (in Russia, the authorities can usually rely on getting the verdict they want). The court decided that the protesters were guilty of causing noise and littering, and police will be moving in to demolish the camp.
Protest over – but not before it had made its point, and made Putin's toughs look just a little bit silly.
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