They are the biggest protests in Russia for years. And not only in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but also far beyond. For the second weekend in a row, tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country today. They demanded, among other things, the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Also in cities where normally demonstrations are hardly ever done, such as in Nizhny Novgorod. A city about 450 kilometers east of Moscow. Here it is not only young people, but also older people who take to the streets despite the risk of losing their job, being beaten by the police, or ending up in prison for a longer period of time. And they don’t just take that risk for Navalny. Most people have other concerns.
“I get a pension of 11,000 rubles,” says Sergej (65). That is converted an amount of 150 euros per month. “Just enough to feed my 3 cats,” he sighs. For him, that is the main reason for coming to Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street today, one of the oldest and most important streets in the center of Nizhny Novgorod.
“Alexej Navalny does not interest us”, says Sergej. “We’re only interested in the questions Navalny is asking about corruption. Let the power above answer those questions and do something about it.”
The widespread dissatisfaction with corruption, the economic malaise and the inability or unwillingness of the authorities to change this is more widely supported than the support for Navalny. “I support the protest, but not Navalny,” it was often said today.
Oeljana (25) also came to the demonstration, but watched it all safely from a coffee shop. “I find it quite exciting, which is why I prefer to stay on the sidelines. She herself has not spoken out for Navalny or against Putin, but especially against injustice, she says.” My heart goes out to my country and to the people who fight for it. a better future. ”Oeljana thinks that many people don’t want to risk their lives for real change. She doesn’t want to either. But she hopes that things will change.
Huge police force
As in Moscow, there was also a huge police force in Niznji, including the riot police. Although no truncheon or tear gas was used, as was the case in Moscow and St. Petersburg, nearly 100 people disappeared in the arresters’ vans. Nearly 5,000 people were arrested across Russia, according to observers from the Open Democracy group. That is more than last weekend.
20 criminal cases
Following last week’s protests, police launched more than 20 criminal cases against those in close contact with Navalny. They are accused of calling for mass rioting, violence against the police, blocking roads and violating corona-related rules. Several top employees of the Navalny team have also been placed under house arrest.
Local leader of Navalny’s team in Nizhny Novgorod, Roman Tregebov, was also arrested last Friday. He warned this weekend via a video message that people should not take to the streets. According to his lawyer, Aleksandr Karavayev, the video was recorded after Tregubov was put under severe psychological pressure. “A classic tactic that always works well here.”
Yet it seemed that most people in Nizhny Novgorod had not heeded his warning. “People are fed up with it, they demand change,” said Oeljana. But whether these protests will really change anything in Russia is still the question.
In any case, Simeon (21) (left in the photo) sees this gloomily. “It makes no sense as long as the entire population does not take to the streets.” He decided to go out with a friend when riot police began to dispose of protesters.
He understands why people support Navalny. “If he gets arrested so easily, what can happen to ordinary people?” Yet he does not demonstrate himself. “Most people are still afraid. We have a lot to lose.”