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“Putin has taken over our country.” Activists imprisoned for attending the last major rally of the “Borotonaya” protests look back on Russia’s political development over the next decade.

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Ten years ago, on May 6, Moscow hosted a “Millions of Marchs”. This is a demonstration organized by a protest movement formed in response to Russia’s December 2011 parliamentary elections. The march ended with a fierce clash between protesters and police at Borotonaya Square, eventually resulting in the so-called “Borotonaya Incident.” Of the more than 30 defendants, most were sentenced to serious imprisonment. On the 10th anniversary of the protest, Medusa’s special correspondent, Svetlana Reiter, one of the first recorders of the Bolotnaya incident, spoke to left-wing activist Alexei Gaskarov, who had served for three and a half years on suspicion of riots.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the protests at Borotonaya Square that led to your arrest. Do you think twice?

Yes of course. Especially now [since the start of the war], When everything has changed a lot. In my mind, I often go back to the time when things could still change.

I don’t know — maybe not everyone feels this way, but from 2011 to 2012, the obvious “Castling movement” [when Medvedev declined to run for reelection and stepped aside for Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012] And that Transparently fraudulent In the Duma elections, there was this feeling that even if a significant portion of the Russians upheld (fraud and all) power, we do not need to take any radical steps.

Because at that time there was still some form of independent television. The state has not yet completely monopolized the media. At least there was a similarity to democratic freedom. Putin saidBander log” [an invective he leveled at protesters]..

At that time, it was impossible to imagine the complete rejection of the alternative perspectives we see today. But looking back, it’s still [the authorities] Already striving to divide society into two camps: loyalists and enemies. Today they are doing it openly. But ten years ago, that seemed impossible to me.

However, the opponents who protested at Bolotnaya Square in 2012 split themselves.For example, Anastasia Udalzowa continues to support the “People’s Republic” of Donetsk and Luhansk, while Alexei Navalny. Famous line “Crimea is not a sandwich. You just can’t let it go.”

These departments weren’t all that surprising. People of all kinds have come to Borotonaya.

But at that time there was one unification factor. Do you support or do not support the right to democratic freedom of those who disagree? Are you aware of their rights to influence the elections in this country?Everyone out [on Bolotnaya] He believed that Duma’s elections were fraudulent, he had to fight for certain freedoms, and once he won, the opposition could split into factions. For example, the protests, in a nutshell, had nationalists far from our point of view.

What about you? How did you get to Borotonaya that day?

If you remember, that particular rally happened at the end of the protest.It was the last opportunity to speak before President Putin took office [on May 7].. I didn’t really intend to go that day. To me, it looked like a useless retread of the past. There were already a lot of protests of the same type and even called for the establishment of a tent camp. It all sounded pretty unconvincing.

My friend and I decided to follow the procession to the destination, but did not stick to the protest itself. But when we arrived at Kardiskaya Square, it was a mess: the procession was delayed by an hour. Metal detectors weren’t enough, but many were dissatisfied.

March 6, 2012, March on Bolsha Yakimanka Street in Moscow.

As soon as we pass the metal detector, we Center for fighting radicalism.. (He had a camera, it was almost obvious.) A police officer arrived at Udalnik Cinema, which installed an additional cordon that severely obstructed the exit route. .. My friends and I tried to go around all of them and walked in the direction of the Ruskov Bridge where the stage was set up. [for the protest]..

On the bridge, we were looking back and trying to go home when we realized we were surrounded and couldn’t break through. When we were looking for a way through the cordon, a policeman with a camera chasing us would detain some of the riot police as he was wearing a hood and detain our friends. I ordered. A policeman jumped at him and a stranger in the crowd tried to pull them away. Then I started dragging one of the policemen — in the meantime they all fell to the ground, so by foot.

Clash between protesters and police officers in Moscow on May 6, 2012.

After the incident, my friend and I left. And for a long time I thought I wasn’t in danger because our part fell before the real clash began. But in the end, they charged me with riots and violence against government officials. There were two parts to the proceedings against me. The first was about pulling out a policeman and the second was about me standing right next to the cordon and grabbing one of the policemen with my elbow. But I didn’t really understand how to be prosecuted for mass riots if the riots in question started later. [after I had already left]..

How was your arrest made?

I rented an apartment near Zhukovskogo street. The policeman didn’t know my exact address, so I was waiting for me in three main locations: near a local store, a bus stop, and a commuter train platform. At some point I had to go out to get cat food, and they arrested me.

Of those arrested in the Bolotnaya case, you had the most experience [with law enforcement] “For your timeKhimki hostage.. Did it change your feelings compared to others?

[Protesting at Khimki] I earned me only three months in jail, which was enough for my lifetime. Cops came from the suburbs of Moscow, and it was another time: they played all sorts of fun games with me in pretrial detention. So, on the other hand, after Khimki, I knew quite a bit what to expect.But on the other hand, by 2013 when I started a new sentence [on the Bolotnaya charges], There have been many changes. They have now split the new prisoners from the old prisoners and improved their overall condition. It may be the result of reforms, but I don’t know.

Still, in Khimki’s trial, I was finally falsely accused — and it definitely affected my expectations in the Bolotnaya case. I felt like I was able to prove that I was not guilty for some reason. There was a full video and I explained my whereabouts every minute. That is, I was ready to admit that I pulled the cop with his foot. But I certainly didn’t mean to admit to participating in a large-scale riot.

Alexei Gaskarov and Anya Karpois were tried in court after being arrested in April 2013.

Anyway, I really prepared for the trial, but later I realized what a ridiculous waste of time it was. It was easy to turn your back on the judge in court or choose not to participate in the farce at all. [without it affecting the outcome]..

So you went to jail for three and a half years.

Yes.But the conditions were better [than before].. In Khimki, they put you in a cold cell and you had to burn the mattress stuffing to boil the tea water, but the toilet in the pretrial detention center near Vodny stadium was behind the partition. .. There was a plasma TV and a refrigerator on the wall.

And finally you were released …

And I was very angry that I had to provide the full text. There have been many changes in the meantime. The Crimea was annexed and the War in Donbas began. I left jail and was completely convinced that my life was only getting worse.

After spending some time, I felt it was important to keep fighting. However, the anti-fascist movement on the left declined, the entire topic somehow disappeared, and there was no real political opposition outside the structure established by Navalny.

I was released in late 2016. The 2018 presidential election is approaching, and Navalny is his Presidential election Of the options available, it seemed most likely to succeed, so I led his campaign headquarters in Zhukovskiy. [near Moscow]..

At the same time, you have started several educational projects.

The problem is that by the time you are released from prison, you have accumulated all sorts of social debt. When I went out, I realized that I couldn’t continue like I used to, I just activist. Moreover, the political arena has narrowed dramatically and all our protests have been like half-masts.

I also started teaching while I was in jail. There was a night class there, especially teaching elective economics for businessmen with prison records. After my release, I started consulting within the framework of educational reform in Russia.

And in February 2022, a war broke out.

For me, it was a complete surprise. Somehow it looked illogical.I was one of the people who thought [war] In principle it was impossible.When it started, our emotions drove us to Pushkin Square [in Moscow]First protest [against the war in Ukraine] It was happening.

We put together some banners and were immediately arrested. Then it was a prison van and then put in jail for a few days.I had the “privilege” of being questioned by a special policeman with a special small question, which all ended in 10,000 rubles [$140] fine.

We continued to protest until March 6, after which it became clear that direct anti-war political action was at significant risk. New law on “counterfeit” and “loss of credit” [the Russian army]”” Means that a special detention center has been convicted of a felony and has two stints (one to protest Navalny’s defense). [in April 2021] And for my participation [Ivan Golunov protest of June 2019]) — I would be looking at the new prison terminology.

Therefore, protesting on the one hand is dangerous, and on the other hand it has no effect. In Moscow, for example, many seem to understand what is happening, but they are afraid and do not respond to grassroots protests.

Are you in Moscow now?

Yes. All the work I do is tied to Russia. I don’t know what to do abroad. You need to watch the event unfold.

Now the screws are clearly tightened to the limit. It’s a complete witch hunt. But no matter how small, I feel obliged to do something to make people’s lives here easier. I don’t know what it is … I have to work harder to explain what’s happening to people who haven’t boarded yet.

Putin has taken over our country. It is important to talk to people outside our information bubble as much as possible, as the majority support war. An important finding I made in prison was that 99 percent of the people with me didn’t think like me. Your fellow prisoners are not necessarily the people you choose to be around. It is a compulsory socialization. But after talking to you for six months, they say why you went out to protest Borotonaya, that you weren’t bought or paid, and that you have a particular belief. I understand. It is important to reach such people. It doesn’t happen overnight, but there’s no way around it.

interview To Svetlana lighter

Translated by Maya Vinocourt

https://meduza.io/en/feature/2022/05/10/putin-has-taken-over-our-country “Putin has taken over our country.” Activists imprisoned for attending the last major rally of the “Borotonaya” protests look back on Russia’s political development over the next decade.

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