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Russia's Social Mobilisation Day

There will be demonstrations in more than 32 towns in Russia on Saturday 25 October 2008, around the "Day of Social Anger". This day, for which preparations by a huge network of social movements in several regions, has been undertaking for months, marks the entry of basic social mobilisation actions on Russia's public scene. For the first time, the Russian media has widely covered the events and noted the beginning of an up to now non-identified phenomenon: people who are neither henchmen of the Kremlin nor party tools, "people like any other people" demonstrated together on the same day, for the same causes and in under the same slogan: "power under the control of the citizens!"

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A week before the launching of the Gary Kasparov Day, the former chess champion, converted to an Anti-Putin champion, had held a press conference where he introduced this movement as the nth stage of the anti-Kremlin mobilisation. But, several representatives of regional organisation committees reacted immediately to speak up against the appropriation of the social demonstration by Kasparov's team, refusing him the right to manipulate the autonomous social initiatives.

The media was somewhat disconcerted, not to find any national leaders, no major political parties (Labloko and the communist party officially refused to participate in the meeting which took place in Moscow, for example). Some were quick to rally a "Day for Social Anger" (there were no "shock" demonstrations favoured by the Kasparov coalition to excite any scandal) or "dwarf" gatherings...

Notwithstanding, the demonstration, made what is called in the West a "grass-root" movement (the starter) well and truly exists in Russia. The are not mass movements, but they have their arguments, their claims, their own proper capacity for mobilisation.

Let us come back to what happened on the 25th October.

All sorts of demonstrations took place in more than 32 towns of the country, from Kaliningrad in the extreme West up to Sakhaline on the extreme East, from Saint Petersburg in the North to Astrakhan to the South. The biggest demonstrations happened in Moscow (700 people) and in Ijevsk, the Republic of Oudmourtie's capital (nearly 1000 demonstrators). Following on that was Saint-Petersburg (300), Irkoutsk (300), Sotchi (200), Tiumen (200), Solnetchnogorsk in the suburbs of Moscow (200) and Perm (more than 100 people). In other areas, the number of protesters went from 30 odd to approximately 100. In some towns (at Macroschelia, Rostov on the Don) the demonstrations were banned and some organisers were arrested, in others, they were pushed back early, under pressure from local authorities (Oufa, Krasnoobsk in the Novosibirsk region).

In total over the whole country, there was some 5000 "angry" people. It is laughable - some commentators suggest. It is a lot - answer the instigators, recalling the mobilisation characteristics: disorganised basic groups acting by themselves at local levels, with practically non-existant financial means and inexistant publicity posters.

In Moscow, the demonstration was organised by the Soviet (Advisory) groups of inhabitant's initiatives fighting against the densification of real estate construction. They have participated in numerous other movements: the one of the "cheated joint - investors" (those who deposited their savings in crooked real estate companies which never finished the construction of the buildings jointly financed by small investors), the one of working class inhabitant households, the one of Himki inhabitants (a suburb of Moscow) for the protection of a local park, the one of the Balachikha inhabitants (another suburb) against the corruption of the local body of authority, the one of self-management of buildings ("Resident Solidarity"), of free unions (this is how the Moscovites received a surprise visit from a ALROSA delegation, the Russian diamond giant, and whose union leader is serving his second month in prison under false accusation), environmentalist, etc. Additionally, with the exception of the officially recognised parties, all the political groups were present: Trotskite groups, Left wing, youth communist avant-garde, etc. The atmosphere was heated and active. The speeches from the speakers followed each other at a frenetic speed, each introducing his cause in a few words and generally finishing off by a call for solidarity and denouncing the corruption of local authorities and mafia. The demonstration was interrupted by smoke bombs launched by a provocative pro-Kremlin youth movement. But this incident did not dent the fighting spirit of the demonstrators who finished the meeting by launching a local referendum initiative and demanding the resignation of Louri Loujkov, the Mayor of Moscow.

In Ijevsk, the call of the locally well known "Soviet Coordination of Citizens actions" was answered by movements as diverse as the retirees association, the "cheated joint-investors" movement, the association of the defenders of workers' gardens, the movement of inhabitants of workers' households, "ijmach" a factory union fighting against the closure of their factory, anti-racist militants and anarchists. The gathering ended in a demonstration at the end of which the participants stuck posters demanding the resignation of the president of the republic of Oudmourtie, Alexandre Volkov, along an entire palisade.

In Perm, the demonstrators inaugurated the "Square of Anger" during the 2 hour meeting, especially dedicated to inhabitants of workers' household problems and student (who are fighting to have reduced public transport fares maintained).

In Irkoutsk handicapped associations, housing activists, retirees, anarchists and environmentalists joined with the Soviet Coordination of Citizens actions. The principle slogans were 'Get out on the street and regain possession of your town' and 'The thieves must be in prison, not in a minister's office!' A special resolution regarding the closure of the Baikal paper factory was adopted: The environmentalist movement got involved a while back and demanded its closure following the economic crisis, but no decontamination steps have been taken nor social plan formulated.

In Sotchi the inhabitants came out to protest against the areas that are threatened by forced evictions and statutory requisition of land for the "needs" of the 2014 Olympics. The tension is rising in the region with authorities increasing promises while the affected inhabitants still wait for the real negotiations to start. At the end of the demonstration (completely ignored by the media), the demonstrators decided to form the "Imeretinski valley inhabitants union", the most threatened areas, where civil disobedience acts are on the increase lately.

"They will become the founders of the New Russia..."

Here are some clarifications to give an idea of the variety of themes and of the take on the "ground". Meanwhile, it is important to note that other than the local claims, all the participating towns that participated in the day of demonstration adopted the same list of common claims addressed at the federal authority, in particular the right to strike, retirement system reform, the right to education for all, and especially housing and town (right to a favourable life environment, state repair of dilapidated buildings, halt to the sabotage of local powers of their right to condominium self-management, submission to the local referendum and all real estate projects, the banning of forced evictions and expropriations).

To finish, let us cite an extract of an interview on "Radio Svoboda" of Sergei Udaltsov, one of the young leader of the "Left Front" and of the Moscow Soviet initiatives groups: "...the social activists, not political, took to the streets - the political parties are in a deep crisis today - the social activists who had never before mobilised themselves on such a large scale. That is why the several hundreds of people who went to demonstrate in Moscow, St. Petersburg and in other towns, are not few, on the contrary, they are a lot. It is indeed around the most active, the least indifferent of our citizens that this civil society which everyone is talking about, will establish itself, around which self-organising structures of society are formed. It is in situations like these where the powers incite us to be quiet, to remain quietly at home, not to go out on the streets, that these few hundreds of people are worth their weight in gold. I think they will become the founders of the New Russia, a Russia which will follow a completely different route.

Carine Clément