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Russians opposed to Vladimir Putin's presidency take part in a ''control walk'' Sunday in Moscow. Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images.
From Aleksandr Pushkin to Aleksandr Griboyedov, there is a long history in Russia of writers confronting government authority. Last weekend, the tradition continued when a group of 12 well-known authors drew a crowd of around 10,000 to follow them on a "controlled walk" between statues of the two Aleksandrs in downtown Moscow.
Sunday's peaceful march followed on the heels of violent clashes between protesters and police the week before on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration. Since December's elections, there have been mass demonstrations in Russia against Putin's return to the presidency and charges of election fraud.
In response, the government signaled stricter limits on demonstrations. To test the limits of the government, the organizers framed the event not as a demonstration but as an opportunity for the writers to meet with their readers.
"There is a process of accumulation we are witnessing," poet Lev Rubinstein, one of the 12 who organized the march, said Tuesday by phone through an interpreter from Moscow's Chistye Prudy park, where protesters had set up an Occupy-style camp. "There is more and more anger, more dissatisfaction and when all these feelings come up to a certain level all this spills out into the street."
"Recently I was prone to believe a lot had changed in those relationships between writers and the authorities. Literature lost that kind of status it used to enjoy in society in the previous decades and centuries," Rubinstein said. "But when I saw what happened last Sunday when a handful of writers joined tens of thousands of people, I realized literature still enjoys a certain respect and authority when it comes to the populist at large."
Vera Pavlova, one of Russia's most popular poets, has been following the events on blogs and social media from her home in New York. "It seems to me for the first time...writers gave up the idea of trying to establish contact with those who are in power and they decided to turn to the masses, to the people. What is most interesting or curious is the masses followed them."
"Everybody seems to be very critical and laugh at the way officialdom portrays the events in the press and on TV," she said. "For example, the main comment on the part of state run television on the writers' walk was that these writers and readers destroyed all the flowers in the flower beds around the memorial where they gathered. It was not in the least true, because even that shot on the news was taken against a big flower bed that was intact."
"My impression is the authorities are at a loss, confused and do not know how to go about this," said Rubinstein.
On Wednesday morning, Russian riot police cleared the park and arrested at least 15 people. Protesters had been camped out since May 9, but on Tuesday a Moscow court ruled against their permanent demonstration and ordered police to "take measures to stop the mass event and the violations of civil order."
"My daughter attends all these meetings," Pavlova said. "At that very first one [during the inauguration march], when she was walking the streets with her comrades, she got thirsty and she went into a McDonalds, and when she walked back into the street with the bottle of water her friends weren't there, already arrested and taken away by the police. The one dominating feeling I experience these days is a mother's fear for her child."
Editor's note: Steven Seymour, Pavlova's husband, served as an interpreter for this report.
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