Monday, 14 January 2013

Happy Moscow, Sea Buckthorn Tea and the opposition.

Elena and I set out on a freezing Sunday to meet the brave and doughty opponents of President Putin.
Although freezing, it was a beautiful and invigorating day,a crisp and deep carpet of snow lay across all the big spaces between roads and paths,small children were being pulled along on toboggans by parents mummified in woollen caps and scarves and the occasional flurries of falling snowflakes made everyone look around and wonder what more the heavens had to decorate the city. 

source: Internet

But it was cold, and the doughtiness of the opposition was proven by their willingness to march through central Moscow for three or four hours.

Yesterday, we had met Katya Zatuliveter, whom some of you may know because the British Government accused her of being a spy for the Russians whilst she worked as a researcher for a Member of the House of Commons. She won her case and the authorities were unable to offer any evidence that she had been spying.
Katya is now happy in Moscow and firmly convinced that it is a much more interesting place than London.

In many ways, I am sure that she is right, if by interesting you mean alive, contentious, energetic, direct, candid and with an infinite and eclectic range of freely and volubly expressed opinion about everything under the sun.
Here, you know what people think.
They will tell you to your face.
The reason there is an opposition is that some of them have been killed for doing so, and no-one knows who does the killing.

Our route to the rendezvous at Kafein Cafe at Checkhovskaya took us once more through the great gallery of immortalised proletarians, immortalised by statuary, at Revolutskaya Square metro station. 

This time, we were struck by the visionary soldier, grenade in hand on bended knee, whose knee had become polished away by travellers over the decades hoping for good luck. And we were struck by how smart the policemen looked today, on the day that they were due to keep the opposition demonstrators in order. 

Pushing gratefully into the warmth of the Kafein Cafe, we needed refreshment and rejuvenation.
This we achieved with a pot of Buckthorn tea, which is made of a pot - pourrie of fruit and sea buckthorn (oblepiha), which warms the soul and restores the flow of blood around the body.

Once able to speak, we met a merry band of young people selling the Calendar called 12 Free Women. Each woman represents a different strand of the opposition to Putin, and each photograph symbolises each cause.

Katya had earlier remarked that there are many strong women in Russia, probably more strong women than strong men. A vivid example is highlighted by just a silhouette instead of a photograph of Anastasia Rybachenko, an activist who could not attend the photo-shoot for the calendar because she had to flee Russia, having been put on the most wanted list for her participation in the 6th May Day of Protest.
We spoke briefly to Julia Galiamina, one of the women who founded the 5th December Party.  (It was founded after the December 4th 2011 Presidential elections in which it was alleged that Mr Putin and his United Russia Party had rigged the result) Julia features in the calendar, as do two other founders of this party. 

Julia Galiamina with her photo in the Calendar

The other women featured include an environmental activist, founders of the Libertarian Party, The Russia Behind Bars movement, anti-corruption activists, Krymsk Aid, A Russian Nationalist and a member of Pussy Riot- they are all brave and strong, they must be, if only to be able to work together across such a spectrum of opinion - a Russian Nationalist and a Libertarian put tolerance to the test!

Are they friends, we wonder?
They surely testify to the infinite variety of the human mind and temperament.
If you know your revolutionary history, you might find an echo here of the ill-fated Constituent Assembly of January 1918 with its tropical range of political groupings.
The Bolsheviks closed it down.
They had won the election in St Petersburg and Moscow, but not in Russia.
This was not an acceptable result for them.
History, as Mark Twain, said, may not repeat itself but it does rhyme.

We have found conversation here in Moscow to be lively and intense.
Convictions are deeply held.
And it seems to be the case that recent developments whereby Mr Putin and United Russia have consolidated their hold on power and restricted opposition have politicised Russian life to the extent that whether you are opposition or not may affect your choice of company, commercial as well as social.

 These two photos were taken before the march got underway. The atmosphere was cheerful and friendly.

Of course, the shame of this sort of development is that reality is not black or white, or not all the time and not at every level, so good things done by bad people get squashed and bad things done by good people spring forth.

Ghandi, Martin Luther - King, where are your apostles now? Peace, non-violence and compromise are difficult to disentangle. Compromise takes courage and skill. Non - violence is not a passive strategy, it takes discipline and strength.

Let's hope everybody involved has enough of everything required.
Some say it was The Beatles that brought down the Soviet Regime.

As John Lennon sang, ‘ We all doing what we can’

We didn't go through the security gates and march for three hours through central Moscow.

It was too cold.

We went home and had a cup of tea.

Unless otherwise stated all photographs by Elena Bruce

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