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On Saturday February 4 protesters calling for fair elections in Russia hit the streets worldwide.
The protests took place exactly one month before the presidential election, which is likely to return prime minister Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin’s highest post. Protest organisers estimated that 120,000 people took part in Moscow, it was the biggest demonstration to date triggered by suspicions of vote-rigging surrounding the December 4 parliamentary elections.
In London around 100 people attended a demonstration organised by the NGO Speak Louder! together with the Committee for Free Elections in Russia. At around 3pm, a letter was handed into No. 10 passed to prime minister David Cameron. The protesters asked the British government to monitor next month’s elections very closely:
On behalf of Russians living in the United Kingdom, and on behalf of all the citizens of this country who cherish freedom and democratic rights, we ask you to pay constant attention to the forthcoming presidential elections in Russia. Unfortunately, these elections will most probably not be democratic and fair, as the trend shows.
“Russia without Putin” proved to be the most popular slogan at the demonstration, and a variety of creative posters were on display. Many joked about Putin’s attitude towards the white ribbons used by protesters to symbolise freedom — Putin compared them to condoms, and posters carried slogans such as “Put-in – preservatives with governmental flavour” and “Grandpa with a condom tattoo”.
Tamara, a Russian businesswoman and mother of two, says: “I think that Russia needs to make its own path to democracy. It is a very specific, very large country, and I don’t know how long will it take. But we need to start from somewhere, and what is finally happening in these months is a very important start”.
Finnish human rights activist Lauri Vuoriluoto came all the way from Cardiff to join the demonstration. “I am here because I believe that what happens in Russia is of big interest for all of us. As a Finnish citizen, these developments touch me deeply because of the proximity of my country to Russia, and because of the deep economic ties between the two countries. I am probably the only one here who does not speak a word of Russian, but I will learn by next time.”
Political artist Kaya Mar took part in the protest as well. He carried his latest work, a painting portraying Putin and Medvedev, naked, as they play on a seesaw.
“The bear in the middle symbolises Russia, with eyes and mouth shut because its fundamental freedoms have been breached,” he explained. “My subjects are always naked because this way you can catch people’s heart better — taking off their clothes you take off their power as well, and they are revealed the way they are – as human beings.”
Organisers announced that the next London protest action will take place on February 26.
Tena Prelec is a freelance writer and consultant at the ESOP Centre, London.