I heard about this comparatively huge student rally by the White House (the Government Building) today/yesterday and decided to go see it: 2 to 5 thousand students demanding - somewhat unrealistically - free education and stipends corresponding to the minimum maintenance rate.
There was not a trace of the rally when I got there - I was late, I guess, though I'm still wondering how such an impressive crowd could vanish so fast. (One of the clues to this riddle could be Zhirinovsky: according to Gazeta.ru (in Russian but with photos), he showed up at one point and started handing out 500- and 1,000-ruble bills (approximately $18 and $37), which pissed off the Rodina Party guys and caused a little fight between them and Zhirik's bodyguards - but "the 500- and 1,000-ruble bills have played their role: the students quickly moved under Zhirinovsky's flags, and that was the end of the protest rally.")
I walked around the White House - for the first time in my life - and found it as ugly and scary as our own Cabinet of Ministers building in Kyiv. Too huge, too Soviet - the closer you get, the worse.
Then I stumbled on a makeshift memorial to those who got killed during the riots of October 1993 - and it was quite something...
The branches of every tree and every bush in the alley leading up to the entrance to the White House compound had little red and black ribbons on them. So did the fences. There were little signs on the spots where someone had died, and big wreaths, and artificial flowers, and icons, and huge wooden crosses, and red flags, and car tyres, and what not. A tall thing with pictures of those who died, and a few stands - with pictures and bios. USSR, hammers and sickles on the fence... Copies of some letters to Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov - with lots of curses handwritten on them, curses cursing the enemies of Russia, all the usual suspects...
They died fighting against "demofascism" - democratic fascism or something... They died defending "Sovietskaya vlast'" - the Soviet government...
Two babushkas came up to one of the crosses as I was taking a picture of it. They stood right next to me, crossing themselves over and over again, and saying proudly: "They died for Sovietskaya vlast'." Then they moved over to the next cross, and then to yet another one. Finally, they walked across an open space to join a bunch of teens drinking beer by the fence at some distance from the crosses - and very soon the teens started yelling, "Putina na hui!" (translated roughly as "Fuck Putin!").
It was 6 pm by then, and all the secretaries and other common-folk White House staff were walking to the nearby subway station.
That was a very surreal experience.
More pictures from the "memorial" - here.
I'm really sick of all this revolution-in-Russia talk. You know, stuff like this:
"Orange spirit" creating sense of unrest in Russia
By Peter Finn
The Washington Post
MOSCOW — Suddenly in Russia, everybody's talking about a revolution.
In a country with a popular president, a growing economy and a fragmented and weak opposition, Russia does not seem ripe for the kind of revolt that toppled governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past 17 months.
But as Lenin once said, "a revolution is a miracle," and the Kremlin and its political opponents seem bewitched by the possibility of one.
"There is an Orange spirit in Russia," said Andrei Sidelnikov, the young head of the new Russian youth group Pora! (It's Time!), which took its name from the young activists at the heart of the street protests late last year that ultimately brought Viktor Yushchenko to power in Ukraine.
"We are living through a new era of street politics. Our young people are becoming more and more active. ... They might explode when they can't take it any longer."
I wouldn't want to be stuck in the middle of a revolution in Moscow. I'd rather watch it on TV from Kyiv - or read about it on someone else's blog. It'd be safer that way - and more fun.
Here's Masha Lipman's analysis of the October 1993 events in Moscow, ten years on (the Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2003): The Legacy Of 1993...
Ten years ago I was standing in front of the Moscow mayor's office feeling horror and despair. The space around me was filled with an infuriated crowd that looked ready for violence. Suddenly a heavy truck burst through the glass doors of the Moscow municipal offices, smashing everything in its way. People in the crowd cheered, hailing the destruction. The day was Oct. 3, 1993. Two years after the collapse of communism, discontent was turning into counterrevolution.
The crowd around me hated everything that was the new Russia. What was freedom to me was to them the work of a regime that was against the people. We were enemies. What was happening around me was a mini-civil war.