Young and old gathered in central Moscow on Saturday to demand a free and fair election. Nearly 700 people were detained in the latest opposition rally but the protesters who spoke with DW said they wouldn't be deterred.
An elderly woman in a wheelchair sat in front of the rows of riot police on Pushkinskaya Square in the heart of Moscow on Saturday. As policemen grabbed random protesters from the crowd and carried them away, she sat quietly and observed the latest opposition rally.
Maria Razmerova rarely gets out of the house these days, but on Saturday she asked her grandson, Konstantin, to bring her to the unauthorized political opposition rally because "she could not sit at home." This wasn't her first protest; as she told DW, "it is our civic duty to go out on the streets."
A week ago, Maria and Konstantin also attended an unsanctioned rally in front of Moscow City Hall, calling for free and fair city council elections in September. It was the latest in a series of protests that have brought the Russian opposition out in the streets, prompting a crackdown by security forces. Last weekend, said Konstantin, the arrests began slowly. This Saturday, police were grabbing people from the very beginning — with force.
Konstantin wasn't afraid of being detained. "I can sit there [in the police station], as well as I can sit on a couch at home," he said, laughing. His grandmother wasn't scared, either. She has nothing to lose; her doctors have said she doesn't have long to live.
As we spoke, the riot police moved the crowds further away from Pushkinskaya Square, until we lost sight of them.
'We need to be united'
Pushed away from the square, people gathered on the wide Moscow sidewalks nearby. There, in front of the offices of pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia, a man sat on the pavement facing the riot police. Journalists gathered to take pictures, waiting for him to be arrested. But instead, more people followed his example.
Alexander Fokin came to Moscow from the small town of Stupino, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Russian capital, especially for the rally. Back at home, he tried to become a member of the municipal parliament two years ago — without success.
He said the same "scheme" used in the run-up to next month's election in Moscow was also used against him: Electoral authorities told him that signatures he had gathered to register as a candidate were fake. But he tried again this year and, to his surprise, he was successful.
"It's the result of civic pressure," he said. "We need to be united and not afraid." Several minutes after speaking with DW, he was carried away by police.
Ksenia and Sergey, a young couple whose names have been changed at their request, stood watching at the entrance to a nearby metro station. They were scared, they admitted, but said they had to come out to support the protests.
"We are afraid of ending up in the middle of the fight, of getting hurt, but not of the detentions," said Ksenia. Saturday was her first day out protesting in the streets.