On June 12, anti-corruption protests—the largest anti-government rallies in five years—took place in 224 cities across Russia. Most striking is how young many of the protesters were. A monitoring group said at least 850 people were detained in Moscow alone, and independent media outlets reported about 1,700 detained nationally, among them 136 teenagers in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
People took to the streets of Russian cities with national flags, protesting against corruption, shouting, “We demand answers!” and “Stop lying and stealing!”
On YouTube, opposition leader Alexey Navalny called on “all patriots,” regardless of their political affiliations, to take part in protests against corruption. Many activist groups did receive official permission for their actions; those who did not planned unsanctioned events. Since March Navalny has been traveling across the country, agitating and facing pressure from regional and local authorities and pro-government groups. (Earlier this year, he was attacked and almost lost his eye.) It was clear that he was starting his own run for the March 2018 president elections.
At the same time, many pro-government media outlets launched campaigns against involving young people in the protests, against Navalny, and against critical voices in general. School teachers and university administrations warned students not to protest and threatened sanctions against those who did attend.
The June 12 protests took place against a backdrop of other protests against corruption and for accountability. Protesters are confronting the Moscow Mayor’s plan to “ renovate” 1960s-era housing—so called “khrushchevki” (affordable apartment buildings named after former-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who launched a campaign of affordable housing in the 1960s). Owners of these apartments understandably see in this decision a threat to their property and constitutional rights, and last month thousands of Muscovites protested, marching from the State Duma to the Kremlin. Many angry citizens joined this march, demanding the dismissal of Moscow Mayor Sobyanin. A Change.org gathered signatures for this action, as well as for one in St. Petersburg in which people protested the city’s decision to transfer St. Isaac’s, the main cathedral of St. Petersburg, into the hands of the Russian Orthodox Church. And thousands of truck drivers and car owners nationwide are protesting what they perceive to be an unjust and corrupt new road tax system called “Platon.” Protesters are seeking accountability and demanding that the authorities consult with them before making a decision.
By June 12, Moscow’s anti-corruption event had been approved by city authorities to take place on Sakharov Prospect. But, the night before, Navalny changed the location and, via the Internet, called on people to go to Tverskaya Street in downtown Moscow, several hundred yards from the Kremlin, to crash a massive street festival of historical reenactments staged for the official Russia Day state holiday. He was detained at his apartment building entrance and was, according to the independent Meduza news agency, was sentenced to 30 days for defying authorities and refusing to protest at an approved location.