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Thousands follow Russian writers in protest walk

May 14, 2012 |  8:36 am

Moscowwalk
Thousands took to the streets of Moscow on Sunday to follow a handful of writers taking a "stroll" as a literal protest against efforts to thwart public gatherings. The poet Dmitry Bykov, detective novelist Boris Akunin, children's book writer Eduard Uspensky, bestselling author Lyudmila Ulitskaya and eight others had come up with the idea just four days before.

The N.Y. Times reports:

No one knew quite what to expect on Sunday. But when the 12 writers left Pushkin Square at lunchtime, they were trailed by a crowd that swelled to an estimated 10,000 people, stopping traffic and filling boulevards for 1.2 miles. Many wore the white ribbons that are a symbol of opposition to Mr. Putin’s government. The police did not interfere, although the organizers had not received a permit to march.

“We see by the number of people that literature still has authority in our society because no one called these people — they came themselves,” said Lev Rubinstein, 65, a poet and one of the organizers. “We thought this would be a modest stroll of several literary colleagues, and this is what happened. You can see it yourself.”

“I don’t know how this will all end, but I can say that no one will forget it,” he said.

Recent protests in opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin, who was inaugurated again Monday, have been subject to increasing crackdowns from authorities. Hundreds have been arrested, some for doing nothing more than wearing a white ribbon, a signal of opposition to Putin's government.

The authors said they wanted to walk across Moscow “without being blocked, beaten, poisoned with gas, detained, arrested or at least subjected to stupid molestation with questions.” A pending measure in Parliament would impose fines of about $50,000 and 740 hours of compulsory labor on public protesters.

Sunday's walk began at a statue of writer Aleksandr Pushkin and ended across town at a statue of playwright Aleksandr Griboyedov. According to organizers, 10,000 joined in the stroll; police set the number of participants at 2,000.

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— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Supporters of the writers' walk in Moscow. Credit: Sergey Ponomarev / Associated Press

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