Buying bread? Marking money? Activists redefine Russian protest

Faced with steep fines for protests that don’t follow strict rules set by the government, Russian activists have devised new and creative ways to oppose President Vladimir Putin, redefining protest to test the rules.

Left Front activist Andrei Rudoy petitioned local officials in Nizhy Novgorod to hold “The March of the Loaf,” in which people would buy bread, the news agency RIA Novosti reported. After Rudoy was turned down, he urged other activists to use similar tactics, suggesting other unconventional protests such as waiting for the bus.

"Frankly, I'm becoming more and more convinced that this [government] system is in its essence inadequate," Rudoy wrote on his blog, as translated by RIA Novosti. "Let's play along with the lunatics behind the Kremlin walls some more."

The hijinks are meant to mock and test a new law passed this month that imposes fines of up to $10,000 for taking part in unapproved protests. Russians who organize such protests face even heavier fines. Protesters can be punished if rallies turn out to be larger than planned, happen somewhere or sometime they weren't approved, or turn violent, The Times' Sergei L. Loiko recently wrote.

The strict rules come as Putin has faced continued protests after returning to the presidency in May. Thousands of people took to the streets in Moscow last week for "March of Millions," chanting "Russia Without Putin" and arguing that the president and his United Russia Party were trying to squelch dissent.

Russians have dreamed up unusual ways to protest in the past: In January, Siberian protesters set up teddy bears and other small dolls holding protest signs after their plans for a more conventional demonstration were reportedly turned down. Protest organizer Lyudmila Alexandrova told the Guardian newspaper the toy protest was meant to "show the absurdity and farce of officials' struggle with their own people."

Another opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, recently urged his supporters to stamp slogans such as “United Russia is a party of crooks and thieves” on Russian bank notes. The YouTube video above, linked from his blog, shows Russians how to stamp messages onto notes.

The idea was just a joke at first, but Navalny later began to take the tactic more seriously, calculating that if 5,000 people stamped 100 bills each, every Russian citizen would get hold of at least one, Russia Today reported.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: An activist video shows how to stamp protest messages onto bank notes. Credit: Mashina.org / YouTube

 
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