7 May 2022
By Sergei Davidis
Lots of people go back over the past, trying to reach a view on one thing or another with the benefit of hindsight. Some muddle the facts, and some, it seems, deliberately distort them.
I was one of the organisers of the meeting, and a witness at the Bolotnaya trials, but I don’t see any point in retelling what happened.
I take the view that we were never going to be victorious on 6 May; it’s obvious. Yes, we could have refused to disperse from Bolotnaya, and that would have given us the chance to say ‘No’ more clearly and forcefully to the usurper Putin’s power grab. Though if we’d done that, there might have been more casualties, in terms of the number of people caught in the grindstone of prosecution. It was precisely because the authorities were afraid of this (that people would stay in the square after the protest, not that there’d be more casualties) that they deliberately provoked the protesters by constricting the route and subsequently attacking the rally ― which was peaceful, and had been cleared with the authorities in advance.
Looking back over the ten years since then, I’d actually say that the whole protest movement of 2011-2012 had pretty much no chance of being victorious. Not just on 6 May; the period from December to February as well.
The section of the populace that was both dissatisfied and active was too narrow at that time. Most of them were too trusting, too given to fantasising, and too politically inexperienced. And there wasn’t enough support ― even passive ― among society as a whole. The main thing, though, was that the protesters had something to lose, and weren’t prepared to fight to the end. It was different for the leadership of the regime. Everything was at stake for them, and they were prepared to commit any crime for the sake of holding on to power. Plus they’d gathered all the resources of the country into their hands, and had a grip on them.
Obviously there’s always the chance of a miracle. The stars might have aligned in a particularly favourable way, one that turned history onto a different path. But the thing with a miracle is that it’s extremely unlikely, and whether it happens or not has very little to do with anyone’s plans or will. I mean, obviously it depends on them too, but only to a very small extent, as a necessary but far from sufficient condition. The set of sufficient conditions includes a large number of unpredictable and uncontrollable factors, which is precisely what allows us to call their auspicious coincidence a miracle.
Still, it doesn’t follow that everything was in vain, and that the many heroes of Bolotnaya gave up years of their lives for nothing. First, something Taras Shevchenko wrote chimes in with what I said earlier about ‘necessary conditions’: ‘Fight, and you will win’. Second, even if there were no immediate results, the wave of protests in 2011-2012 (including 6 May), and the sacrifice made by those who were jailed in the Bolotnaya case ― none of it was in vain. Even when you consider where we’ve come to now. Both the protest and the names of the Bolotnaya prisoners have been written into Russian history; they’ve become an integral part of the experience of Russian society. Those who played their part in subsequent episodes of the struggle for a free democratic Russia leaned on this experience, as will those destined to play a part in episodes to come ― episodes which will plainly be more dramatic, and which will surely, in the end, lead to victory.
Translated by Richard Coombes