Eyewitnesses on the 23 January Rally. Ekaterina Shulman: “The percentage of those who took part in a protest for the first time is extremely high”

24 January 2021

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group Original Source The Bell 

The unsanctioned rally on January 23 in support of Aleksei Navalny turned out to be one of the highest attended in recent years, despite far less than half of the protesters being in Moscow. In total, residents of at least 111 cities across Russia took part in the protest – and these are only those cities that have data on detentions. The number of detainees has hit record levels. The Bell spoke to entrepreneurs, business people, political scientists and lawyers about their impressions.

This is what Ekaterina Shulman said: 

Did you go to the protest? 

In 2019, I went to endless protests as a member of the Human Rights Council. This time I attended the protest as a member of the observer group from the Moscow Helsinki Group. This did not afford me any additional rights and did not in any way protect against potential detention, but the Moscow Main Department of Internal Affairs was informed that this group were watching what was happening at the event. So, I attended protests and marches through the streets of central Moscow from 1:30 pm until about 8:00 pm.

What is the fundamental difference between the 23 January rally and the rallies in 2019?

It seemed to me that in 2019 the aggression of the OMON and the National Guard against the protesters was much more tangible and that the detentions were on larger scale and more vicious. Now, strangely, it is more commonly reported in the news that riot officers rather than protesters were injured. Previously, there were no cases of protesters trying to smash car windows – this is completely uncharacteristic behaviour for our protesters. There is a feeling that in Moscow the authorities released more detainees from the police department without formally processing them and that they did not register the majority of minors.

Is this to say that the protesters have become a lot more determined if not more radical?

Let’s look at this factor. Our sociologists interviewed the protesters to understand who took to the streets today. According to initial data, the percentage of those who took part in a protest for the first time is extremely high (up to 42%). In 2019, there were also many who came out to protest for the first time. Now there are even more new people. And the question that has yet to be answered: who exactly has begun to take part in the protests and was it these people who could have brought these ideas about how to behave at protests?

Translated by Matthew Quigley

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