That was the slogan under which hundreds of thousands of protesters staged peaceful demonstrations in 21 Russian cities.
Is he not? The occasion was yet another inauguration of Col. Putin, and those sport-spoiling Russians refused to accept it as a coronation. Yet, in Russia, that’s a distinction without a difference, which point was hammered home by police truncheons.
History is screaming parallels – is anyone listening? When the coronation of a Russian tsar is accompanied by deliberate or even accidental violence, it’s a bad omen. For even if it’s accidental, deliberate violence will certainly follow, eventually claiming the tsar himself as its victim.
The last Russian emperor, Nicholas II, was crowned on 30 May, 1896. Half a million people rushed to Moscow’s Khodynka Field, attracted by the promise of free food and drink at the festivities.
Those were indeed on offer, but the rumour of gold coins also to be doled out was false. One way or the other, a stampede occurred, and 1,389 people were trampled to death.
That was an auspicious start, and many superstitious Russians (which is to say almost all Russians) believed the reign was cursed. So it proved, even though the violence was a tragic accident.
What happened on Sunday, 9 January, 1905, was also tragic – but it wasn’t accidental. Thousands of unarmed workers marched to Petersburg’s Winter Palace to deliver a petition to the tsar.
Many theories of what happened on that day have been put forth, but one fact is indisputable: the Imperial Guard opened fire on the crowd, killing about 1,000 people and contributing the expression Bloody Sunday to most languages.
Thirteen years later the tsar and his whole family were butchered in a damp basement. Superstitious Russians, even those who grieved, were muttering the Russian equivalent of ‘what goes around comes around’.
What happened in Russia yesterday isn’t an exact parallel of Khodynka. The 1896 crowd were celebrating the coronation; yesterday’s crowd were protesting against it (fine, against the inauguration, if you’re a stickler for trivial detail).
The ensuing violence was accidental in 1896, but deliberate and pre-planned yesterday. And, so far, no one has died – though not for any lack of ardour on the part of the police.
Actually, not just the police. Developing the fine tradition of Nazi stormtroopers and Soviet druzhinniki the cops were backed up by paramilitary gangs, including fancy-dress mock-Cossacks beating the demonstrators to bloody welts with horsewhips.
The police were using less flexible truncheons and, as you can see on this video link, were doing a good job: https://graniru.org/Politics/Russia/activism/m.269723.html
Reports of casualties, although not yet fatalities, are streaming in, with many of the victims being journalists, mostly Russian but also some Western. (This last detail is another difference between yesterday and 1896: no correspondents were abused then.) Altogether there were some 1,600 arrests, and God only knows how many casualties:
Journalist Alexander Skrylnikov’s lung was lacerated by a truncheon blow. Dmitry Karasev was hospitalised with two broken ribs and liver damage. TV journalist Oksana Gandziuk was arrested. So was radio journalist Arseniy Vesnin. So were Daily Star journalists Ilia Gorshkiv and Alexander Antiufeev. So was journalist Alexei Alexandrov.
Flashnord’s woman correspondent was beaten up while being arrested. The same publication’s correspondent Tatiana Ysipushtanova was also arrested. The mock Cossacks attacked a France-Presse correspondent who tried to interview a demonstrator. A Telegram journalist had his video camera smashed and his arm damaged by a police truncheon.
And so forth, ad nauseum. It has to be said that this kind of take on freedom of assembly and of the press lacks novelty appeal. But the KGB training of most Russian high officials stood them in good stead: they were able to provide a fine creative touch, and I hope the patent office has been contacted.
When demonstrators gathered in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, a helicopter arrived and assumed a hovering position just above their heads. The roar of the engine and the airstream produced by the rotor completely muffled not only potential speeches but even normal conversation.
Yes, no Gatling guns were fired and no one was killed. But escalation of protests will lead to escalation of violence. Sooner or later Putin will order firing at protesting crowds, following in the footsteps of all Soviet chieftains from Lenin to Gorbachev.
Make no mistake about it: this lot will do anything it takes to hold on to power. Truncheons and horsewhips do the job for the time being; when they no longer do, machineguns will see the light of day.
When, I don’t know, and neither do I know if a Bloody Sunday Mark II would culminate in the same sanguinary finale for its instigator. But one thing I do know for sure: no matter how many people Putin maims, beats up, imprisons or kills, our useful idiots will still worship him.
Those on the right proceed from the kind of syllogism that used to land people in Bedlam. Thesis: We want Brexit – now. Antithesis: Our government isn’t delivering it. Synthesis: We love Putin.
These useless idiots think Putin is a fellow conservative. The Corbynistas are smarter: they know Putin hates our civilisation as much as they do, which is why they too join the fan club.
Opposites attract? I don’t think so. When they attract, they aren’t really opposites.