Arrests at Moscow’s “31” August rally

An open letter to RT Television

Russia Today Television began their evening news broadcast with the announcement that Moscow Police had “protected a construction site from damage during an unauthorized protest.”


1- It’s not a construction site. Your construction site is only a fence around a popular square, designed to refuse access to anti-Kremlin rallies.

Do you really think Muscovites will swallow the idea of this “construction site” existing for the purpose of building an underground parking garage? You know, the one the Moscow City planning commission shelved over two years ago because it was deemed unnecessary. The one that has no plans, no general contractor, no funding, and no contract to build. The same site that had no fence until recently.  

2- When you speak of “unauthorized” protest gatherings, do you understand that the whole idea of an opposition rally is not to go through official and accepted channels, although the “31” organizers have faithfully followed the letter of the law each month only to be refused again and again?

The real definition of the term, to be the opposition is in and of itself “unauthorized” in a dictatorship.  

3- Then there’s the arrest of Boris Nemtsov. How soon you turn. Just a few years ago this former Prime Minister was one of your hero’s. Until he joined the growing ranks of the opposition against the current government, that is.

He must be a mighty big threat to have OMOH troops perform his arrest, instead of regular Moscow police.

4- Only a hundred or so protesters showed up? The multitude of citizen journalist cameras sure seem to have captured more than a hundred protesters in attendance. The arrest figure was over a hundred.

Could you find it in your heart of hearts to also be the mouthpiece of honest and decent people like Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Eduard Limonov, Konstantin Kosyakin and Sergey Udaltsov, too? Maybe just a few days out of the year would be a nice start — like the last day of all months ending in 31.Some journalists come…

Some journalists leave…

Some seemed to be swept off their feet by the enormity of it all…


31 August – and still no free speech in Russia.

The Kremlin sponsored group НАШИ (Nashi means “ours” as in our Russia–not your Russia) is funded freely by the government. At this summer’s youth camps Nashi leaders have introduced 13 Nazi fascists. Well, that is, their version of who is a Nazi.

Communists routinely give the "Nazi" or "Fascist" label to anyone who is pro-democracy. (Photo:

The famous “13” (notice it’s backwards of 31, the opposition’s name) include Lyudmila Alekseyeva, director of the Moscow Helsinki Human Rights Watch, and then there is Mikhail Saakashvili, President of Georgia; jailed Yukos Oil owner Michael Khodorkovsky and journalist Nikolai Svanidze.

To these young people anyone against the Putin government is considered to be a "Nazi." (photo:

Their crimes “against humanity” (meaning “against Putin”) are listed below each face.

Russian Orthodox commeration of John the Baptist

Today, 29 August, Orthodox churches in the West commemorated the blessed memory of the Prophet and Disciple John the Baptist. Orthodox churches in the East will commemorate this day on 11 September.

It was John the Baptist who baptized Jesus Christ at the Jordan River. Recorded history describes John as a prophet who followed the example of previous Hebrew prophets, living austerely, challenging sinful rulers, calling for repentance, and promising God’s justice.

John was the voice in the wilderness (desert) calling people to go back to God, the Road Preparer of the Messiah, filled with the Holy Spirit of God from his birth, the second Elijah, who baptized Christ and pointed him out; “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He is also identified with the prophet Elijah, and is described by the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus (Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary, was a cousin to John’s mother, Elizabeth.

Herod Antipas saw John as a threat and had him imprisoned and then executed by cutting off his head and then having it delivered on a platter.

Because Scripture described John as endowed with prenatal grace, the feast day of his birth became celebrated more solemnly than that marking his martyrdom (August 29). In art, John’s head is often depicted on a platter, which represents the request of Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome.

For faithful Orthodox persons the day is a “strict fast” meaning only breads, fruits and vegetables (no meal, oil, dairy, alcohol) can be eaten. Many families will have prepared the meals for the day previously in order to keep the day from normal life’s work duties.

Regarding the food served, there will be no “round” foods, or anything that takes on the round shape of a human head, should be eaten. Also, no food is to be served on a plate or platter as this is how John’s head was delivered to Herod’s family after John was beheaded. Food on this day should be served only in bowls or cups.

If in church there are a couple of things to remember:
– Priests and Deacons will be clothed in red vestments as a reminder of the blood shed by martyr’s who stood for Christ.

– You should never shake the hand of an Orthodox priest, instead cupping both hands together for a blessing when greeting a priest. On this day however, it is a day of mourning so no blessing will be given (unless you are infirm or a child) and instead, the priest will simply place his hands in your cupped hands for a brief moment.

– This is a day to reflect on the sacrifices of Christ and the Martyrs. Therefore, before and after church you should be extra quiet and speak to others only in hushed tones when inside the church.

Notes of special interest:
Most icons of John the Baptist show him with wings. Wings are usually reserved in church art solely for angelic beings, however the Scripture says that John was “sent by God” and this he is given the honour of being accorded as one just like the angels sent to Earth.

President Medvedev halts Khimki Forest motorway…at least for now

At first blush, I must admit to being at least initially impressed. On Thursday, President Medvedev announced that he was suspending construction of the motorway through the Khimki Forest until more studies and discussions are conducted.

Speaking about his decision the president said, “I have received a large number of petitions recently regarding the fate of the Khimki Forest. Despite the fact that the Government adopted a separate resolution on the construction of a motorway, and despite the fact that this issue was addressed in our judicial system and relevant rulings have been made, yet, our people, namely, representatives of various political parties, ranging from the ruling United Russia party to the opposition parties, as well as representatives of public associations and various expert circles say that this issue requires further analysis.

Given this number of petitions, I have made the following decision: I am instructing the Government to suspend the implementation of the resolution on the construction of this motorway and to hold additional public and expert discussions. Such discussions have already taken place, but given that the issue has provoked a very strong response, I believe it would do no harm to return to these discussions and to conduct them once again. That would be the right thing, to ensure we dot all the i’s.

Naturally, I do not predetermine the outcome. But given the concern experienced today by a significant number of Muscovites, as well as the initiatives and the petitions that have been made to me, this decision must be implemented.”

The lingering questions include:
– Given PM Putin’s outspoken support for this project, including recent government statements, are these two men at odds?

– Or, is this a clever way of defusing public angst with the employment of a good cop/bad cop senario?

– An associate recently wrote that this would be the test of just who is Dmitry Medveded, a Putin puppet, or an increasingly confident public leader?

– Environmentalists are genuinely surprised as most had predetermined that the President was simply Mr Putin’s puppet. No matter your views on the environment and politics, many on both sides of the fence are very concerned about the destruction of such an important forest and the possible loss of it’s positive ecological impact on Moscow and the surrounding areas. Is Dmitry Medvedev a true environmentalist (as he claims) or was this decision prompted solely due to public pressure?

Khimki Forest protests in Moscow

Hardly anyone can dispute the need for a modern express highway linking Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The M10 is a two-lane highway with only a few sections with 3-4 lanes, mainly closer to Moscow and St. Petersburg and parts of the highway have been around since the late 1700’s.

What drew thousands of protestrrs in July and again this weekend to call for the resignation of Vladimir Putin is the destruction of the ancient Khimki Forest Park, a legally protected ecosystem that is one of Russia’s ancient forests.

(Photo: Mikhail Matveev)

For years the Khimki Forest has been called the “Green Lungs” of Moscow. But many now see the Forest, as it is being destroyed, as much more than simply building a highway through an ancient forest. Rather, many see it as the rape of nature by a privileged few with ties to the Kremlin elite and the French construction company, Vinci Concessions, gone amok.

Popular citizen protest leader Yevgeniya Chirikova, head of the “In Defense of the Khimki Forest” group, has braved attempts on her life several times over the Khimki Forest. Another leader, journalist Mikhail Beketov, was beaten so severely that injuries left him brain damaged. He also had a leg amputated from the incident last year.

If Russia needed a symbol for the anti-Putin grassroots activism in Russia, the Khimki Forest seems to resonate with citizens of all ages and political allegiances.

It seems that in order to circumvent federal statues regarding ancient forests, Mr Putin abolished the State Forestry Service, giving the Agriculture Minister jurisdiction along with the powers to adopt a new forestry code.  Rosavtodor, the state service within the Transport Ministry that builds and maintains roads, estimates that the cost of the new highway will easily top $8 billion.

So today when protestors took to Pushkin Square for a legal rally, police were on hand to detain Yuri Shevchuk, outspoken Putin critic and leader of the rock group DDT, when he stood on top of a car and belted out two songs with his acoustic guitar after police had stopped cars carrying concert and music gear.

Today independent journalists crowded around the Russian rock star to block him from OMOH troops as he sang on Pushkinskaya square in Moscow in a large rally to protect Khimki forest. Police broke up the rally saying that the permit allowed a rally but not a concert. Shevchuk was detained after singing two songs.

Protest organizer Yevgenia Chirikova had been arrested on 04 August for her efforts to protect the forest. She was preparing to speak to journalists at the Independent Press Center in Moscow and was suddenly surrounded by OMON special police forces during a press conference with several other activists .

When a “Square” isn’t square.

The photo on our masthead showcases Russia’s most famous plaza, “Red Square.” Taken by the very talented photographer, Alan Kuehner, you can see right away that while beautiful, Red Square is anything but “square.” Click on his name to enjoy more of Alan’s photos of Russia.

Go head and look. No, you aren’t imagining things.  Even if a historic location is in the shape of a horseshoe, a circle, shaped as a U, or any other shape other than a “square,” it’s likely to still be called a “Square” when translated into English.

This is really a translation issue as “square” is the most common term we English-speakers use to translate the word. That is bad translating however as Russian’s use the term Площадь (plah-SHIDT) which means “plaza.” As you’d expect from the term “plaza” it simply denotes a location, usually important, and has nothing to do with shape or size.

Take “Red Square” for example. Well, that’s what we call it. Russians say Красная площадь (KRAS-naya plah-SHIDT) which is confusing for us Westerners because it literally means “Beautiful Plaza.” The terms ‘red” and “beautiful” come from the same root in Russian and in previous centuries there was nothing red about “Red” Square as those walls surrounding the Kremlin were mainly white and the plaza paving was either dirt or dark stone in later years.

So take it all in stride as you step onto “Red Square.” It certainly is a beautiful plaza, and today the colour is red, too. True, it might be puzzling to learn that a square is really a plaza by any other name, but enjoy the view and tell the first Russian you see that it sure is a beautiful plaza.

They’ll understand.

Russia closes Saint Petersburg Sharia court

As reported in the Moscow Times, St. Petersburg’s first sharia court was shut down just weeks after it opened. The court advocated adherence to Islamic law but had no legal standing or power.

Islamic sharia law perscribes drastic physical punishment for even the smallest of crimes and is especially discrimatory towards women and children. A woman can be stoned for adultery, as an example, but rarely is the man involved punished for the same crime.

While advocated say that sharia justice is based on the Quran, Islam’s holy book, local Saint Petersburg authorities say that the court circumvented federal law. The court was condemned by both local leaders and by Muslim citizens, many saying that there was no place for the practice of sharia law in Russia’s second capital.

St. Petersburg’s Islamic deputy mufti Ravil Poncheyev labeled the court as anti-constitutional. St. Petersburg ombudsman Alexei Kozyrev also spoke out against the court.