Pardon us for not believing the words of government, any government for that matter, at first. Immediately following the voter protests in Moscow, and especially the large protest on 10 December, the government reported that the number of protesters assembled on Болотной площади (Bolotnaya Square) were in the “few thousands” and arrests at a “few hundred.”
Ultimately however government is having to eat its own words as journalists have revealed that the government had reliable information all along and crowd estimates are now set at between 50,000-60,000 for that protest gathering.
Initially the government had issued a permit for a legal demonstration of 300 people at Revolution Square just outside the Red Square area. However a Facebook campaign was gaining traction and by 8 December the government hastily reissued a permit for 30,000 persons on 10 December on Bolotnaya Square.
On the day of the protest the government cut cell photo service in the immediate area making it difficult for groups and individuals to communicate when in the permitted areas.
Police patroled and for the most part arrests were at a minimum. However as numbers have come to light, the real number of arrests as reported officially is over 1,000 instead of a “few hundred” as government first reported.
In the ensuing days officials attempted to disrupt the protests. The head of Russia’s public health Ministry, Gennady Onishchenko, issued a statement that protesters were in danger of contacting and spreading the flu or SARS respiratory infections such. The police went public with warnings that police would be checking for draft dodgers at the protests.
Moscow school students were ordered to appear for an unscheduled exam that just happened to coincide with the time of the demonstration. A special mandatory class was scheduled immediately following the exam.
Russian media, mostly state controlled, tried to ignore the growing protests but soon the Internet was filled with news and with European and other international television providing coverage the Russian channels were eventually forced to cover the events.
Other sizable protests were held around the country on the same day. The next large demonstration is scheduled in Moscow on 24 December. (Note: While 24 December is Christmas Eve in the West, Christmas in much of the East and Asia will come on 6-7 January.)
Generally peaceful, Moscow’s 10 December demonstration ended by singing of Viktor Tsoi’s перемен (“Changes”) a popular song from late 80s during the final days of the Soviet Union.