Today is election day! The day when Russian citizens exercise their right to elect their next President. Some of you might recall that on December 4, outrage over alleged falsification of ballots during the Parliamentary elections led to an ongoing series of demonstrations, sanctioned and otherwise. In Moscow, the large open spaces of Manezh Square and Revolution Square are traditionally host to large gatherings–from parades to political demonstrations to riots. They’re also right next to the Kremlin and to Red Square, often lending an addition symbolic weight to happenings.
Walking around the center the last couple of days, I had noted (in agreement with warnings from the US Embassy) that there has been a significant increase in police presence. Yesterday, they started erecting metal fences and gates. Today, much of the open space has been cordoned off. With fences, rows of metal detectors, large blocks of police and security officers, and simply closing off underground passages, the government has exercised a significant level of control over the movement of the public.
A few photos here. (Note I’m still taking photos on my iPhone, so poor quality.)
Muscovites seemed mildly surprised; many paused to take photos, while others were on the phone describing the scene and talking about alternate routes with people they were presumably trying to meet.
Even the ground-level sidewalks were constrained, as groups of police marched from one corner to another, temporarily blocking others from walking through. (They certainly numbered in the hundreds in the central region I walked around.) I overheard one, sounding irritated, commenting on a man who was standing less than a meter away, photographing or filming them walking by: ‘See that guy filming us? He’s not even hiding it!’ But otherwise nobody seemed especially angry or rebellious–just a little inconvenienced.
So: what’s going on? It’s clear that someone is setting up a stage, likely planning a (victory) concert for later in the day. The location seems a bit odd, though; I’ve been to and seen city- or state-sponsored concerts on Red Square before, packed with thousands. For these, the central portion of Red Square is closed off and entrance is controlled, but the outer sidewalks and squares, and certainly the mall, remained open. I am left with some questions about whether these areas are regarded as “public” space, and whether these kinds of controls are at all controversial.