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#16 - JRL 2006-152 - JRL Home
Russia Profile
July 5, 2006
Under Siege
St. Petersburg Prepares for the Requisite Anti-globalists

By Galina Stolyarova

Scenes of police doing battle with anti-globalization protestors have gone hand in hand with recent meetings of the worlds most powerful nations. But the sight of thousands of activists flooding streets and sweeping police cordons is an unlikely scenario for the upcoming G8 summit in St. Petersburg.

High travel costs, the painstaking visa process and security precautions will provide major obstacles for foreigners hoping to join Russian anti-globalists in their campaign, said leaders of the Russian Social Forum, the Russian branch of the international antiglobalist network.

This is going to be a quiet, somewhat dwarfish campaign said Vladimir Soloveichik, a left-wing St. Petersburg politician and one of the campaigns organizers. We are talking about several hundred activists, a far cry from the grand scale of the previous years events, which attracted thousands of protesters.

According to the most optimistic estimates, we can expect 700 locals joined by 300 activists from other parts of Russia and about 200 supporters from CIS countries, said Yevgeny Kozlov, one of the leaders of the Committee for the Protection of Social and Labor Rights. We doubt that more than 300 people from Western Europe will try to come.

The process of applying for Russian visas is time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, Kozlov, pointed out, St. Petersburg is a very expensive destination. Protesters that do make it to St. Petersburg will concentrate on an agenda that largely mirrors the issues to be debated by the leaders. The problems we intend to address include energy, ethnic conflicts, the fight against terrorism and poverty, Soloveichik said. So far, we are planning a conference, a series of seminars, a street meeting and a protest march. We might consider concerts or an opposition media event, but certainly not radical marches around the conference site nor violent protests.

Kozlov stressed the importance of distinguishing peaceful anti-globalist activists from extremists destroying cars and shops, throwing stones at windows or carrying out violent nationalist attacks.

After the riots during the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, a confusing image of the anti-globalist movement started to form, he said. Some extremist groups advertise themselves as anti-globalists, and there is nothing we can do. In reality, the anti-globalist movement is a non-aggressive international network functioning as a social forum. We joined forces to confront the negative consequences of globalization by suggesting and developing alternative solutions.

Like some liberal politicians, antiglobalists are expected to campaign for Russias exclusion from the G8 because of increasing pressure on the media, growing ethnic intolerance and widespread violations of human rights.

St. Petersburg doesnt really belong to the club in this respect: A European city is first and foremost a place where human rights are respected, and this is not the case here, Maxim Reznik, chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of the Yabloko party. Citizens political, social and economic rights are routinely violated, and those who criticize this practice are persecuted. City police routinely detain opposition members, disrupt authorized meetings and even physically abuse protesters.

Local democratic parties and organizations, human rights groups and left-wing politicians are currently discussing the possibility of joint actions during the summit.

Most locals are not looking forward to the summit but, instead, are planning escape routes. Traffic police have already issued an appeal to citizens to refrain from using private transport during the summit. Memories of St. Petersburgs 300th anniversary three years ago, which included many blocked streets and never-ending chains of police cordons, are still fresh in peoples minds.

The police behaved aggressively, blocking streets, restricting traffic and even stopping people from getting to their homes, which were surrounded by security cordons, Soloveichik said. They were very tough and would grab anyone who seemed even remotely suspicious to them.

Vyacheslav Notyag, head of the NGO Peoples Solidarity, has first-hand experience of being physically abused: A policeman struck him twice with a baton on his head and arm during a sanctioned demonstration on May 1.

Other people were beaten too as they attempted to get through to Palace Square, he said. I was waving a sheet of paper with official permission to take part in the meeting, but nobody was listening, and the police blocked my way. We were carrying posters critical of the city government.

Speaking at a special meeting aimed at discussing security, transport and infrastructure in the city during the summit, organized in April 2006 by the northwestern branch of the Russian Tourism Industry Board, law enforcement officials said the key safety problem facing the city this summer is that of pickpockets.

We are going to concentrate on street theft, which accounts for the lions share of crimes in town and presents a much bigger problem than protesters or campaigners of any sort, Alexander Ivershen, deputy head of a St. Petersburg police task force investigating crimes involving foreigners, said at the meeting.

Local non-government organizations have reported that the police are already beginning to clear homeless people from tourist attractions and the center of the city in order to combat petty theft.

There are as many as 8,000 homeless people living on St. Petersburgs streets and in the citys cellars and stairwells, according to Maxim Yegorov, a representative of the Nochlezhka (Night Shelter) Fund, which gives support to the homeless.

Soloveichik admitted that some of the anti-globalist activists have already been approached by local police with a warning. The police contacted some of our people, he explained. They were polite to them, asking cautiously about our plans and mentioning the heightened security during the summit. There were no threats or pressure.

All outdoor events require official permission from the G8 summit organizers and a subsequent blessing by the City Hall. According to Russian legislation, the applications are accepted and reviewed only 15 days prior to the requested date of events.

This means everything will be hanging in the air until the last minute, Soloveichik said. But we will cross that bridge when we get to it. I hope we wont have to go underground.