JRL HOME - RSS - FB - Tw - Support

Astrakhan Electrifies the Opposition
Nikolaus von Twickel - Moscow Times - themoscowtimes.com - 4.10.12 - JRL 2012-66

Astrakhan became a new rallying cry for the country's fledgling protest movement Monday when key opposition figures called for support of a 25-day hunger strike of mayoral candidate Oleg Shein in the southern city.

Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov and Solidarity leader Boris Nemtsov joined more than 100 protesters in the capital, while anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and two State Duma deputies, Dmitry Gudkov and Ilya Ponomaryov of A Just Russia, announced that they would travel to Astrakhan on Tuesday.

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers denounced the protest as a political provocation and blackmail.

Oleg Shein File Photo
Oleg Shein file photo
Shein, a former Duma deputy for A Just Russia, refuses to recognize the official outcome of the mayoral vote, which was held parallel to the March 4 presidential election and gave him 30 percent. United Russia candidate Mikhail Stolyarov was declared the winner with 60 percent.

Shein went on hunger strike on March 16 together with some 20 people, who have since refused to eat solid food. Despite losing 9 kilograms of weight, he says he is feeling fine. "We are controlling our blood sugar levels and taking showers," he told Interfax on Sunday.

In a video posted on YouTube, a markedly thinner Shein explains that he decided to go on hunger strike to prevent the city from "falling into the hands of the mafia."

But supporters call his physical condition worrying. His former wife, who joined the Moscow protesters on Monday, expressed her own fears and noted that Shein was prepared to fight to the end.

"He will be the last to end the hunger strike," his former wife, Carine Clement, said in an interview on the sidelines of the protest outside the Astrakhan region's representation office.

Clement, a French sociologist who was married to Shein for seven years until they split up in 2009, said her former husband took his fight seriously. "For him, this is a matter of honor," she said.

Opposition leader Udaltsov announced that he and five activists would start a solidarity hunger strike in the capital.

He also said he would return to Astrakhan's office near the Sukharevskaya metro station daily after the region's representative, Nikolai Korolyov, failed to speak to him as promised on Monday. "I will be here Tuesday at 2 p.m.," he said, standing outside the office with a large white poster reading, "People are dying in Astrakhan! Putin and Zhilkin: You are responsible!" Alexander Zhilkin is the governor of the Astrakhan region.

Udaltsov himself has staged a series of hunger strikes to protest being arrested, the last in December when he had to be hospitalized in serious condition.

Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger, announced his backing of Shein on Twitter and called on other supporters to travel with him to Astrakhan, sending the city's name up into the Russian-language top trends on the popular microblogging site Monday.

Shein said on his LiveJournal blog that he would meet with Navalny in Astrakhan on Tuesday morning.

This is the second time that a hunger strike is electrifying the country's opposition. A similar rush erupted in February, when activists in the Stav