MOSCOW – Prominent Russian novelists and poets led a street protest by more than 10,000 people in Moscow on Sunday without obtaining the required permit, and police did not intervene.
The demonstrators skirted the law by remaining silent and carrying no posters, even though the demonstration had clearly been organized as an anti-President Vladimir Putin rally.
The gathering was the latest of several impromptu protests that have taken place in Moscow since Putin's inauguration Monday, held by people unhappy that he is the country's formal leader once again.
Lyudmila Ulitskaya, a best-selling author whose books have been translated internationally, lauded Moscow authorities for their restraint on Sunday.
"Today's a significant day for the city," she said. "The Moscow government is being reasonable for the first time. It has realized that the protest movement is not about people who break shop windows and throw Molotov's cocktails."
Police had detained hundreds of people who tried to get near Putin's cortege during the inauguration, some of whom were merely wearing white ribbons — a symbol of the Russian protest. Since then, activists have staged "flash mobs" across Moscow, suddenly assembling in public places where they camp and remain for the night. Many of them have been detained for taking part in an unsanctioned gathering.
On Sunday afternoon, the Russian writers led what they termed a "stroll" in Moscow aimed at defending people's rights to gather on the streets without authorities' permission. Best-selling novelist Grigory Chkhartishvili, better known under the pen name Boris Akunin, said before the walk began that he and his fellow authors wanted to check if people can really get detained "because they were putting on white ribbons."
"The meaning of this stroll is to show that we didn't like the way authorities treated us in the first days of Putin's presidential term," he said. "If that was the face of a new Putin we've been promised — we don't want this. He can either change his ways or we will stay on the streets."
The organizers —
Akunin, Ulitskaya, children's book author Eduard Uspensky and political poet Dmitry Bykov — were besieged by fans seeking autographs.
The protesters walked about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) along Moscow boulevards from a monument to the iconic 19th-century poet Alexander Pushkin to one honoring his contemporary, playwright Alexander Griboyedov.
None of the marchers chanted slogans, as they had at previous demonstrations, and police didn't stop the march, as they had last week. In fact, some police were friendly, telling the protesters to make sure they saw steps in their path. In response, demonstrators cheered and applauded police officers.
Most marchers walked to a plaza with the monument of a Kazakh poet which has been occupied by opposition protesters for several days. Thousands stayed on the boulevards, singing songs and playing guitars.
Sunday's cheerful, peaceful protest stood in stark contrast to the pre-inauguration rally a week ago, which spilled into violence between police and protesters.
Russian State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov of the opposition Fair Russia party on Sunday pledged to occupy Moscow streets "because we perfectly understand that as soon as we go away, the authorities will start tightening the screws."
Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report.