Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Moscow = Not a big Maerdy...

Sorry for the lack of recent posts, its quite difficult to get to computer terminals at the moment. Here a report one of us put out the other day but didn't get chance to put on here.

There is not a great deal to say at the moment. Dealing with Russia's cumbersome bureaucracy takes up a lot of the time and energy of activists arriving here. Visas must be registered and tickets bought. Internationals arriving with no knowedge of the system, or like us from Wales, with very little knowledge of the language, have been dependent on getting a lot of support from the Moscow based activists. Some are working ridiculously hard to make sure that everyone manages to negotiate the often inexplicably complex procedures.As people are collecting there is growing anxiety about how the police will respond to those intending to protest against the G8 summit. So far things have not been too bad, and there have been few problems with authorities, but there is a long way to go yet. On Thursday at least one person was arrested after a group collected in a city park, but this was a minor matter and the person concerned was detained for only a few hours. Such detentions are a relatively routine occurence here, something activists have to deal with on a day to day basis. There have also been reports of people being detained as they have attempted to travel to St Petersburg. Personal details have to be given, verified by passport, before a ticket is issued, so the police are able to know when anyone connected with possible protests against the G8 is travelling to the host City.The authorities have banned any protest taking place in St Petersburg - including a planned demonstration by the social forum which had been given permission to take place on the 15th July. This means that any protest will be illegal, and police will be able to arrest anyone taking part in such protest. This alone can result in up to fifteen days imprisonment. Perhaps of more concern is the tactics that the police could use to break up and disperse any such protest. In the face of a powerful state machine it is easy for fears to be magnified out of all proportion. But despite this, there is a determination here to mount some sort of opposition to the G8 summit. Although what form that will take it is not yet possible to say.

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While things in Moscow are relatively calm, reports of repression experienced by those in or travelling to St Petersburg continue to flood in. We will be making this journey shortly, so it is all a bit daunting.

Latest reports say 100 arrested or detained. Ten day prison sentences are being routinely handed out for 'extremism', ie possessing leaflets etc. Also for disobeying police instruction. Not all those detained so far are Russian, but I would say that Russians are definitely bearing the brunt of this repression.

A couple of non Russians went out last night to put up posters and were stopped by police for an ID check, but were not arrested. Having said that, the worst of the repression is definitely in St Petersburg, rather than Moscow. So we will see.

We will be travelling shortly to St Petersburg not knowing at all what to expect to find when (if?) we get there. I'm feeling waves of apprehension, but still think there is a good chance that all will be well and we will get into St Petersburg successfully.

The Russian media group asked yesterday for volunteer 'foreigners' to help them with a press conference. Although usually wary of such things, I felt that the decision of whether or not to communicate with the media was theirs to make, and if they had decided to do so it would be right to help out. So I became the 'foreigner'.

To the alarm of the security guards we walked in with masks 'Zapatista' style. We sat down at the desk in front of mainstream and independent journalists, and a TV camera, and presented a large brick like object made of cardboard and painted black, the 'black bloc'.

Apparently (although I didnt understand a word as it was all in Russian) they used this to point out that black bloc was a tactic used on occasions, not an organisation, and we removed the masks. We then made individual statements about what we are doing and why we opposed the G8 summit. Much of the rest of the conference apparently focused on the state repression and inevitable questions about what will happen in St Petersburg (I wish I knew!)

Tomorrow (hopefully) we will have a better idea of what is going on outside of Moscow, and if possible will get news to you all.

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