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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

War Protests Generate Onlookers, Little Steam

A week of protests against the war in Chechnya began more with a whimper than a bang Monday, as a forlorn row of protesters bearing homemade placards held a one-hour vigil on Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad.


Supported by chanting, yellow-robed Buddhists, the group at its peak held no more than 15 people, and was outnumbered by police, journalists and photographers.


Outside the KGB building on Lyubyanskaya Ploshchad, another small band of activists mounted a similar protest and attracted an equally negligible amount of attention from passersby.


"This is a symbolic act," said Anzhelika Chechina, of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers. "We are not trying to get masses of people out onto the streets."


The events are being sponsored by the human rights organization Memorial, in conjunction with over 100 groups that have pooled their resources in an effort to mobilize public opinion against the Chechnya conflict. A series of small "actions" has been planned for every day this week, culminating in open hearings at the parliament building on Saturday, to which legal experts, political analysts and scholars have been invited.


On Sunday a group of about 20 people from the Memorial coalition marched down Tverskaya Ulitsa, fastening black and white mourning ribbons on trees and lampposts. Five of the protesters were detained by the police and held for three hours before being released.


The small scale of the current protests in no way undermines their effectiveness, insist the organizers of the week's events. "The time for large demonstrations has gone," said Alexander Daniel, of Memorial. "What is required now is constant, hard work over long periods of time."


Daniel said the list of groups taking part in the protests include various human rights organizations, political parties and two parliament factions, Russia's Choice and Yabloko.


"We want to force the authorities to take our opinions into account," said Daniel. "With elections to the Duma coming up in December, I hope that those in power realize that the voters will remember the senseless deaths of tens of thousands of people."


Polls have consistently shown overwhelming opposition to the war in Chechnya, but public response to calls for action have been lukewarm.


"People do not seem to think that actions like this one will help," said Otto Latsis, a political observer for Izvestia, who has been outspoken in his condemnation of the war.


"But people are politically involved, he continued. "I hear conversations in the metro, in stores, in crowds on the streets that are much more negative about the government than they have ever been before. I am certain that the public opposition to the war will have a profound effect on the December elections."


Ella Pamfilova, a deputy in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, who has voiced her opposition to the war, agrees that public passivity can be attributed to a lack of faith in the efficacy of demonstrations.


She does not think, however, that the government is overly concerned with public opinion.


"If they were capable of thinking about things like that, they would probably not be doing what they are doing," she said.