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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who's Scared of Whom?

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My partner and I are engaged in a semantic argument. At the heart of it is the question, what is the regime doing? Specifically, is it pissing itself or pissing on us? I think the way the authorities are acting betrays a great fear of us, the people, who are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the way things are. In other words, they are pissing themselves. She thinks the actions of the authorities show great disdain for us, the people. In other words, they are pissing on us. I think change is in the air; she thinks we'll all be sorry.

Take two of last week's important news stories. A Moscow court banned the National Bolshevik Party. The NBP is an organization with an odious name and a questionable ideological history that has turned into the most significant pro-democracy grass-roots opposition group. The court cited two reasons for its decision. First, it claimed, the group violated the law by including in its propaganda material calls for the creation of a National Bolshevik army and for an incursion into Kazakhstan. The documents cited date back about five years; nothing of the sort is currently to be found in NBP's materials.

The second reason is that NBP violated the law on political parties by calling itself a party before it was registered as one. This is not only specious on its face but a careless giveaway of the real reason NBP has been made illegal. The new law on political parties requires them to submit 50,000 verifiable signatures by the end of this year. Obviously, in order to collect signatures on a petition for its registration, a party has to be using the name under which it intends to be registered. In all of Russia there are a grand total of three parties capable of collecting the requisite number of signatures. They are United Russia, which has the entire state bureaucracy at its disposal; the Communist Party, which continues to maintain a reasonable network of regional organizations; and NBP, which has been canvassing like crazy across the country for months.

I've gone along with canvassing NBP members, and I can vouch that for every building they hit, they get between two and 10 signatures. Considering that they went out every night, in cities all over the country, they had every chance of being able to register by the rules -- instead of by special arrangement with the presidential administration, which is where most other parties place their hopes. So the Kremlin had them banned.

Also last week, I went to the south of Russia to do a story on Garry Kasparov, the chess giant who has decided to throw himself into the fight against the Putin regime. Kasparov was to visit seven cities to speak to local organizers, journalists and anyone else who would listen.

It didn't exactly go according to plan. Every hall that was booked fell victim to some disaster or an unexpectedly scheduled event: a cartoon showing, a children's drawing contest, a fallen curtain, a power outage, another power outage, a burst pipe.

Everywhere he went, Kasparov was trailed by between two and nine cars with tinted windows. Twice he was attacked: eggs, stones and ketchup were thrown at him. Both times, local law enforcement blatantly provided cover for the attackers. One airport after another refused to let his plane land, ultimately reducing his group to traveling in vans.

That's a hell of a lot of effort to stop a politician from simply speaking. Which is why I think the Kremlin is scared. When I came home, I told my partner this: They are pissing themselves. She looked at me: exhausted, my clothes stained with egg and ketchup, my shoes and bag filthy as though I'd been hiking, not traveling by chartered plane. "No," she said, "they are pissing on you."

Masha Gessen is deputy editor of Bolshoi Gorod.