A crowd of several hundred showed up in Moscow’s central square on Saturday afternoon for a Communist-sponsored rally against alleged electoral fraud.
For the most part, they had difficulty hearing.
As Communist speakers increased the rhetoric, the police escalated theirs in the form of jarring music coming from the speakers behind the podium.
“Come on, Russia!” went a patriotic ditty. “Uncle Vladimir, we are with you,” said another.
The latter came as an immediate response to a heated speech by party leader in Moscow, Valery Rashkin, who described the Kremlin’s United Russia Party as a bunch of “self-proclaimed” people.
Mr. Rashkin is perhaps the most outspoken of the generally timid Communist leaders. He led appeals to protest Sunday’s Duma vote, while his superior, party leader Gennady Zyuganov, repeatedly called for restraint.
Mr. Ziouganov was absent from the demonstration, apparently on his way to see Vladimir Putin.
Many protesters, mostly elderly, said they were angered by what they described as Mr Ziuganov’s hypocrisy.
“You can’t be a little bit pregnant, and you can’t be a bit of a Communist,” said Vladimir, 65, whose last name was withheld.
“We wanted to obtain a majority in parliament precisely so as not to leave any choice to people like Ziouganov in the matter,” added her friend, Tatyana Yakovleva, a retired teacher.
Valery Rashkin aside, those who dared to speak out have avoided directly criticizing the Kremlin. Instead, they complained about “Western interference” and “regime oligarchs” who were supposed to “pull the levers” behind the scenes.
Speakers singled out Alexei Venediktov, the head of the liberal Moscow Echo radio station, who, as chief electoral controller, championed electronic voting.
Those electronic ballots brought eight constituencies back to the Kremlin in a way the Communists say was not credible. Mr Venediktov should face a criminal trial, one said.
Towards the end of the rally, there were calls to release the political prisoners, and a few pro-Navalny chants erupted: “Russia will be free! “,” Putin is a thief! “,” Russia without Putin “.
The Kremlin took few risks in monitoring a protest that did not appear at first glance to pose a great threat.
Upstream, just under 60 activists were officially warned or arrested for posts on social networks supporting the protest.
The authorities also forced a rebranding: the so-called “People’s Assembly” of Communists became a “meeting with the voters” following threats from regulators to block the party’s website.
That same day, perhaps two dozen police vans lined Moscow’s central boulevards leading to Pushkin Square. Plainclothes officers with radio headsets entered and left the crowd. Other officers used their loudspeakers to warn participants that the protest was illegal.
In the end, the batons remained in their holders, with authorities content to let the protest dribble under the mist of gray Moscow skies.
The Independent Gt