Huge turnout for mass picket against Domestic violence in Moscow

Socialist Feminist Alternativa – Moscow.

Over a thousand people turned out for a mass picket against domestic violence organised by SotsFemAlternativa on November 25th, the International day against violence against women, in Moscow. Other pickets were organised in solidarity in St Petersburg, Izhevsk in the Ural mountains and Blagoveshensk on the Chinese border as well as in Smolensk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and Krasnodar. 

For months SotsFemAlternativa has tried to obtain permission to organise such a protest to demand freedom for the three young sisters who recently killed their violent, bullying father in self-defence. After this happened, more and more cases have revealed the horrors of domestic violence in Russia. Just recently, a St Petersburg University Professor dressed as Napoleon murdered and dismembered his post-grad student. 

Expecting to be refused permission once again and preparing to defy the ban, last week to our surprise the Moscow authorities conceded permission for a picket with up to 200 participants.  However, they then reduced the permissible number to 50! But this did not stop us – the call to participate went viral and on a dark evening in sub-zero temperatures, over a thousand, many young women, but with a significant number of young men too, turned out. 

Many home-made placards demanded a new law against domestic violence, others turned the arguments of those who justify violence against them. The phrase notoriously used to justify violence “he beats you, means he loves you” was turned into “he beats you, he should be sent down”. Others took up the placards produced by SotsFemAlternativa calling for crisis centres in every region, for an end to economic dependence, and for an end to inequality, sexism and capitalism. 

The police refuse to allow the use of loudspeakers or megaphones on pickets. Participants are supposed to stand in silence with their demands written on placards. This however doesn’t stop us. Opening the rally, Socialist Alternativa member Marta Chromova, spoke using a “living microphone” – after each phrase, supporters repeated her words so all could hear. (See video). Many who took part said this created a fantastic impression of solidarity. 

She spoke in support of all those women currently in jail for self-defence, calling for a new law on domestic violence, for the freedom to organise and speak out. For the financing of crisis centres in every region. For equal wages. For free kindergartens, education and healthcare. Today, she said, the voices of those who live from wage packet to wage packet, of students who live on miserable grants, of women who barely live till their pensions are not heard. Nobody represents us. No parliamentary party, no show business figures, we have to take the fight for our rights into our own hands. She called for a strike on 6th March, the last working day before International Women’s Day. She was supported by other speakers from SotsFemAlt who explained that the root of the problem of domestic violence is found in capitalism, the economic conditions it establishes and the patriarchal ideology it promotes. They called for free healthcare and education, for free elections. 

As one commentator on the social networks pointed out, we also demonstrated that when there is a mobilization no police restrictions limiting numbers to 50 can hold – the picket was turned into a mass rally using the ‘living microphone” and should be used as an example for future events. Others commented that because this was an event organized by ordinary people, the usual gap between the well-known speakers and the rest who are just expected to listen was missing.  Several other speakers, mainly young women, sometimes in tears spoke about their own individual cases. Particularly inspiring was when one speaker, member of SotsFemAlt spoke about how important it was to have self-organisation, to have an organisation of comrades who can support one another in struggle and to hear all her words repeated out loud by the crowd.

When handing out leaflets from SocFemAlternativa, many took them saying they already knew what we say, others who first looked suspiciously immediately took the leaflet when they were told it was from the organisers.  One young woman, seeing a comrade handing out leaflets without gloves hugged him then took the rest of the leaflets out and distributed them herself. 

Although widely covered in the liberal opposition press, they bent over backwards to play down the numbers involved and not one of them mentioned who organised the event. On the contrary they came along wanting to interview Oksana Pushkina – a Parliamentary deputy who is now trying to put some amendments against domestic violence in parliament. Of course she didn’t come. Pretty rich, considering her pro-Putin party voted for decriminalisation in the first place. The liberal media weren’t so interested in interviewing ordinary people. 

The state media tried to ignore the protest completely. But to indicate how shocked they were, one state channel carried a half hour “talk show” on our protest the next day. We weren’t invited – instead a priest, not so long ago official representative of the national church, renowned for his participation in far-right activities and a nun spoke of the need to defend “traditional family life” and of the need for a woman to obey the man! One Youtube canal, however, has filmed the first two hours of the picket (it lasted for three) which can be viewed here

Significantly our event was much bigger than that organised over the weekend “in defence of traditional values” and against a law “against domestic violence”, which barely scraped together a couple of hundred people. Significantly some “communist” party members supported that protest. At our protest a few people from other left organisations turned up to wave a flag for a few minutes before moving off. But as always most of them ignore these issues. 

This protest has been the biggest in support of women’s rights for over twenty years in Moscow. Women in the new capitalist Russia have never been so determined to fight for their rights as now. So much so that the handful of far right and religious bigots who turned up to cause trouble didn’t dare provoke the anger. But as some of the placards read, this protest has a wider agenda – the way society itself is organized by getting rid of the capitalist system. Now we are determined to step up our struggle.