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A different sort of protest

“Why do they always kill the best people in the worst weather?”

That thought was on a lot of people’s minds on Thursday evening, but it was voiced by Alexander Mnatsakanyan, a man who describes himself as a “human rights mercenary,” taking up causes with various Russian human rights groups according to his fancy.

He was among 70 people who had gathered in the wet snow across from Moscow’s central Pushkin Square to commemorate lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, who were murdered four days earlier.

There’s an odd mix of cynicism and hope among Moscow’s human rights defenders. They have seen so much death — among their own ranks as well as among the people they’re meant to keep safe — but it’s their job to keep working for a better future.

The protest was strange in a couple of ways. First, there was barely a police presence. The people who gathered, mainly pensioners, for once outnumbered the security forces that usually swarm them.

Second, there were a couple of heated exchanges between people who passed by and those demonstrating. One woman approached the line of protestors, and said “What are you protesting? It’s a good thing he’s gone!” There’s a strength in Russia’s old people that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. The old women, and some men, swarmed the woman, in her 40s, shouting “You should be ashamed of yourself! Get out of here!” She was pushed out of the street, chanting her support for Putin as she left.

Another woman in her 40s came up shortly after, shouting for the protesters to disperse. They yelled back “Go back to your Putin!” She shouted back: “Anything but Putin, I’m a Communist!”

Russia has seen a slew of bad economic news since the beginning of the year. They gave up support of the ruble yesterday, and Medvedev earlier this week said (official) unemployment could soon grow to 2 million. You have to wonder if little changes like the ones I saw at the protest are a sign of the leadership’s untouchable facade cracking.