The adventures of a giant inflatable saw during the opposition rally in Moscow
by Veronika Komarova
On may 6th 2013 almost 20 000 muscovites gathered on Bolotnaya square near Kremlin to mark the 1 year anniversary of the “March of Millions” – an anti-Putin demonstration, which in previous may turned into a bloody clash between the protesters and the police. During this major opposition rally, the third of its kind in 2013, a giant inflatable “saw” («Pila» in russian) was seen surfing through the crowd. This 10 metre long symbolic sculpture (the “saw” is an easy-recognizable symbol of corruption and budget-stealing in Russia) was made specially for the event by Artur Van Balen/Tools for Action in collaboration with the artivist group Partizaning and other local activists, artists and journalists to show support for the protest movement in Russia.
Anniversary of a bloody protest
The Russian opposition movement today is noticeably losing its former power and popularity among the citizens compared with last year. Started during the autumn of 2011 as a response to the rigged parliamentary elections (as of which the opposition leaders started to call current ruling party “United Russia”- “the party of crooks and thieves”), it soon began to spread all around Russia and received active support from foreign countries as well – with the slogan “Fair votes for Russia” mass demonstrations were regularly held in more than 20 countries. After the massively falsified presidential votes in March 2012 – when then prime minister Vladimir Putin received 63.64% and became the president for the 3rd time – a sudden wave of protests reached a new high. However, only 2 months later, on may 6th (the eve of Putin’s new-term inauguration) the opposition organized a new demonstration called “March of Millions” which unintentionally turned into a huge violent fight between the protesters and the police. People were walking down the Yakimanka streets to Bolotnaya square with posters saying “We will not let the thief into the Kremlin” when the police suddenly blocked their way, announced that the rally had been cancelled, and began force them to disperse with batons. What resulted were dozens of injuries and hundreds of arrests.
“The battle of Bolotnaya” became a turning point in the short history of the 2011-2012 protests – people suddenly became aware of how dangerous even the most “peaceful” rally can be in this country, and, as a result, some part of them decided to step away from the movement. One year on, civil activists still live in daily fear of being caught and tried in the “Bolotnaya square case” (there are already 30 people accused of organizing the 6th of may’s mass disorders, most of whom are under arrest and awaiting trial) and a lot of former protesters, who used to take part in almost every rally last year, now choose to stay at home instead of taking risks on the streets.
The new symbol of Bolotnaya
However, a year after the “Bolotnaya tragedy”, the opposition decided to gather again on the same spot on 6th of may 2013 – with a new claim to “Free Bolotnaya prisoners”. As everyone else, we had doubts about attending the demo – no one could guarantee the safety of the event, especially with last year’s tragedies at the forefront of our minds. In a situation where anyone could be arrested without cause, it was extremely dangerous to be there, especially with a giant saw-shaped object «the Pila» (“sawing the budget” in russian is a settled expression which means “corruption” and “budget-stealing by the officials”), which we had made specially for this event and were supposed to bring with us.
On the day of the demonstration, the inflatable was taken-out to Bolotnaya square by his associates who were activists of the local movement “Partizaning”. The problem appeared right away at the entrance to the meeting – as in Russia protesters need to go through a metal detector before entering an authorized rally. A policeman began shaking his head as soon as he noticed our cart with a huge silver object, and it seemed like our plan would fail at the first hurdle. Our explanations that it would be a “huge inflatable silver ball” didn’t work. The guard said that the art-action should have been confirmed earlier, directly with the organisers.
Luckily, we could quickly catch one of the organisers, who helped us to settle the problem with getting the saw through the entrance. Thus, the police agreed to let our cart through with the proviso that the sculpture would be inflated under their close watch. The process of inflating the saw attracted a mass audience. Demonstrators couldn’t understand what would come of it – was it a silver caterpillar, or a phallic symbol …
When the inflatable was ready, poet Alexander Delphinov, who was also attending the event, grabbed it and went straight into the crowd shouting out an improvised verse about the saw, the corruption and the “crooks and thieves” who “cut and steal” the budget.
The saw was joyfully greeted by the crowd with people helping activists to carry it. Someone even organized an improvised performance with words: “It’s time to saw some budget”:
The sculpture had made two crowd-surfing “trips” from the entrance gates to the stage and back, and then stopped under the monument of the well-known russian painter Ilya Repin. People kept coming there until the very end of the day – they were taking pictures, touching the saw from different sides and discussing its meaning. I would imagine that, for some of them, our huge inflatable «Pila» became a symbol of Bolotnaya-2013.
The inflatable art-action with inflatables showed russians a new way of protesting, one which was more creative, self-organized, and safe. Perhaps this was also a method which was a little more fun to express their thoughts and demands during the mass demonstrations. Fortunately, solidarity with the “May 6 prisoners” rally has gathered more than 20 000 people and ended peacefully.
Veronika Komarova is a journalist writing for Public Post, an online russian news blog.