Artists hunger strike drags on as international economic forum looms
Artists hold hunger strike to protest police and government abuse and violations of basic human rights, now entering 7th day, despite attempts to disperse the action in front of the St.Petersburg city
As International Economic Forum looms poised to start on June 4th in St.Petersburg, Russia, lonely figures soak in the cold rain in the garden in front of the city administration palatial building, fully ignored by people in suits and black cars.
The lonely figures are artists, who have started a hunger strike on May 28th to protest an unlawful and violent dispersal of May 1st peaceful demonstration. The dispersal, which targeted a group of artists and free speech activists, fully preauthorized by the very same city authorities, left more than a hundred people unlawfully detained, some beaten and injured by riot police, with things like "crossing the street in a wrong place" being incriminated to most in a cover-up attempt. At the same time, a column of right-wing, fascist organizations was allowed to march along the Nevsky prospect that day.
The artists taking part in the hunger strike have published demands to St.Petersburg government, to initiate criminal proceedings against people responsible for unlawful demonstration deispersal, under article 149 of Russian Criminal Code (obstruction of the conduct of a meeting, demonstration, walk or a picket, or participation in such, performed by an official using his position or the application of violence). They also demand of federal government to create a public comission to control the activities of so-called Anti-extremist Centers, and to free their fellow artist Artem Loskutov, who is being tried in Novosibirsk on fabricated charges.
Aside from abstaining from food, the artists do what they know - they draw. The subject? As they say, they draw the police and power abuse from nature, given the location.
The peaceful protest remains under constant pressure from authorities. Various police and federal security officers come about, threaten, cajole, demand and copy personal identification data, try to invent false pretenses of the action being unlawful, and occasionally trying to deny journalist access. As the two strikers described today, during the day two police officers in the rank of major drove to the place of action, and without introducing themselves demanded that "unless you get lost in 15 minutes, you will be destroyed along with your daubery". They then left without any action.
Today is the 7th day of the hunger strike, and as weather slipped into cold rain, amount of popular support dwindled. Participants are trying to get some warmth in a car of an occasional supporter with one, and continue to be wary of the authorities trying to do some new thing on them. As I visited the location, only two of the original fasting artists were huddling under an umbrella, with a third getting his turn in a warm car nearby. Ironically, a monument to Karl Marx watches the artists from merely a dozen meters.
The action have been filmed by at least two local TV channels, but it remains unknown whether the episodes have ran. An article on the action has been published by The St.Petersburg Times. Otherwise, the coverage has been limited to a handful of independent news websites and blogs.
Update: a TV episode has ran on "Culture" channel and can be viewed at: http://www.tvkultura.ru/news.html?id=337410 (in Russian)