Dissecting Bolotnaya

This week’s Russia! Magazine column, “An Autopsy of a Protest,”

Yesterday, Ezhednevnyi zhurnal and the New Times, two of Russia’s most vociferous opposition news sites, published a leaked four–page internal police report “On the results of securing public order and safety in Moscow 6 May 2012.” In the report, Moscow MVD colonel D. Iu. Deinichenko finds that there was no mass disorder during the so-called “Bolotnaya Square riot,” when a phalanx of police violently clashed protesters last May. “As a result of actions taken by the Moscow organs of internal affairs, the goal of securing public order and security was accomplished in toto and an emergency incident was prevented,” Deinichenko concludes. Several sources have confirmed the report’s authenticity, including a lawyer for one of the Bolotnaya 27, Dmitrii Agranovskii, who’d seen it in the case files. The leaked report comes as a boon for the embattled Russian opposition as it contradicts the Investigative Committee’s fanciful assertion that Bolotnaya was Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov’s well-coordinated attempt with the aid of Western money to overthrow the Russian government.

Who leaked the document and why is only speculation. It’s likely that someone involved in the case wanted to chip away at the Investigative Committee with an internal police document pickaxe. It could also be a way to push back against last week’s guilty plea by Left Front activist Konstantin Lebedev, who admitted to organizing mass disorders at Bolotnaya. Regardless, it’s unlikely that Deinichenko’s report will carry much weight in the courtroom. The report is said to be one of many documents in the case, and given the affair’s show trial quality, conviction is likely a foregone conclusion dictated from behind the Kremlin wall.

Still, the Deinichenko report is interesting as it reveals what the police monitor and record during a protest. As a historian, I’m struck by its consistency with Tsarist and Soviet police reports: it’s noting of symbols and slogans, informed awareness of participating political organizations, groups, and leaders, all of which is rendered in a stilted bureaucratic lexicon laden with the passive voice.

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