Sunday’s “Army Against Serdyukov” demonstration took place as planned on Pushkin Square. About 500 people attended, but organizers hoped for as many as 1,500. The participants were orderly, and the police presence was light and relaxed compared with more overtly political protests. Novyye izvestiya claimed there were similar meetings in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, Severodvinsk, Stavropol, and Samara but the press reported only on protests in the latter city.
Dmitriy Gudkov used the occasion to publicize the Public Council for the Defense of Legal Rights of Servicemen’s appeal to President Medvedev. Besides demanding Defense Minister Serdyukov’s resignation, the appeal calls for an end to violations of servicemen’s housing rights and to the collapse of the military education system and defense industry.
Gudkov told NI:
“We need to unite servicemen who today are dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the army. There is a failure of all army reform, collapse of the defense sector . . . . The breakdown of the military housing program. Two hundred thousand officers’ families around the country who haven’t received apartments. Military pensioners who today have a pitiful allowance.”
In remarks to Radio Svoboda, he said deceived servicemen may form their own, alternative list of those officers who are still waiting for their promised apartments.
Gudkov also claimed there were attempts to prevent the gathering:
“On the Internet, information was put out that the meeting would occur on Saturday. Instructions went to all military units that anyone seen at the meeting would be dismissed. The Defense Ministry did everything to disrupt this action. But in vain.”
Hero of the Russian Federation, Cosmonaut Sergey Nefedov gave the introductory speech to the crowd on Pushkin Square.
Gudkov gave an account of Sunday’s event on his ЖЖ in which he said the protestors insist on their legal rights, and refuse to be silent although the authorities want to ignore them completely. He called military reform not reform, but the collapse of the army. Gudkov said the meeting wasn’t just against Serdyukov, but against all who don’t know how to manage the state in a professional manner, and those who are not up to their duties. He concludes:
“Demonstrations, meetings – this is only the tip of the iceberg of the people’s agitation. The number of those who’re ready to go in December to the polls and express their distrust in this government is growing larger.”
The Public Council is considering establishing a tent camp outside the Defense Ministry during the run-up to the elections, according to Gudkov.
Gudkov said television covered Sunday’s meeting, and cameras and microphones were visible in photos, but there were no TV news reports on the event. There are, however, lots of videos and photos on Mikhail Pavlenko’s ЖЖ.
Two last items deserve mention. Radio Svoboda talked to a retired Northern Fleet major, a military lawyer, named Igor Chuykov from Murmansk who spoke at Sunday’s anti-Serdyukov rally. Chuykov described the situation among military men in his city:
“The movement in Murmansk is very serious. Thanks just to this movement, those who participated in pickets in Murmansk, in Murmansk Oblast are now really getting apartments –those who were dismissed after 2005. Those dismissed before 2005 are being given [state housing] certificates. Somehow on these certificates it’s even possible to buy something. The Kola Peninsula – this could be the only place where there are considerably more military men than MVD. The smallest conflict between the military and police would lead simply to an uncontrollable escalation of violence. The authorities quickly understood what this could lead to. Therefore, the authorities’ priority task now is to pacify families. People simply have no recourse. It’s the fault of the state: it forced people into open acts of disobedience by its own irresponsible, unprofessional actions.”
Radio Svoboda also quoted Viktor Baranets:
“In the army, there are many professionals who understand that military reform is going, to put it mildly, very badly. Genshtab chief Makarov even attested to this when he honestly admitted at an officers’ assembly that we began military reform without any kind of scientific basis and calculations. The most important social problem is housing. They constantly fool the army, constantly change the rules of the game. Here we need to observe a single very serious point – military men are beginning to organize. The government must turn attention to this, but it stubbornly doesn’t want to do it. I have the impression that they either are afraid of criticizing Serdyukov or afraid of openly recognizing that military reform has failed. And just people who go to the demonstration, who announce their disagreement with Serdyukov’s methods of conducting reform, — they also want to get through to the Kremlin, to the government, to the state, to the Duma so that, in the end, some kind of decision will be made.”