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Inspired by protesters in the small northwestern town of Apatity, who had come up with the idea, Barnaul’s activists decided to channel their frustration through toys. They held two so-called “nano-demonstrations”, on January 7 and January 14, which saw dozens of toys brave the snow in the city’s main square, holding tiny signs with slogans such as “We want clean elections”, “A thief should sit in jail, not the Kremlin”, and more. Activists posted numerous videos of these mini-protests online. Since then, the trend has spread to many other cities throughout Russia.
Can you imagine the laughs that a free press would have with the police and prosecutors in this case. And no one has ever pepper sprayed a Lego.
While the tiny protests seem to have amused many passers-by, the police in Barnaul have taken them quite seriously -- last week, they asked prosecutors to look into the legality of these events.
“Political opposition forces are using new technologies to carry out public events -- using toys with placards at mini-protests,” local media quoted Andrei Mulintsev, the city’s deputy police chief, as saying. “In our opinion, this is still an unsanctioned public event.”
There were demonstrations in big cities all over Russia on December 10 to protest the rigged parliamentary elections. My friends and I really wanted to participate, but didn’t have time to get a permit to hold a demonstration. So we decided to protest with toys, because this wouldn’t violate any laws and wouldn’t be dangerous for the people involved. Friends on social networks also sent us ideas of slogans to use.
Our colourful stage with Kinder Surprise toys attracted lots of people. They smiled, asked questions. The press came, too. There were also people who scolded us, and asked us why we weren’t ‘on the barricades’ with the ‘real’ protesters. But we didn’t want to make a big scandal; we just wanted to express our feelings and support those who attended real protests in other cities. In fact, the next day I received a message from a person I didn’t know who had attended real protests, saying, ‘Thank you from the city of Petrozavodsk! It’s been a long time since we laughed so loud; it raised our spirits!’ If only because of this one message, it was totally worth it.”