We have been standing in solidarity with our colleagues from the Arctic Sunrise here in Moscow since September 19th. All day, every day for nine days so far. We stand in a one-person picket near the entrance of the Moscow headquarters of Gazprom supporting our friends – the 30 Greenpeace activists arrested during a peaceful protest against the extraction of oil by the Gazprom Arctic platform “Prirazlomnaya” in the Pechora Sea.
It has to be a one-person picket because in Russia you don’t need permission from the authorities for one person to protest. In contrast, for a large rally or protest you have to ask for permission in advance from the local authorities, and it is often denied.
We’ve stopped keeping track of the exact times and dates that our protest receives extra attention from Gazprom. Instead, we keep track of the weather and notable events… “It was the day when it rained and rained all day long that the ‘gardener’ came”, for instance. Or “that morning, when Gazprom headquarters decided to have a renovation”, or “the day when the Special Police Force came.” That was particularly memorable.
September, this year in Moscow, is particularly cold and rainy. So it’s very uncomfortable to stand with poster in hands for a long period. Our activists relieve each other every 1.5-2 hours.
At the very beginning of our picket, the Security service of “Gazprom” called the police every single time an activist replaced another near our protest tent. At the beginning the police claimed they were shown invalid passports from our activists. They tried to make trouble for us, to get us to stop protesting. During these 9 days of protest we have had the chance to teach the police that we will not allow them to infringe on our rights to peaceful protest.
After that, the Gazprom security decided it was their job to try and intimidate us into stopping. They forced our activists out of their spot in front of the Gazprom building by using a sidewalk cleaning machine to push them aside, then even used a mini-bulldozer! They left a parked car running, on the sidewalk just next to our activist, forcing them to inhale terrible exhaust fumes. But the worst weapon employed by Gazprom security was the “drunk gardener”, defending his grass from the peaceful Greenpeace activists that wanted to stand on it, one at a time. Of course he didn’t care at all about oil production in the Arctic or about our Greenpeace colleagues being detained, the main thing was to scare our activists away. The police got our calls regularly about these problems. The “gardener” was drunk and not interested in listening to the reasons from our activists, only in seeming unpredictable and intimidating. But when the police came he made his way back inside the Gazprom enclosure, watching what the police would do from behind the protection of the fence.
At our solidarity protest we call the police every day, and sometimes more than once a day. And we know that Gazprom is calling the police every day too. Their security officers photograph and film our every step, and we photograph and film theirs. Sometimes they even try to “accompany ” our activists to the metro or a waiting car, when their turn protesting is over. This is obviously done to scare them into never coming back.
We wonder what kind of people are watching us: is this just Gazprom security, the Federal Security Agency (FSB), or someone else?
They desperately want our protest day to be short, they hope that when it’s raining we will cancel our peaceful protest and go away. But now, even they are beginning to understand that we will only stop supporting our friends, the Arctic 30, when they are free.
Alena Kislitsina is an Online Editor at Greenpeace Russia.