Silent resistance/ Russian pro-war symbols under constant attack

2023-12-11 07:41:00, Kosova & Bota CNA
Silent resistance/ Russian pro-war symbols under constant attack
Illustrative photo

A few days after the start of Russia's war in Ukraine, in February 2022, a large banner with the letter Z was seen on the facade of the theater in the center of the Siberian city of Irkutsk.

This was just one of many similar banners that featured a new Kremlin symbol to show support for the war, for the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the local administrations that have undertaken it.

Critics of the Z symbol see it as a fascist emblem of a loyalty to the state, enforced by the state itself, which they refer to as "Zvastika".

The banner has been present in Irkutsk for many months.

However, in May, local media reported that representatives of the city's theater community sent two requests to the municipal authorities for the removal of the banner.

According to their letters, the banner has been vandalized more than once. The mayor has ignored the calls, but Vadim Palko, who manages the city's channel on the Telegram platform, has launched a public campaign, demanding that the banner be removed.

Very quickly, he has gained 440 supporters.

At the end of last month, Deputy President Tatyana Makarycheva submitted a response, rejecting calls for removal, on the grounds that the banner "protects the motherland, our people and traditions".

She also warned against "negative statements" about the Z symbol, saying they could be prosecuted under the law that punishes "discrediting the armed forces".

However, the fight to remove the banner with the letter Z from the theater "is not over", Palko told Radio Free Europe.

"According to our plan, we are preparing other requests for the Prosecutor's Office."

Growing opposition to the Irkutsk flag — both the campaign to remove it and the evidence of vandalism — echo similar stories in Russia that could signal growing opposition to the war, which is entering its third year and not the end is seen.

Moreover, it is now more than a year since Putin declared military mobilization, bringing the war directly into the homes of hundreds of thousands of Russians. "There has been no deep support for this war since the beginning," said Aleksei Ivanov, a resident of the city of Siktivkar, who fled Russia after facing criminal charges for calling him a "fascist" by a police officer. during a small anti-war protest held in February 2022.

"I only saw the Z symbol on the car, in the middle of April 2022. Then there were reports of people who also put the symbols on their car tires. I have seen from the beginning that there was not much support for the war. Therefore, this news does not surprise me.

"One of the least dangerous roads"

For more than a year, 17-year-old Yevgeny Fokin has been campaigning to force the authorities to remove the banner with the letter Z from public spaces in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

At the end of May 2022, he managed to convince the municipal authorities to remove the banner, on the grounds that it violates the city's advertising regulations.

"After the first banner, a new version appeared in the same building," Fokin told Radio Free Europe.

"I have written a second complaint to the administration, saying that the banner, again, does not match the city's standards and must be removed."

To Fokin's surprise, the second banner has also been removed. Since then, he estimates that he has managed to remove 10 such from public spaces, leaving this city without many symbols that are read as support for Russia's war in Ukraine. "The situation with banners is much better, now there are almost none left", he said.

"They are not putting up banners that violate architectural standards, and those who have left have not been put up again. The only ones left are those who are placed in the official spaces for advertising. Z signs have been removed from most trams. Some are still on the buses." Fokin attributes his success to the fact that shortly after launching his campaign, he was hired as an assistant to independent member of the Novosibirsk City Council, Svetlana Kaverzina.

"When a deputy asks, the officials are obliged to answer", said Fokin.

"Plus, they know the deputy can confirm any information they provide, and make noise, if necessary."

In April, students at the State University of Art and Architecture in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city, began collecting signatures for a petition to remove the Z symbol from a facade of their facility. Some unidentified people damaged the red symbol.

After collecting more than 600 signatures, university officials questioned the two organizers and asked them to initiate a written "clarification" to the Interior Ministry's Counter-Extremism Committee, according to a report by media outlet Madiazona in July.

They refused to do so, and the dean later told them that the banner would remain where it was.

Eight months later, the banner is gone, without explanation.

Mediazona has documented similar cases in the Russian cities of Perm, Yaroslavl and Saint Petersburg.

"I hope that people who read my posts on social networks, and my publications, will also write," said St. Petersburg resident Aleksei Lakhov, who has campaigned against the Mr symbol.

"I think it is important that we use this resistance in silence, because it is one of the least dangerous paths."

On November 17, the leader of the Komi Republic, Vladimir Uiba, complained on his Telegram channel that very few patriotic, pro-war symbols are seen in his region.

"I have ordered all state agencies to support our boys and display these slogans," he wrote.

"Well, the transport companies tell me they can't do that. I ask them, why? 'Someone can break the windows'. This means that our sons are dying, and we are afraid of breaking windows."

Full unanimity?

Given the restrictions on elections and the fact that Russians have been asked to be careful when making public statements, it is difficult to understand the level of public support for the war in Ukraine.

According to the Levada Center in November, 67 percent of Russians said their country is "moving in the right direction," and 85 percent support Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In October, Levada said 76 percent of Russians either "support" or "tend to support" the war, and only 16 percent said they "oppose" or "tend to oppose" it. However, when in October Levada asked the citizens what they mean when they say that Russia is moving in the right direction, only 14 percent mentioned the "special military operation", an expression used by the Kremlin for the war in Ukraine.

In contrast to the former, 45 percent of citizens who said that Russia is moving in the wrong direction, cited the war in Ukraine, and many other aspects as a cause for concern.

Meanwhile, families of mobilized Russian soldiers have stepped up protests within the country in recent weeks.

Another channel on Telegram documents many instances of silent expression of discontent, including anti-war slogans written on coins, or in freshly fallen snow on the ground, or through the vandalism of pro-war posters.

"If banners with the letter Z are placed everywhere and nobody says anything, it means that Zvastika is normal", said the activist from Irkutsk, Palko.

"Well, if someone is fighting for them to leave, and public discussions are started, it means that something is going wrong with the symbols, that there is not complete unanimity."

"This war makes people, who do not accept the war, understand that they are not alone. It pushes others to think"./ Rel

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