Khimki: With a packed programme from environment lectures to self defence classes, Russia’s beleaguered opposition is staging its first camp to rival the annual summer get-together of Vladimir Putin’s supporters.
The four-day camp — set up as an alternative to the massive Seliger camp attended by thousands of pro-Kremlin youth group members for the last years — opened yesterday in the Khimki forest outside Moscow.
An eclectic mix of opposition activists and environmentalists pitched tents, led by charismatic campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova who has turned a fight against roadbuilding through the Khimki forest into a high-profile cause.
The atmosphere at AntiSeliger was in complete contrast to the pro-authorities event at Lake Seliger in the northwestern Tver region, which has been attended in the past by Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.
The Yabloko liberal party doled out porridge from a field kitchen, while the speakers at the opening included the shaven-headed leader of the radical Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov, and the head of WWF Russia, Igor Chestin.
The camp came as Russia prepares for parliamentary elections in December and crucial presidential elections in 2012, and activists from Russia’s fragmented opposition said they hoped it would build bridges.
“We understand very well that when we act alone, piecemeal, we achieve far less results, and it is much simpler for the authorities to handle us,” said Udaltsov.
“There are all sorts of groups here, from ecologists to political activists and right activists, whoever. But we all feel that the current political elite is not in power legitimately,” activist Roman Dobrokhotov said to a news agency.
Riot police manned the entrance to the forest with several buses and an armed vehicle, but allowed arriving activists and journalists to pass freely.
Organiser Chirikova expressed her relief at the peaceful start.
Wearing a pin-tucked white top and jeans, Chirikova stood on an improvised stage of plants to list the rules of the camp: tolerance to different political views — and no alcohol. Zeenews