An international group of protesters has been pointlessly waiting for the arrival of people oppressed by Russia–at Prague airport holding placards. The protesters are reacting to legal actions recently taken by Russia against a well-established Russian human rights society.
Activists stood patiently in the arrivals area of the Prague Vaclav Havel International Airport and waited for hours holding placards displaying the names of “victims of Putin’s Russia.” The activists were completely professional, Otakar van Gemund, one of the main organizers, told The Speaker.
“It is meant ironically,” Gemund told us. “It is probably what the airport staff are going to say to us if some next time they have enough of it and they find out that we are waiting for people who cannot possibly arrive.”
The names displayed on the airport placards were those of Russian, Ukrainian and international victims: Anna Politkovskaya, Flight MH17, Pussy Riot, Natalya Khusainovna Estemirova, Ekaterina Khomenko, Nadezhda Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, Volodymyr Rybak, Reshat Ametov, Eston Kohver, and Oleksiy a Iryna Tyshchuk.
The demonstration was conducted by a group of Czech, Ukrainian, Russian and Dutch activists known as Kaputin–a group associated with oMEN. The group has been organizing the Prague Maidan for the past several months.
Kaputin waited for every Russian flight throughout the day Thursday. The demonstration was a direct action against the Russian government’s attempts to close the Russian historical and civil rights society Memorial.
“Memorial is a legendary organisation borne out of the Russian dissident movement in the middle of the 1980s immediately after Gorbachev started to experiment with Glasnost,” Gemund said. “These very brave dissidents started trying to get access to the secret Soviet archives to document Stalin´s crimes (still in communists times).
“But faced with the mindboggling violence, atrocities and disappearances connected to the first Chechen war, they also felt the need to delve in current abuses of human rights in the former Soviet Union.”
The Russian Justice Ministry has moved to dissolve the established human rights group, citing technical issues related to Memorial’s legal registration. The action was filed Sept. 24 but not publicized until October.
“It is even an international organisation which is active throughout the entire former Soviet Union and beyond,” said Gemund.”But they are extremely brave. One of its founder members, Natalya Khusainovna Estemirova, was even murdered in Chechnia in 2009. She was a friend of Anna Anna Politkovskaya.
“It is the last remnant of civic society in Russia and that is what is basically at stake if they are banned. It may be a remnant but it is a formidable remnant and has always been so. It is one of these rare instances in Russia of real European values and thought.”
In last weeks protest, there were too few participants for all placards to be shown, Gemund told us, but the next pointless wait will involve a larger group. The activists will return to the Prague airport in the near future, although date cannot yet be published.
“It has already roused quite some interest among local Ukrainians–because of the Radio Svoboda item–and Czech intellectuals–because of Adam Drda´s seal of approval–so many more people will be turning up then.
“So far, the Czech media are desperately trying to ignore us, but they have already felt obliged to refer to us several times–not with regard to this protest, though,” said Gemund.
“This will continue up until the moment the airport–though majority state-owned, officially a private entity and, therefore, not public space–will deem it unbearable and throws us out.”
Many more people will “do the same quiet senseless thing,” Gemund said.
The Supreme Court will rule on the Russian Justice Ministry’s motion to liquidate the leading Russian human rights organization on November 13.
By James Haleavy
Photos: Otakar van Gemund