We Are Here With Peaceful Purposes...But They Are Not

Olga reads the Constitution. Photo by Alexei Abanin

A salute to the bravery of 17-year-old Olga Misik of Moscow, who during last weekend's bloody protests for free city elections sat on the ground in her bulletproof vest before Putin's armed-to-the-teeth goons and calmly read aloud the Russian Constitution, including Article 31 affirming the right to peaceful political assembly. In reportedly the largest protests in years, Misik was one of thousands of largely young people rallying against the banning of several opposition politicians from September’s Moscow City Duma elections. Because many view the city as a microcosm of bigger problems, demonstrators also called for greater political freedom across a country of rigged elections and widespread repression. Armed and helmeted riot police responded with force, beating with batons, brutally dragging away and arresting over 1,000 people as crowds chanted, "Fascists!", "We are unarmed," and "Our blood is on your hands."

Amidst the chaos, Misik sat down before an army of often-baby-faced thugs and began to read from the Constitution. In her stillness, she offered a potent visual of quiet resistance reminiscent of  Tiananmen Square’s Tank Man, serene lone Black Lives activist Ieshia Evans in Baton Rouge, and a small defiant Greta Thunberg at climate protests. She wanted to remind police, Misik explained later, "we are here with peaceful purposes and without weapons, but they are not.” She added that "what is happening here (the many arrests) is illegal.” Misik herself, whose father supports Putin, was allowed to walk away after the protest, but was arrested - with no bystanders present - as she walked to a subway station. Police "grabbed my arms and legs and dragged me down the street," she said. "I screamed that they were hurting me, but they told me that they knew better.” She was held overnight and reportedly beaten before being charged, like many others, with "attending a public event (held) without filing a notice" and fomenting "mass unrest." Aka democracy.

“Injustice always concerns everyone," said Misik, who for her tender age takes a remarkably long view of repression. "Today the Moscow City Duma, tomorrow the governor of the region, a week later the head of the Resurrection District. It is only a matter of time. It is foolish to think that this is a rally only for free elections or the admission of candidates. This is a rally in defense of elementary constitutional rights that would not be questioned in a democratic state.”

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Listening to Olga. Photo by Valery Sharifulin/TASS/via Getty Images

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