Dozens of Russian artists with brooms in hand carted their most expressive works across the boulevards of Moscow on Saturday in a show of exasperation at Vladimir Putin’s return to a third Kremlin term.
Several thousand Muscovites joined them in a second such intellectual walk in a week. More than 10,000 had supported a group of writers last weekend on a quiet stroll along the very same streets.
“I got a call from the authorities” with a request to cut the walk short, said organiser and former Sakharov Museum director Yury Samodurov.
“But I refused,” he told the Interfax news agency.
Russia’s nascent protest movement is busy seeking new strategies to maintain its relevance under Putin’s new term while at the same time avoiding the violent confrontations with police that have estranged them from some supporters.
Putin has already shown he intends to give no quarter by naming a once-unheralded tank plant worker who threatened to beat up Moscow protesters on state TV as his official envoy to the Urals.
Police for their part have been making dozens of daily detentions for most of the past week as they disperse young activists from squares and other gathering places they had been trying to use for Occupy-style sit-ins.
Some protest leaders such as the whistleblower Alexei Navalny are completing 15-day jail terms while the Kremlin-controlled parliament is planning to radically raise fines for shows of civil disobedience and unapproved rallies.
But continuing street confrontations in many ways suit neither side.
The Russian authorities would prefer to avoid inflaming tensions with the West at the very start of Putin’s new presidency while his opponents are keen to be viewed as the voice of a silent majority rather than the radical few.
And both sides seem willing to accept the country’s writers and artists — put on pedestals by Russian society since tsarist era — as a suitable form of expression of mild criticism.
The 25 or so of Moscow’s more well-known contemporary artists who organised Saturday’s event were careful not to mention Putin directly at any point in the past week.
Samodurov said simply that the march gave artists a chance to “express visually and not in words their anger at today’s developments.”
No violence was witnessed or reported at the heavily-policed event while city official proclaimed it an artistic success.
“I do not see any political subtext here,” Moscow city culture department chief Sergei Kaprokov told Russian news agencies.
Some of the more eye-catching works on display Saturday included a black grand piano being played by a young artists as he rolled on a cart through a crowd that witnesses estimated at 3,000 people.
Another man pushed a bed frame put together with barbed wire instead of mattress strings while a third showed up inside a white cardboard tank.
Sporadic arrests however continued in other parts of Moscow as riot police chased small groups of protesters from one location to another while refusing to let them settle down for a sit-down strike.
News reports said officers detained about 30 people in separate incidents before releasing them with various warnings.
But pro-Putin lawmakers have betrayed signs of irritation at the protesters who were seemingly unbowed by these brief arrests.
The lower house of parliament intends on Tuesday to fast-track a new bill boosting the illegal protest fine on individuals to one million rubles ($32,000) from 5,000 ($160) today.