For more than a month, mock graves for Putin have been popping up around Russia. We talked to an activist leader about where they came from.
Since March 2019, members of multiple activist groups in cities around Russia have been putting mock gravestones for President Vladimir Putin in public places. The activists have said that the trend has become a kind of national protest meant to show that “Putin has died in the eyes of Russian citizens.” So far, “headstones” have been spotted in no fewer than seven Russian cities, with Yekaterinburg joining the list most recently on April 21. In two of the cities, the protest movement Agit Rossiya claimed responsibility for the mock graves. Meduza spoke with the movement’s press secretary, Grigory Kudryavtsev, who was accused of installing a headstone in St. Petersburg in early April and spent nine days in jail as a result.
On how Agit Rossiya works
Agit Rossiya was founded by a handful of activists who, like me, were not involved in politics until the 2017 protests. Not many people nowadays are doing agitation in the streets, and we decided to fill that niche. The movement is a society of people of various ages who have various political views. What unites our members is a common desire to fight against dictatorship and totalitarianism, against Putin’s propaganda.
Most of our activists and supporters don’t know one another, and we communicate with each other anonymously. Even when they carry out these projects, many of them continue to be strangers, and they don’t stay in touch after they collaborate. Our activists and supporters are not looking for personal popularity, and most of them act anonymously.
The movement has been working on street protests that highlight major social problems since 2017. One of our most resonant ones was on December 20, 2018. On that day, Vladimir Putin had his [annual] press conference, and our activists put up banners in St. Petersburg with portraits of Putin and Medvedev alongside a list of the real “presents” they gave Russian citizens for New Year’s: a tax increase, raising the retirement age, higher housing tariffs. After that, more like-minded people started joining Agit Rossiya in various cities, and now, we’re actively growing.
The movement tries to put out public projects as often as we can, but that’s not always possible because our activists are monitored. We’ve seen increased attention lately from police and from the Center for Combating Extremism [since the mock graves began to appear].
On where “Putin’s gravestones” came from
The first headstone appeared in Naberezhnye Chelny [in protest of new limits on Internet freedom], the second was in Moscow, and the third was in Berlin. Essentially, the trend started with Moscow, where the grave was set up by members of the Bessrochny Protest [Permanent Protest] movement. Agit Rossiya, as a source of information about street-based agitation, posted about the project.
The movement itself also couldn’t have been the source of the entire trend. The fourth mock grave was installed by one of the movement’s activists in Kurgan. The fifth was done by an activist in Petersburg. That ‘grave’ appeared on April 3 across from St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and that particular one got a lot of publicity. The activist said that version of ‘Putin’s grave’ was meant to protest all the laws that act against our people, the constant lying, and the government’s heinous leadership: Putin has died in the eyes of Russian citizens.
On his own arrest
I didn’t participate in the [Petersburg] protest, and I didn’t even know the activist who put up the ‘headstone’ personally. I just got an anonymous message about it, and I hadn’t spoken with the activist before then. But I was arrested. The grave was publicized on April 3 at 9:00 AM, and on the same day, when I was talking to journalists about the protest, a group of strangers in uniform started knocking on my door. I didn’t open it, and they started standing guard under my windows. In the evening, they started knocking on my door again. In the evening, I decided to escape my apartment because I didn’t know who these people were or what they might do. Other activists helped me leave. But the next day, when I was staying with my new acquaintance [and Bessrochny Protest activist] Andrey Zheksimbayev, who had helped me get out of my apartment, I was arrested. Andrey was arrested too.
I was charged with organizing the protest even though the evidence couldn’t even prove that I participated in it. They also said I “sought out” Andrey to put up the headstone. In reality, I didn’t even know the activist who did it, let alone Andrey. Right before the official part of the hearing, the judge told me, “We won’t give you any more warnings — we’re going to give it to you straight. Leave this country.”
The psychological pressure continued in the special holding area where they were keeping me. For two days in a row, during walks, [decoy prisoners] told me that if I kept on with my activism, someone would plant drugs on me, and I would be charged with a crime and go to jail. It’s possible that the people who said that to me were working for the Center for Combating Extremism or just people who were sympathetic to Center E. But Agit Rossiya isn’t an extremist society or a radical group. We’re not considering the possibility that one of our members might face a fabricated criminal case.
Since I did my time, I’ve been noticing every once in a while that people in uniform are following me. For example, on Saturday, April 20, I got home late with an acquaintance. There were three of them standing guard near the entranceway. One of them ran into the entrance and got into the elevator with us. When he got in, he pressed a random button — it was obvious. The rest stayed outside and stood there for a few more hours. But these kinds of attempts at psychological pressure don’t worry me as much as direct threats. What measures like these do is show how helpless the government is.
Translation by Hilah Kohen