The draw was a Russian rock legend who has challenged the Kremlin and turned a concert on Sunday evening into one of Moscow\’s biggest protests in years.
Yuri Shevchuk, whose subversive lyrics have been in tune with government critics since the Soviet era, sang without a microphone after police barred sound equipment from the site — a reminder of the obstacles faced by Russians demanding change.
Organized to protest highway plans threatening a Moscow-area forest, the concert on Sunday attracted Kremlin foes and environmental activists.
Others came to hear Shevchuk, an advocate for peace and humanity who gained fame as the frontman of the iconic Soviet band DDT in the 1980s. The crowd swelled above 2,000, cheering Kremlin critics who struggle to attract big numbers to rallies.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a leading human rights activist who attended the concert, said it was a sign more and more Russians were willing to demonstrate publicly in defence of their rights.
\”There is a wave of civic activism,\” said Alexeyeva, 82, a dissident in Soviet times who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group.
There is more of this going on than there was even a year ago
She acknowledged it was a far cry from the turbulent era bracketing the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when crowds many times larger filled broader Moscow squares at rallies.
But the three-hour event was a change from the smaller protests held frequently by ardent Kremlin foes and rights activists, and often dispersed swiftly by police.
For Kremlin critics, it offered a hint of what might happen if more Russians — particularly prominent cultural figures like Shevchuk — spoke out against the government or backed causes that clash with the interests of those in power.
But the concert — its soft-spoken star further quieted by the lack of a sound system, singing without a microphone to a tiny fraction of the population — also pointed up the huge challenges faced by opponents of Russia\’s entrenched leadership.
Putin, president during an oil-fuelled boom in 2000-2008, has not ruled out a return to the Kremlin in the 2012 presidential vote, whose winner will serve for six years and can seek a second term. Any alternative will need his stamp of approval.
Putin is still popular after a decade in power and holds levers aimed to discourage public protest, from state control over the main television networks to the police who hemmed in the crowd at the concert on Sunday.
And Shevchuk — despite songs have criticised at the Kremlin\’s wars in Chechnya and warned that \”when the oil runs out, our president will die\” — seems unlikely to become a major linchpin of anti-government protest. He made waves with a face-to-face meeting with Putin in May, telling the prime minister opposition was growing despite the \”strangling\” tactics of police and implying, in a toast, that that Putin\’s Russia is \”a dark, angry, corrupt country.\”
But Shevchuk treaded cautiously in remarks at the concert on Sunday, lamenting lawlessness and blasting \”bureaucrats close to the Kremlin\” but not targeting Putin himself or his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev.