SOCHI, Russia — In the shadows of an elevated highway and in an out-of-the-way park, a hardy band of local Communist Party members staged the first formal protest of the Sochi Olympics.
Miss it? That’s not surprising. About 12 kilometres from the nearest Olympic venue, a handful of curious onlookers, a few mothers pushing young children in carriages, two TV cameras and a sprinkling of uniformed and plainclothes police witnessed Igor Vasiliev, leader of Sochi Communist Party branch and six supporters stage a peaceful rally Saturday.
Russian authorities are allowing public demonstrations during the Olympics, but there’s unlikely to be massed angry mobs of people protesting the kind of issues in Russia that have gained international attention ahead of the Games.
Under the guidelines, all demonstrations and rallies must be staged in the designated zone — at the 50 Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War Park in the coastal neighbourhood of Khosta — and must be pre-approved.
Vasiliev said he applied for his permit on Jan. 27 and got approval for a rally Saturday, six days before the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
The group, wearing red scarves and holding placards, wanted to raise awareness of the plight of so-called Children of the War — Russians born from 1928-45 — and their campaign for public financial aid.
Not even Vasiliev thinks the designated protest zone will get much use — it is bounded by a river on one side, a railway on another, is nestled under the new main Sochi highway and is accessed by a pedestrian path near the end of a dead-end street.
To say it’s tucked away would be an understatement. Some local residents are confused, asking the manager of a nearby children’s amusement park if that is the designated demonstration zone.
"I think this is the wrong place... It was chosen on purpose," Vasiliev said. "I want to underline that the authorities have chosen this place specifically because it’s not a busy place — there are very few people. "
Vasiliev plans to stage rallies at locations closer to the municipal government’s central office after the Olympics, a "place where we can be heard and seen both by the local people and by the authorities, not here when we are seen only by the passing trains."
Kindergarten assistant Yelena Chulkovr was among those walking, by chance, through the designated zone during Saturday’s rally. She said she’d welcome demonstrations by protest groups if they were "acceptably done."
"Why not?" she said. "Everyone has the right to express your opinion."
— The Associated Press