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Photo: Ivan Krupchik

Toy Protest — Russia

by Jonah Goodman

In January 2012, disgruntled citizens of Barnaul, Siberia, took to the streets to demonstrate against disputed elections and the continued hegemony of President Vladimir Putin. Public meetings in Russia are illegal without official permission, however, and Barnaul’s protestors had been repeatedly denied permission for their rally. Pushing the law to its limits, they copied a tactic that had been used one month earlier, 3,000 km (1,860 mi) away in the town of Apatity, Murmansk. Forbidden to demonstrate themselves, they placed their placards in the hands of toys. Arrayed in the snow outside the town hall, little plastic dinosaurs stood with Kinder Surprise figurines, Lego men, and a cuddly plush badger, all carrying messages like ‘A thief should sit in jail, not in the Kremlin’. To the amusement of onlookers, police with clipboards took notes on each tiny dissident. Less amusingly, prosecutors ruled in February that the toys were not allowed to hold public meetings. ‘Toys’, according to the official statement, ‘especially imported toys, are not only not citizens of Russia, they are not even people.’

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