Thousands of protesters defied freezing weather to march through central Moscow today as a law banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens reinvigorated the opposition movement.
The rally, called the “March Against Scum,” follows a year of protests against President Vladimir Putin that began after disputed parliamentary elections in December 2011. More than 50,000 people joined the march, opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Ilya Yashin said in postings on Twitter Inc. The Moscow police estimated as many as 9,500 people had participated before dispersing at about 4 p.m., according to their website.
Russia passed legislation last month barring U.S. adoptions in retaliation for American sanctions over the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who’d sought to expose corruption among Interior Ministry officers. Putin signed it into law on Dec. 28. Protesters called for Russia’s parliament to be disbanded.
“Nobody cares for these children, and no one needs them,” said Liza Kulkova, 71, a pensioner from Klin, Russia, who volunteers at an orphanage. “This is my first protest, and I don’t think it will make a difference but I came anyway. These kids are a living tragedy, and it’s outrageous to use them for a political end.”
Protesters filled the stretch from Strastnoy Boulevard to Trubnaya Square, which runs about a kilometer, according to photographs and accounts posted by attendees on Twitter and Facebook Inc. pages. Police removed one person dressed as a bear from the march.
People carried posters with the word “Shame” written across photographs of politicians who supported the ban, while a large banner urged the dismissal of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the president is aware of the protest, while calls to dissolve parliament aren’t constructive, Interfax reported. Russia is streamlining procedures for its own citizens to adopt children and passing laws to improve orphans’ lives, the news service said, citing Peskov.
United Russia’s Ekaterina Lakhova, the deputy head of the State Duma’s social and religious organizations committee, said “not many people” showed up at the protest, according to the ruling party’s website after she spoke on the Echo Moskvy radio station.
“They don’t hear the government’s voice and are gathering not to defend children’s rights but to support American business,” Lakhova said.
United Russia members have accused opponents of the adoption legislation, called the Dima Yakovlev Law, after a Russian boy who died in the U.S. in 2008 after being left in a car on a hot day, of being unpatriotic.
“All enemies of Russian sovereignty have come out as passionate supporters of American adoption,” Andrei Isayev, deputy secretary of the party’s general council, said in an article posted on United Russia’s website on Jan. 11, which called the movement the “March of the Child-Sellers.”
Russia is under no obligation to allow adoptions by U.S. citizens to proceed under a treaty between the two nations after the ban took effect at the start of the year, the Foreign Ministry said Jan. 11.
Families will be able to take home Russian children where a court has already approved the adoptions, while other proceedings will be halted, Peskov said in an interview on Dozhd TV the same day.
Russian authorities say that 46 children had been cleared for adoption before the ban took effect. About 500 to 1,000 U.S. families are in various stages in the process of adopting Russian children, according to the U.S. State Department.
“Unfortunately, this meeting may make things worse, because it’s like waving a red flag at a bull,” said Anya Borzenko, a 56-year-old teacher, mother of six children and grandmother of nine. “But we couldn’t stay away because the life given to these children shouldn’t be destroyed, because these children are dying in our institutions and orphanages.”