Russian protest inspired by EU neighbours
The leader of the largest anti-government protest in Russia for almost a decade has said that his region's proximity to EU countries is producing an appetite for political change.
Between 7,000 and 12,000 people held a rally in Kaliningrad on Saturday (30 January), in a demonstration that had initially targeted local tax hikes but which ended in calls for more democracy and for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to resign.
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"We don't get our knowledge about the world here from state television, like people in provincial Russia, but from what we see when we visit our neighbours," the protest organiser, Maksim Doroshok, told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
"We see that in neighbouring Poland, where they brought in reforms, where there is democracy, it's cheaper, people earn more, civic bodies function better. Why should we be any worse? Our region is the most European in the whole [Russian] federation because we know Europe and we know how to fight for our rights."
Mr Doroshok, a 40-year-old electrician and a senior figure in the Solidarnost (Russian for "Solidarity," named after the Polish Solidarnosc trade union) opposition movement in Kaliningrad, highlighted the parallels between himself and Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker from Gdansk in Poland who in the 1980s led Solidarnosc in a struggle against his country's Communist regime.
"There is a different spirit at rule here. There is a wind blowing from your Gdansk," he told the Polish paper.
The weekend protest in the Kalinigrad exclave, a piece of Russian territory surrounded by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, was the largest anti-government demonstration in the country since 2001.
The province, which is home to around 1 million people and a number of military facilities, has been touted by Moscow as a model for potential EU-Russia integration, but suffers from poor living standards and high levels of tuberculosis and HIV.
Mr Putin in 2005 abolished elections for the post of governor and installed a loyalist - lighting components millionaire Georgy Boos - to run Kaliningrad, amid fears that the region was drifting away from central control.
Small-scale pro-democracy protests also took place across Russia over the weekend, with gaggles of demonstrators in Moscow, St Petersburg and Vladivostock calling for reforms.
The main rally, in Moscow, saw police detain 100 out of the 300 or so protestors, newswires report, with senior opposition leader, Boris Nemstov, among those put under arrest.