For weeks, hordes of demonstrators and democracy activists have presented an awkward challenge to authorities in the Russian city of Barnaul, who have been uncertain of what legal mechanisms are available to help them disperse the protests.
Now city leaders have found a solution: The protesters are not allowed to hold rallies in Barnaul because they are not citizens of Russia. In fact, they aren't even human - they're toys.
In late January, a collection of toys, from teddy bears to Lego men to action figures, were assembled into a public display, waving tiny placards featuring messages such as "I'm for clean elections" and "A thief should sit in jail, not in the Kremlin."
The display came about in response to Barnaul's earlier refusal to grant approval to planned rallies calling for more democratic accountability in Russia. There have been more and more such protests in Russia since parliamentary elections last December that were widely seen to have been fraudulent. Next month will see more elections, in which current prime minister Vladimir Putin hopes to return to the presidency.
While police had pressured members of Voina, the arts collective behind the display, to take it down, authorities had not yet forced the issue. Now, however, they have made clear that no more such events can take place: The Guardian newspaper is reporting that an application for another rally, this time featuring 100 Kinder Surprise toys, 100 Lego people, 20 model soldiers, 15 soft toys and 10 toy cars has been rejected because the toys are not "citizens of Russia."
The Guardian quotes Andrei Lyapunov, a spokesman for the city of Barnaul, as saying "toys, especially imported toys, are not only not citizens of Russia but they are not even people."
"It is possible that the people who have applied are inspired by their toys ... and consider them their friends but the law unfortunately has a different point of view," he said. "Neither toys nor, for example, flags, plates or domestic appliances can take part in a meeting."
Here are some images from Barnaul's toy protests:
Photograph: Ivan Krupchik
via Al Jazeera
Photograph: Sergey Teplyakov/Vkontakte
Related Stories on Strombo.com: