As part of her series “Body of Protest,” Polina Soyref staged her model, staring into the camera, to embody the vulnerability and insecurity of peaceful protestors in Russia.
According to Freedom House, Russia is “not free” – opposition parties face substantial obstacles, and their leaders are often targeted by harassment campaigns, smeared as foreign agents, or unjustly detained. The state owns the majority of Russian media, and journalists working for opposition-led media are targets for law enforcement. Russia has adopted vague and wide-reaching laws that give law enforcement significant powers in arresting journalists and raiding their homes and offices.
Russia has seen many civil demonstrations over the last 10 years, largely in support of greater political freedom and free speech. The government has a strong grip on the country and demonstrations against the regime are not well-tolerated. Despite the risks, many Russians are growing increasingly discontented with growing corruption and narrowing freedoms, and they continue to speak in opposition to the government.
From July-September 2019, a series of protests throughout the country were sparked by allegations of political misconduct, with protestors calling for fair local elections. At one protest in Moscow, leaders of the movement – including opposition candidates – were arrested and detained, and four protestors required hospitalization after being brutally beaten. Over the course of these demonstrations in 2019, more than 2,000 protesters were detained. Police targeted journalists in the crackdown; four were reportedly physically attacked, and 14 were detained.
Soyref’s photo reflects on the physical experience of taking part in these events, shocked that Russia has allowed excessive force by law enforcement to become normalized. But her photo recognizes the protestors who stand up for their rights: “it is our body that has to bear the consequences. We may feel excitement, pride, or anger, but there are more physical things – cold, fatigue, pain. The body might be more afraid than the mind. It turns out that the only way we can answer violence is by putting our body against it. We go to a protest knowing that for the body it can have any consequences, but we still go and we discover power in both the vulnerability and the fearlessness.”