She’s all of 17 years old and on the surface, appears to be just another young woman more interested in boys and pop music than in changing her world.
But on Saturday, young Olga Misic calmly and deliberately defied Vladimir Putin’s riot police during a pro-democracy demonstration by sitting cross-legged on the pavement directly in front of the truncheon-armed cops and read the Russian Constitution.
Naturally, the photo has gone viral and quickly became a symbol of resistance to Putin’s tyranny.
How a teenage girl reading the constitution in front of Putin's riot police became a symbol of Russian resistance https://t.co/Zsn6OoTtI3
— The Independent (@Independent) August 1, 2019
Apparently unsure how to handle such a show of calm audacity, the police hold back.
The image has gone viral across the world, being shared thousands of times, the peaceful defiance central to the photo faintly reminiscent of that present in the the iconic picture of Tiananmen Square’s Tank Man. It is now being used by Russian opposition to rally support in the face of continuing state oppression.
You can watch the video in the link above.
As with other peaceful revolutionaries, Ms. Misic’s reasoning for her heroic act was simple:
“I just wanted to remind them [the police] that we are here with peaceful purposes and without weapons, but they are not,” the high school graduate told the Riga-based Meduza website.
“It never even occurred to me that someone other than them would hear it … I sat on the ground and began to read out our constitutional rights, specifying that what is happening here [police arresting protestors] is illegal.”
And Rosa Parks only sat down in the front of the bus because she was tired after a long day at work.
The similarity to the lone protester in Tiananmen Square facing down a Red Army tank is unavoidable, but the context is dissimilar. By the time that courageous young man stood in front of a tank, the spirit of the protests had been broken when Chinese army troops invaded the square and shot down protesters in cold blood. He may have inspired the world with his act of defiance, but it also inspired the government to become even more oppressive.
Misic’s heroism may have given new life to the pro-democracy movement in Russia.
“Injustice always concerns everyone,” Olga said. “Today the Moscow City Duma, tomorrow the governor of the region, a week later the head of the Resurrection District. It is only a matter of time.
“It is foolish to think that this is a rally only for free elections or the admission of candidates. This is a rally in defence of elementary constitutional rights that would not be questioned in a democratic state.”
Yes, she’s 17 years old.
In the end, her protest may have cost her dearly:
The teenager herself, whose own father is a supporter of Mr Putin, was allowed to walk away after the reading, but was later arrested by police as she walked to a subway station.
“They did not introduce themselves, did not explain the reason and grounds for detention,” she said.
“There was not a rally or a crowd of people in this place. They grabbed my arms and legs and dragged me down the street and through the underpass … I screamed that they were hurting me, but they told me that they knew better.”
She was held until the next day and says she will now appear in court next month charged with attending a public event which was held without filing a notice.
There is possible jail time for her crime. But I wouldn’t miss her trial for the world.