Russian high school student Roman Shingarkin had some explaining to do when he got home after becoming one of the faces of anti-Kremlin protests at the weekend. His father is a former member of parliament who supports President Vladimir Putin.
At the height of a protest in Moscow on Sunday against what organizers said was official corruption, 17-year-old Shingarkin and another young man climbed onto the top of a lamp-post in the city’s Pushkin Square.
Hundreds of protesters in the square cheered and whistled as a police officer, dressed in riot gear, shinned up the lamp-post and remonstrated with the two to come down. They refused, and the police officer retreated, to jubilation from the protesters down below.
As images of the protests, the biggest in Russia for several years, ricocheted around social media, Shingarkin’s sit-in on top of the lamp-post was adopted by Kremlin opponents as a David-and-Goliath style symbol of defiance.
Shingarkin was eventually detained when, after the protest in Pushkin Square had dispersed, police persuaded him to climb down. He was taken to a police station but as a minor, he could not be charged. From the police station, he had to ring his father to ask to be picked up.
His father, Maxim Shingarkin, was from 2011 until 2016 a lawmaker in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. He was a member of the LDPR party, a nationalist group that on nearly all major issues backs Putin.
Putin last year gave the party’s leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a medal for services to Russia. With Putin standing next to him, Zhirinovsky proclaimed: “God protect the tsar.”
Shingarkin had not told his father he would be going to the protest, but the former lawmaker quickly guessed what had happened.
“When I rang my dad from the police station, he immediately understood why I was there,” Shingarkin, wearing the same blue and black coat he had on during the protest, said in an interview with Reuters TV.
“I went there [to the rally] out of interest to see how strong the opposition is, how many people would take to the streets, and at the same time to get a response from authorities to a clear fact of corruption.”
He decided to climb up the lamp-post because he “could see nothing from the ground.”
Contacted by telephone on Wednesday, Shingarkin senior said he was sympathetic with his son’s motives for attending the protest.
“He has a social position, against corruption, I support it completely,” Maxim Shingarkin said.
But he emphasised that his son’s actions did not mean that he or the family were opponents of Putin.
The Russian leader, Shingarkin senior said, is popular among voters and there is no one to replace him, but he is let down by the officials around him.
Roman Shingarkin said for now he would not attend any more protests unless they were approved by the authorities.
He said he might venture to a non-approved demonstration once he turns 18, because if he gets into trouble then, the police will charge him and not involve his parents.