Russia’s Democratic Winter

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This is not how the New Year was supposed to begin for Vladimir Putin. The official script was clear enough. After presiding over his United Russia party’s now-routine rigging of the December 4th parliamentary elections, Putin was supposed to sail to victory in the coming March presidential race, resuming the office that he never truly relinquished to his longtime deputy, Dmitry Medvedev, while a passive Russian public looked on. But that script, so familiar in recent years, has been rejected by an unlikely source: a fed-up and suddenly politically conscious Russian middle class.

Anger at Putin has been simmering ever since his September announcement that he would be swapping jobs with Medvedev in a pre-agreed deal, a brazen admission than made a mockery of what remained of Russia’s damaged democratic process. The more immediate source of the public’s outrage is the December 4th parliamentary elections, which saw United Russia triumph in its usual style, complete with widespread fraud and ballot stuffing, but without its usual mandate. That Putin’s party failed to capture its standard majority was unexpected. But arguably more shocking has been the post-election surge of civic participation in a country that was written off as apolitical and even indifferent to the dissolution of civil liberties and the rule of law during Putin’s 12-year reign.

If the events of the past few weeks have proven anything, it’s that this view of the Russian public requires reassessment. On December 10th, some 60,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across the country poured out into the streets in a display of anti-government protest unprecedented in recent Russian history. Demanding a “Russia without Putin!” they called for the annulment of the elections and a new vote.  Putin’s initial response was to dismiss the demonstrators’ concerns and to portray them as puppets of foreign powers. That had the unintended effect of galvanizing the protestors, who again took to the streets on December 24th, this time with as many as 120,000 people in Moscow alone. The message rang loud and clear: Russians were angry and they weren’t willing to stay silent.

Russia’s budding protest movement underscores several important changes inside the country. The first is the emergence of a politically active middle class. This has come as something of a revelation. For much of the Putin era, it was assumed, not least by Putin himself, that Russians didn’t particularly care about politics. What Russia’s middle class wanted was political stability and rising living standards. But the new generation wants more. The mostly young, urban professionals who have made up the recent protests are not content with stability at the expense of democracy and they chafe at the government’s blatant corruption. “We’ve been assured for decades that we are sheep,” says Ilya Yashin, the leader of the liberal democratic Solidarnost movement. But “we have shown the whole country, the whole world, that we are a free and proud people.”

Indeed, defiance has been the dominant attitude of the protests. After Putin mockingly likened the protestors’ white solidarity ribbons to condoms, they responded at the most recent demonstration by waving condoms like balloons. Their signs have been scathing, branding United Russia as the “party of crooks and thieves,” the phrase coined by the popular opposition activist and blogger Alexei Navalny. And their demands have been uncompromising, best captured by the movement’s emerging slogan: “Not a single vote for Putin!”

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  • Jim

    I listen to The Glazov show on this site. The comments made were that the demonstrations were big but mainly a city affair and thus small per the population of Russia. The protestors claimed Putin stuffed the ballot box. If so he did a bad job of it ; his party actually lost votes. The communists gained. The Communists are said to be devoutly anti Semitic. Further more the country side people are beginning to post pictures of Stalin in their homes.

    Putin is much preferable to Yeltsin and the Harvard boys.and according to Prager
    Putin is far from anti Semitic

    • Stan Lee

      That's true. The Russian population is presently about 143,000,000 which for the most part is concentrated west of the Ural Mountains. Russia is vast, a country with 11 time zones from the Belarus border in the west, to Vladivostok in the east.
      Putin did get a big surprise, before this, ballot-cheating wasn't so inflamatory, Russians just acquiesced as they've always done.
      But, they have no foundation for democratic government, only central, unforgiving, leaders.
      There are more Putin-types, not friendly to Putin, waiting in the wings. 'Sad for Russian people that their leadership is so intent on absolute power. There is a deep pathology of Jew-hate in that country, not all people, but enough to make it evident. Russia has approx. 12% Muslims also.

  • Stan Lee

    While there are protestors against Putin, two major protesting groups are both wrestling for control to oust Putin and one of them to assume leadership. One group represents itself by displaying "red,"for Communist, the other displays "yellow, white and black," for the group of fascists which mimics the "Heil" salute of the WW2 Nazis. THere are other protestors too, but they were for democracy and consequently at the rear of the crowd.
    Both large groups are Jew-haters, Jews being a centuries-old scapegoat in Russia regardless of politics.Russian Jews amount to about 1/2 of 1% of the population, which is around 143 million. Whether Putin is also anti-Jewish is questionable. He certainly favors assistance to Islamic regimes that are dedicated Jew-haters.
    I don't use the word "antisemite" anymore because Arabs are also known to be Semites, and that confuses the situation. Maybe that word "antisemite" sounds "PC," but liberals seem to require "PC" to an extreme degree and want everything "sugar-coated" to obscure the real meaning of words. Anyway, it is what it is.

  • Stan Lee

    Two colors have been displayed at these demonstrations; red, for the Communists and yellow, white and black for those who actually mimic the Nazi salute. These two conflicting movements were stationed at the front of the demonstrations. Other Russian demonstrators, unaffiliated with the two aforementioned groups, were at the back of the crowd. They couldn't get any closer, but they also were there.
    Usually, in Russia, political demonstrations require registration of demonstrators, I don't know if this requirement was enforced. Lord knows that Russia has plenty of enforcement boots on the ground!
    Both of the two dominant parties are anti-Jewish, the Jewish minority in Russia may amount to less than 1/2 of 1%. I wonder how Dennis knows that Putin is not a Jew-hater? I do know for certain that Putin

  • tanstaafl

    "Not a single vote for Putin!"

    I wish we could say the same about our own commissar.

  • DeShawn

    Yeah you can blame Mr. Putin all you want. But the TRUTH is that he's had to do a lot of what he's done to stop the jewish oligarchs from continuing to ruin Russia ( Yes, once again, there's a jew in the woodpile. You jews have done quite a number on that country. Like murdering 60 million Russians under judeo-bolshevism. Wherever you people go, destruction follows. Why don't you just take responsibility for once?

    • mrbean

      It, he is most full with, sayeth Master Yoda.

    • reader

      For once? I thought, the Jews always take responsibility for everything. Interesting, but the first and the most Jewish Bolshevik government – the Sovnarkom of 1917 – contained 16 members, of which just one (Trotsky/Bronshtein) may have been ethnically Jewish (actually, there is a genealogy research out there claiming Trotsky to be given away for adoption as an eligitimate child from Rayevsky/Pushkin bloodline). So, why don't you Jews take responsibility for being Communists, Capitalists, Bankers, Lawyers, etc, etc, – all at the same time?