A Russian awakening
After several days of tension, clashes and arrests following Russia’s rigged parliamentary election on December 4th, yesterday something unexpectedly good happened. Tens of thousands of middle-class Muscovites held a peaceful rally in the centre of Moscow, the biggest such event since the early 1990s. Astonishingly, there was not a single arrest. Indeed, some of the thousands of policemen and interior-ministry troops showed sympathy for the protestors.
This was an uplifting display of both dignity and indignation. Citizens were riled not only about the electoral fraud, but at being treated as imbeciles by their leader, Vladimir Putin. There was anger at the Kremlin, calls for “Russia without Putin” and against the ruling United Russia party (“the party of thieves and crooks”), but no aggression. The crowd contained not only liberals but also Communists, anarchists and some nationalists. But protestors were almost conspicuously polite towards each other.
Some carried white flowers, which they tried to give to the police. They made jokes. “146% of Muscovites are for free elections” one sign read. Another said: “I did not vote for these bastards. I voted for other bastards. I demand a recount.”
The speakers included liberal politicians, such as Vladimir Ryzhkov and Boris Nemtsov, but also Boris Akunin, a famous writer, and Leonid Parfyonov, a celebrated television journalist. They demanded the immediate release of more than 1,000 political activists arrested during last week’s protests, a full investigation into electoral fraud allegations, a new election, the sacking of Vladimir Churov (head of the electoral commission) and the registration of all opposition parties, not just the ones sanctioned by the Kremlin.
The government is unlikely to meet any of these demands. But the rally has already achieved its most important result: the political awakening of Russia’s urban middle class. Over the past decade these people have devoted their energy to making money, consuming and travelling, allowing Mr Putin to consolidate unprecedented power, eliminate alternative sources of influence and turn television into a tool of propaganda.
But yesterday the protestors showed themselves to be a political force. “We exist! We exist!” they chanted. They were educated and affluent—many of them carried iPads—and were keen to make their voice heard. The protest had been organised on social networks, but yesterday this Facebook crowd turned its virtual agitation into political reality. (via The Economist)