Russia’s Great December Evolution Moves Faster Than The Kremlin?

Posted December 12th, 2011 at 5:27 am (UTC+0)
16 comments

Protesters carry white carnations to signify that the rally is peaceful. White ribbons are the new symbol of Russia's protest movement. VOA Photo: Yuli Weeks

They call it Russia’s Great December Evolution — a peaceful counterpoint to the Great October Revolution of 1917.
Civility, friendliness and unity in disgust with Russia leadership were the hallmarks of Moscow’s mass meeting to protest what was called blatant election fraud.
Nationalists with Czarist flags marched next to Communists, next to aging dissidents — all amidst a sea of seemingly unaffiliated, first time demonstrators. With the exception of the ruling United Russia Party, the whole Russian political soup was there. They stood together in the cold of the first winter snow.
Everyone I approached was happy to openly vent into a VOA microphone.
Anger was high over widespread corruption. Humiliation was clear over the announcement last September by President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin of their choreographed job pirouette. In retrospect, that job swap plan may have been a bridge too far.

A slice of the crowd that gathered Dec. 10 in Moscow to protest alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections. Russians protested alleged vote rigging in cities from the Pacific to the Baltic, a striking show of indignation, challenging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's hold on power. AP Photo:Mikhail Metzel

Igor Khodorov, a 33-year-old employment agency worker, said he had not been to a demonstration since he was a student, in the 1990s. Corruption was on his mind as we marched in the tight crowd across a Moscow River bridge, with the red walls of the Kremlin fading into the snow, and the demonstration site, Swamp Square, nearing in the half light. Massive riot police trucks ground past, but he spoke his mind bluntly:
“The leadership of Russia is so corrupt that stealing millions of votes is no harder for them than picking someone’s pocket in this crowd.”

After a decade, the magic spell of Putinism has been broken for many Russians.
For a decade, Vladimir Putin successfully ran Russia by wrapping himself in the flag of political stability. Stability is deeply desired by many Russians who feel burned by their two 20thcentury revolutions – the rise of Communism in 1917, and the fall of Communism in 1991.
To remind Russians of the benefits of Putin-provided stability, state-run Russia 24 news channel begins every hour with a 60-second round up video of recent street violence from around the world – looters in London, anarchists in Athens, police wrestling with Occupy Wall Streeters in New York.
So, last week, when Russia’s election protests spread like wildfire over the internet, Kremlin Cassandras loudly warned of the worst. When protests hit the streets, police cracked down hard, arresting hundreds. Detainees reported being beaten – before and after being thrown into prison wagons..

Russian police on Revolution Square prepare to channel protesters to a larger protest site, Bolotnaya Polschads, or Swamp Square. Photo: AP

Faced with a mass demonstration called for Saturday, the Kremlin let it go ahead, but only after surrounding protesters with a Hollywood style military operation that seemed designed to contain bomb-throwing anarchists.
Protesters marched between long lines of police. On leaving, everyone walked past a long line of riot policemen wearing Robocop armor. Long lines of gray metal prison trucks waited on side streets.
But, by the end of the day, there had been no violence, no detentions. Not one window was broken. Not one line of graffiti was sprayed.
Across Russia, similar protests were held in dozens of cities. Overwhelmingly, they too were peaceful.
Anton Krasovsky, an NTV political talk show host, posted on his Facebook page: “To all those who were yelling that there would be blood, who hoped for bodies, for provocations, what did you get?”
A Kremlin ideologue once told me that Russians only respond to the red flag and the black flag. In this paternalistic mindset of the Kremlin, Russians do not yet have the political maturity to elect their own mayors and governors. (Unlike the Brazilians and the Indians).
But, in this “Father Knows Best” world view, the children proved themselves on Saturday to be adults. Russia’s fast evolving middle class showed that political protest does not mean tacking a red flag or a black flag to a baseball bat. The new byword is peaceful dissent.

Aleksei Navalny, the most popular opposition leader, sent Saturday’s gathering an address from jail where he is serving a 15-day sentence for resisting police at the first post-election protest, on Monday night.
“Everyone has the single most powerful weapon that we need ― dignity, the feeling of self-respect,” he said. “It’s impossible to beat and arrest hundreds of thousands, millions. We have not even been intimidated. For some time, we were simply convinced that the life of toads and rats, the life of mute cattle, was the only way to win the reward of stability and economic growth. We are not cattle or slaves. We have voices and votes and we have the power to uphold them.”
Building on Saturday’s peaceful rally, organizers now are using social networking sites to organize a second one in Moscow, on Dec. 24. Their goal: 500,000 people.
The terms of Russia’s political debate are changing fast. On Saturday, a popular chant was: “New Year’s Without Putin!”
Now, the world asks this question for Russia’s leaders: Can they evolve fast enough to keep up with their citizenry?

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

16 responses to “Russia’s Great December Evolution Moves Faster Than The Kremlin?”

  1. Shoorick says:

    I am one of those who support this move of “peauceful dissent”. That’s predictable, the people are fed up with all that undisquised impudent outrage upon their fatherland and our infant democracy. We are sick of that repulsive duet with their whole bunch of mirmydons (over with them!:))
    As of Navalny, he’s not a “the most popular opposition leader”, he is more of a denuncietor (if a one may put it so) and the most popular opposition blogger, he’s a lawer. The most popular opposition leaders are Zuganov, Zhirinovsky, and… that puppet of United Russia that dummy Mironov)

    • Olga says:

      @The most popular opposition leaders are Zuganov, Zhirinovsky@

      Just two clowns – I recommend to see the Ural pelmenies’ show “Political debates”, though I’m not sure about the name,- very exactly and very funny)

  2. Gennady says:

    My short answer to the question in the title of the article is “YES”.

    I agree with Shoorick and also support the “peaceful dissent” for I’m fed up with the long lasting debauch that “Party” of villains and swindlers perpetrate in Russia.

    1. The empire Mr. Putin has created having in mind bloody tyrants as his role models isn’t intended for any concessions to subjugated people, to meet their wishes half way.

    2. The one-term Medvedev Presidency was a convenient way to keep Mr Putin in power and in the vicinity of regaining his life-lasting Presidency. All 11 years of execution of Putinism the Kremlin throne wasn’t going to evolve somewhere.

    3. Under the repulsive duet rule my motherland has became the laughing stock of the planet if one chanced to take a closer look at the mockery of functioning of the empty “Duma Parliament” when socio-economic issues were discussed, at deputies voting for absent pals, at the record number billionaires guiding their interests, at ugly economic model by bribes and kick-offs and sluggish economic growth by selling off natural resources.

    4. The Great December Evolution wasn’t initiated by the President who could have suddenly become concerned say by stagnated political development of the country or say who could have suddenly become dissatisfied by the work of the rubberstamping lawmakers or implementation of some socio-economic goals.
    In fact the President was busy keeping the throne warm for the return of the stage-manager by the name of Mr.Putin.
    The President was satisfied with the incompetent and unprofessional government and stagnant economics based on plundering of natural resources, with astronomical number of billionaires, dying out country, crumbling apart healthcare and public education, absence of scientific-technological progress, rampant corruption and lawlessness.

    5. The regime has no strategy how to cope with the mass protests. Its action looks contradictory: a) to arrest 1600 indignant people just for their wish to be heard and b) to admit faults in vote-rigging.
    Just people’s initiative can bring an end to the stealing votes going on in the country.

    6. The funny question: How foreign countries will cooperate with the law-breaking party of villains and swindlers in Russia that by committing electoral crime and stealing millions votes to its favour dominate the Parliament? How about trust among world Parliaments in the future?

  3. Pyotr says:

    Shoorick, I am one of those too as you put it. But I do not agree with you that Zuganov and Zhirinovsky are opposition. They are leaders but not of opposition. Their favorite subject is populism, social and nazi. What kind of opposition gets state support? What kind of opposition always votes as it is said by Putin? What kind of opposition cares about their priviliges? Mironov has just created a more recent clone of the same old traitors’ parties. But it doesn’t make the older ones any better. Now they are just abusing the protest of people to increase the number of seats in Duma and state funding, propped up with the silent consent of Putin. On the other hand Navalny is becoming a true opposition leader. Honest, strong, decisive and courageous, if tomorrow I am to elect the president, I will vote for him, he’s got my credit.

    • Olga says:

      I will not, he’s a nationalist.
      I don’t wish any new tsar to my country.

      • Pyotr says:

        Olga, why do you think that being a nationalist is evil? Besides, when did Navalny say that he is a nationalist?

        • Olga says:

          Pyotr, not an evil, I think it’s rather absence of wisdom, kind of stupidity. How a nationality can play a role? You are a human above all. Even taking into account different national traditions, that may be challenging in common life. Please see The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

          Navalny’s nationalism is mentioned in Wiki, and this with his own citations. He participated in last Russian march.

          I don’t want any main leader and new elite. We need a mechanism to implement the Article 3 of Russian Constitution and people who are able to maintain it successfully. State service must be a normal work, not a possibility to gain super power and wealth.

          • Pyotr says:

            Olga, don’t mix racism and nationalism. That’s what I call stupid and Putin’s brainwashing. I am aware that many racists and nazis are calling themselves nationalists but that’s their problem not of nationalism. Racism(nazism) and democratic nationalism are as far from each other as european modern social-democracies and soviet communism of 20th century. Don’t be too hasty calling something which you don’t want to understand a stupidity. Wiki is not always a reliable source you know. Many prominent people often get very interesting information about themselves from this source. For example, that they are already dead :).
            Do you think The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is violated in the countries like Finland, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Japan and so on? Yet they are all NATIONAL democracies. Besides, you surely know what names have those places where Russians live – oblast(area) or krai(edge), why don’t we still have republics like other nations? Don’t you find it humiliating that yakuts have their statehood and Russians don’t? We are not immigrants here after all. Russians were always used by rulers (tsars, emperors, general secretaries, presidents) to cement the crumbling empires of all kinds which is detrimental for developing of the Russian nation. I hope that this Putin’s empire is the last one. Only after Russians will decide their own destiny and have responsibility only for its own people and not for a hundred more nations we will become a civilized nation. Can’t you see that we are the last empire on this planet? All empires fall apart sooner or later. If we want to save Russian nation we must do it ourselves till we are not assimilated by others. Roman Empire was a greatest one, but where are the Romans now?
            Olga, why are you ashamed of the name of you own people? What’s bad about march being called Russian? I agree many nazists and racists use this to draw attention to themselves. But if more adequate and peiceful people like Navalny would attend to the march, the faster we would be able to create a national self-conciousness and therefore democracy.
            Navalny is offering a low-level model of democracy, he has never even attempted to show that he had any ambitions to usurp the power, on the contrary he is fighting the Putin’s authoritarian system’s corruption and always underlines that the root of it is in “the power vertical” which is the main principle of Putins “manageable democracy”. So don’t judge people if do not know enough about them.

  4. […] jailed blogger Aleksei Navalny, whose LiveJournal blog attracts upward of a million hits a day. As VOA’s James Brooke notes in “Russia Watch“ Navalny has remained a powerful mouthpiece for the growing discontent, first describing United […]

  5. Olga says:

    Pyotr, what do you mean by Putin’s brainwashing and why do you say it to me, a Putin hater as you know?
    Do you think Navalny’s citations in Wiki are fake? He protected the nationalist Demushkin whose white laces mean killed Tadjiks and Jews.
    Did Finland, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Japan ever separate themselves from other nations? I don’t relate this to the separation of the Baltic republics from the Soviet Union.
    It would be interesting to know the plan of the territorial changes. Is it Navalny’s idea? It would be curious to see supposed new borders. I think our friend America would like to see such a small “pure” Russia.
    I hope Romans are still in Rome and Italy. If you believe that all empires fall apart sooner or later, why not to let things go their course?
    The known Russian anti-fascists A. Babourova and S. Markelov were killed in 2009 by nationalists, so the nationalism is not an innocent love to homeland at all.
    I think the nationalism has the main common feature with putinism (and other totalitarism) – it’s
    the bellicose mediocrity. I deeply despise nationalists. They never can be “adequate and peaceful”.

    • Pyotr says:

      Olga, I see that we talk about different things. The “nationalism” you are against is actually a fascism/racism/nazism. These guys are used by Putin against real democratic opposition. They always try to get into the video cameras view with their siegheils and imperial flags on every rally so that the whole country would see that the opposition is a bunch marginals. I despise those too. I talk of nationalists who share some of ideas like these http://ariru.info/pub/242/, though I do not agree with all of them personally, that’s why I do not call myself a nationalist, but I think that this point of view is worth respecting.
      As to the territory, what is the territory to you? You seem to know alot of European countries, are they rich and prosperous because of the vast territories? Obviously not. They are rich because of their people, their skills, their education and culture. Russian people shouldn’t be a police guards of the hundred nations any more. We have enough, we do not want any more empires, we must dedicate ourselves to our children, to their proper upbringing and education, they are our future not the vast territories where nobody of Russians wants to live. Are you ready to send your son (if you have or had one) to die defending some useless border pole thousands miles away, to be hated by both sides, inside and outside the border?
      And, Olga, Romans are no more, their language is dead, their culture had been defiled by barbarians and they were all dissipated and forgotten for almost one and a half millenia. It would be a pity if this would be the Russians’ destiny, wouldn’t it?

  6. Pyotr says:

    One more thing, Olga. I have looked through the Wiki article and I didn’t find anything criminal or racist in the Navalny’s views. As to Dyomushkin, Alexey has only said that he had been a witness of his lawless detention on some rally and that’s all. So I sincerely doubt you read it properly yourself. Navalny never said he is pro violence and totalitarism. Democracy and the nationalism can enhance each other. Besides Navalny’s nationalism is very exaggerated by journalists. So, frumentum a paleis separet.

    • Olga says:

      I have an impression Wiki has been somewhat corrected, there was a section “Nationalist views”. This is not for the first time for me to see corrected article in Wiki, and if so, the matter is much worse.
      I think grain is rotten.

  7. Leonid says:

    Russia a free country and everyone can express their opinions. Opinion protesters – an opinion of protesters , and not the opinion of the people. There will be elections – then we’ll see.

    • Pyotr says:

      There have been “elections” already and people saw that their opinion is not interesting for the corrupted authorities. We saw fraud on poll stations by local and regional election cometees and cheating with absentee ballots and lying of high rank officials including the head the federal election comission, Churov, the premier Putin and denial of the crimes along with the fake concern of the “president” Medvedev. And we surely won’t see anything else on the next elections if people don’t go out now rallying and demonstrating their opinions and their demands of fair and democratic elections.

    • Olga says:

      hello Kremlin propaganda brigade
      these are the protests against election fraud as everyone knows
      free country? for swindlers and thieves, yeah

About

About

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.

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