Monday, December 12, 2011

The voices of protest against Vladimir Putin are growing

The Russian people -- at least for now -- have found their voice. And they are letting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and to a lesser extent President Dmitri Medvedev know they are not happy.

Their protests in recent days gathered international attention in part because of how rare they were. And as the Globe and Mail reports, they might not stop.

Moscow’s streets – normally bustling with everything but politics – are set to see a flurry of rallies between now and the opposition’s Dec. 24 deadline for a new election date to be set. The opposition also wants to see Vladimir Churlov, chairman of the country’s Central Elections Commission, fired and replaced. He is accused of overseeing systemic fraud, including ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation and barring all but a handful of officially approved parties from taking part.
The opposition’s demands come on the heels of a breakthrough protest Saturday that saw tens of thousands of people from across the political spectrum gather peacefully within sight of the Kremlin walls to demand new elections. While the crowd was largely young and middle class and organized primarily via Facebook, flags representing liberal democratic and social democratic parties, as well as hard-right nationalists, hard-left communists and a handful of anarchists, were all raised, speaking to the internal divisions that were not quite put aside for the day.
Outside the country, the concerns about Putin also are being heard. And the man delivering those words is no stranger to getting under the skin of authoritarian rulers. CzechPosition.com notes that Vaclav Havel spared few words in his criticism of what is happening in Russia.
Havel has described the current Russian regime as the harshest of all known forms of post-communist political systems, calling it a “specific combination of old stereo types and a new business-mafia environment.” He views the current developments in Russia as resembling more the events in the communist bloc in 1989–1990, than the Arab Spring, and says the most important thing now is to convince Russia’s citizens that the current regime, which presents itself as democratic, is in fact not democratic at all.
Within Russia, the people who are getting that message might surprise you. The New York Times notes that many of the protesters are in fact people who have benefited from Putin's authoritarianism.

As to whether the protests will lead to real change, we must rely on time to tell us that. But that need to wait doesn't mean there won't be people prepared to foster change. At least one person already has indicated he will challenge Mr. Putin in next year's presidential race


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