Ben Hopkins, BBC news, Petrozavodsk... take a look!
A Russian Spring? Don’t count on it. And indeed, even comparing what happened in Russia today with what has happened and is happening in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen is unhelpful. Almost nobody here is calling for a revolution. Very few want Putin to step down. He would almost certainly win next year’s elections even if state control of the media was ended, all parties were allowed to participate and votes were not falsified, which is exactly what protesters today were asking for. Chestnie vibori, narodnie prava they cried in Petrozavodsk today. “Honest elections. Rights for the people!” And that is all they want.
Russians have had enough of revolutions. It is a dirty word here - ‘revolutionaries’ are about as popular here as anarchists are in the UK. Many believe that honest elections are the best medicine to fix society without another damaging revolution. I think they are right.
There were maybe 300 people at the protest in Petrozavodsk today (when I left after an hour or so). Significantly fewer than the 1000 who pledged to attend on vKontakte, Russia’s very own Facebook (which, incidentally, grants users free access to pretty much any film or song you can name… legal? This is Russia…), but still more than have taken to the streets here in recent memory. The group congregated on “Lenin Prospect”, outside the government building. Communists waved red flags, Anarchists waved black flags, and supporters of Fair Russia, a social democratic party wore yellow coats. Despite the crowd being made up of such a diverse range of people, it was very calm and all seemed united in their goal - fair elections. It was also interesting to see people of all ages there, not least my 75 year old host Tamara who, when I told her about the protest said - “Well, let’s go”, holding a clenched fist in the air! She even joined in briefly with one of the chants!
|Tamara, my host, with the anarchists.|
The police were almost redundant - protesters themselves made sure that a path was kept clear through the protests for pedestrians, and there wasn’t a hint of violence. In fact, most people didn’t even want to shout, and the chanting was largely left to the hard core Communists and Anarchists who are presumably more used to protesting. The rest seemed unsure what to do - it’s such a new thing for them - but they were determined to be there and make their presence felt. If protests continue (and there are plans for another next Sunday), no doubt people will work out what to do!
This scene, of peaceful protesters, monitored by a heavy police presence, demanding free, fair elections, was repeated across Russia today, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. In Moscow over 30 000 took part in the biggest rally since 1991. Encouragingly, apart from a few scuffles in St Petersburg, all the protests passed without incident. The protesters are well aware that Putin’s party machine are ready to jump at any opportunity to portray the protesters as violent ‘revolutionaries‘ determined to de-stabilise Russia, which would make most Russians turn against them. And so they behaved impeccably, even the anarchists!
But will it make any difference? Most Russians are skeptical. When a country has been plagued by corruption for hundreds of years it’s hard for anyone to believe things will change just because a few thousand people take to the streets. Indeed, I don’t expect this movement to force United Russia from power any time soon. I certainly don’t think there will be a ‘revolution’, and I remain 99% sure that Putin will still win presidential elections in March. However, this is something new and I believe that it will make an impact. It was interesting that all the protest meetings today were permitted to take place - and if such meetings continue and grow larger, then pressure will inevitably build on the ruling party to make next year’s Presidential elections fairer and more open than the Parliamentary ones which took place last week. It won’t be enough to force Putin from power - most Russians still can’t imagine another leader, but in 2018, in largely free and fair elections, maybe Russia, for the first time ever, will see power transferred without a revolution. That is a dream worth taking to the streets for.
Some video of the protests. They are demanding honest elections.
|One of the police's few actions was to insist on a change to this sign...|
|"A Recount won't make the elections fairer"|
|Give us our votes back!|