COMMENTARY | The U.K. Telegraph is covering massive demonstrations that have been ongoing against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is expected to run for President of Russia next year. The protests are the largest held in Russia in 20 years.
The protests were sparked by stories of massive voter fraud that many Russians believe took place during the recent parliamentary elections designed to boost the majority of Putin’s United Russia Party. United Russia sustained huge losses during the election, according to CNN, but managed to maintain a majority in the Duma, the Russian parliament.
The fact that tens of thousands of Russians are in the streets of cities from Archangel in the west to Vladivostok in the east suggests a number of things.
First of all, the Russian people retain a taste for democracy, hard won after the fall of the Soviet Empire. These kinds of massive demonstrations against a ruling government would have been unheard of during the days of the Soviet Union. Putin himself recognizes this fact, as he has ruefully said that the Russian people have the right to peacefully assemble. During the old days, when Putin was a rising officer in the KGB, such demonstrations, were they to occur at all, would have been greeted with troops and tanks, much like the Chinese dealt with their protestors in Tiananmen Square.
Second, it seems that Putin has overstayed his welcome among a large number of Russians. Putin had exuded an air of strength, which was welcomed at first by Russians after the relative chaos of the Boris Yeltsin years. Putin encouraged this image by having himself photographed riding bare-chested on a horse and participating in martial arts.
But Putin has acted in a high handed fashion, at times, crushing his opposition, and even have people who opposed him killed. While rulers like Stalin and Brezhnev were able to get away with this sort of thing, Putin seems to have caused a backlash.
It had been a cliché that Russians, when faced with a choice between instability and tyranny, will always choose the latter. The most celebrated Czars, such as Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, ruled with an iron fist. But the demonstrations have proven that something new has arisen in Russia. Many Russians want a third way, democracy that is free of corruption and authoritarianism. It is a development most to be welcomed.
Sources: Russian protests: live, UK Telegraph, Dec 10, 2011
“Putin Out,” Russian protesters chant, CNN, Dec 10, 2011