Archive for February 2017
“We will come back again” – that was one of the most frequently repeated chants during Bolotnaya protests of 2011 and 2012. People who manned them at the time stay true to their promise.
Today, thousands of Muscovites marched again to commemorate their fallen hero, Boris Nemtsov. As many before it, today’s procession was impressive if average sized, very calm and disciplined. Some people chanted: “Who killed Nemtsov? Putin!”. Others shouted: “Putin is war”. But most walked quietly.
There were many Russian national flags and also some Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar insignia, as people showed solidarity with the neighbours’ struggle against common enemy. Among them, a lonely EU flag felt like an embodiment of 1968 slogan: “Be realist, demand the impossible”.
It was certainly not a march of revolutionaries, but rather of people who are in for a long game, who realise that they are a minority, but they have enough dignity and hope to gather once in a while and show they are still around and there are still many of them.
It is also the minority the Kremlin is most scared off. Putin’s political operatives have managed to co-opt most of the right- and left-wing electorate, but it has consistently failed to tame people who are capable of critical thinking and free from ideological blindfolds.
The ongoing self-inflicted demise of Western liberal democracies is having an interesting impact on Russian politics. A more confident and less paranoid Kremlin can allow itself a certain grade of liberalisation (a “homeopathic thaw”, as Gleb Pavlovsky put it). Russia is not really back into Medvedev-era mode, but Putin’s trademark pinpoint terror is giving way to attempts by his new chief political strategist, Sergey Kiriyenko, to build a broader pro-Kremlin coalition and ensure Putin’s win in something more closely resembling a real democratic election in 2018.
As ever, the protesters were markedly more well-off and less radical than Maidan crowd in Kiev in 2013. Like all Russians, they gained a lot in the last 15 years in terms of wealth and personal freedom associated with it. They don’t want to squander it all in a revolutionary chaos. Instead, they are prepared to wait until tectonic cultural shifts that proceed under the ghastly film of authoritarian politics will lead to a real transformation of institutions and politics in Russia.