Massive protests usually coincide with tough economic times. We saw it in the Soviet Union. We witnessed it in Tunisia and in Egypt.
So can we use the same explanation as to why tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in Moscow? Not really.
And that, among other things, is what makes this particular situation so unique.
Generally speaking Russians are not inclined to become heavily involved or invested in political matters. They mostly keep to themselves and worry about their own families. They rarely look to political activism as an appealing side job or hobby. So perhaps it was something in the water, because this year was markedly different.
The majority of those who took to the streets to protest Russia’s political system and the December 4th parliamentary elections were not wondering where their next meal was coming from. Most protestors were financially secure and would be considered part of the middle class, if one actually existed in Russia. They were people who had travelled, who read and watched news outside of the Kremlin controlled media, and whose patience was running out as they became more and more disillusioned with the Kremlin’s political antics.
According to Russian News Agency Itar-Tass,
“After polling the people, who came to the Sakharov Avenue, sociologists found out that 70 per cent of the protesters are Liberals by their convictions. They have a higher education, and 25 per cent of them are either owners or managers of some privately owned enterprises.”
Although many of the protestors are expressing their frustration with Vladimir Putin, they are not necessarily just rallying against one man or one event. They have a problem with the whole system. They say it is a system that allows for rampant corruption and very little accountability for those in power who do not abide by the law.
So after nearly a decade of political apathy, why now? There have been elections in the past which many deemed fraudulent, yet we did not see protests of this nature to oppose the results.
Russian writer Boris Akunin, who spoke at the last rally, told TIME magazine that:
“They [Protestors] have been quiet all these years because they were coming of age. But they are adults now. They are smart and vocal, and they have reached a critical mass.”
And that critical mass has a lot to do with opposing this so-called ‘managed democracy’ that the top Kremlinologists have so carefully crafted. Democracy is clearly not a one size fits all concept; however, the whole notion of a democracy managed by a small and very powerful group of people that seem to always remain in power is a contradiction in and of itself.
Though many reporters are quick to label recent events in Russia as the “Russian Spring,” we should not get carried away just yet. In light of the demonstrations Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quick to point out that his boss still enjoys a high approval rating. 51 percent to be exact. Although it is down from the previous month, it is still an impressive number for a world leader.
Russia’s liberals and nationalists, however, hope to further decrease that number. In a surprising twist, the two groups who have been distrustful of each other in the past are coming together to try to rally more support in their fight for democracy.
It is too soon to tell if the protests will continue and if those marching will be able to change the political reality in Russia. One thing is for sure though. The bear has finally awakened.