Despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991 and the emergence of a democratic regime under Yeltsin, the recent Duma election held this past Sunday have illustrated the manipulation and corruption still evident in the post-Soviet era.
As the protesters take to the streets in the form an occupy movement, the secrecy and intrigue of Putin’s historic rise demonstrates the manipulation democracy, a dictated form of democracy, that has been implemented under the dominant party, United Russia. For instance, in the Second Chechen War in 1999, Yeltsin was able to manipulate public fervor in support of Putin through the use of Rally-Around-The-Flag effect, symbolizing the concepts of nationalism and strength through Putin and against the Chechen. The events that led to Putin’s success were at the cost of several hundred Russia civilian lives during a series of apartment building bombings, that were to be believed as committed by Chechen rebel but more widely to believed as a Russian government sponsored act. The result was a short and victorious war to escalate the support and confidence behind the propaganda advocating Putin for Presidency. Putin became acting President in December 1999, won the 2000 election and was also re-elected for a 2nd term lasting until May 2008. Because of constitutionally mandated limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a 3rd presidential term; instead he was nominated Prime Minister by Medvedev. Many believe Putin held the reigns of power and Medvedev serve more so a symbolic purpose. Nevertheless, Putin’s popularity hinged on economic recovery. Along with criticisms by the West and opposition parties, the 2008 global fiscal crisis perpetuated growing animosity of the public against Putin’s prolonged reign of power.
“This time we are seeing a lot more heroes who are standing up to the pressure. The idea that United Russia is an unstoppable force doesn’t control peoples’ minds anymore.” – Ivan Melnikov, Communist Party chairman
Moreover, the increasing activism of the public has been made evident after Sunday’s national vote, which resulted with United Russia still winning a majority of votes, just short of 50%, but significantly less from its previous 65%. Nonetheless, demonstrators have been protesting against what many believe as electoral fraud. Up to 10,000 protesters converged on the downtown Chirtye Prudhi metro station attempting to march to the Kremlin but were intercepted by security forces, who then detained 300 protesters, many of which were subsequently handed a 15-day prison sentence. Opponents of Putin did not yield though, on Tuesday evening, hundreds more confronted thousands of heavily armed riot police on Moscow’s downtown Triumph Square, culminating in another 250 detained protesters. Protest rallies were also reported in other Russian cities on Tuesday, including St. Petersburg, the Volga center of Camara and the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. Nonetheless, there are still more public officers than demonstrators on the streets of Moscow. According to released official figures, more than 50,000 security forces were deployed on Tuesday alone. Compared to only a few thousand protesters who have been demonstrating in Moscow since the beginning of the week, the suppression of Russia and its “managed democracy” is evident.
“If 100 of you show up, then we’ll beat you up. If there are 1,000 of you, then we’ll use tear gas. If 10,000 people march in the streets, then we’ll stand and watch you. But when 100,000 people show up, then we’ll join you.” – Russian Police Officer
Among the chaos of the protests and the brutality of security forces, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet Premiere, has voiced public condemnation of Putin’s use of force and has supported the calls that Russia’s parliamentary elections were marred by fraud, calling for a re-run. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) announced the results of an international elections observation mission following the reports of governmental manipulation. The OSCE and PACE monitors verified that the polls on Sunday were slanted in favor of United Russia, noting apparent manipulation, such as the stuffing of ballot boxes.
Furthermore, the evidence of manipulation has warranted prevalent condemnation internationally, most vocal being from the Human Rights Watch and the US. Notoriously, Stalin’s reign as premier illustrated the suppression and nationalization of all media assets, as well as censoring and eliding any published reports. Many pictures of officials shunned or purged by Stalin were edited, efficiently deleting the man from history. So saying, the recent election scandal has also highlighted continued censorship and media harassment. Golos, Russia’s main independent election monitoring group, was targeted by authorities. On December 4th, Golos’ website crashed, as well as several independent media outlets that published information about election-related violations. The email account of Lydia Shibanova, Golos’ director, and her deputy, were also hacked and still remain blocked.
“I think Russia’s leaders can only take one decision – annul the results of the election and hold a new one. Literally by the day, the numbers of Russians who do not believe that the declared election results were honest in increasing. In my opinion, disregard for public opinion is discrediting the authorities and destabilizing the situation.” – Mikhail Gorbachev, Former USSR Premiere
Despite the fervent animosity behind the protests, being redirected towards an anti-Putin message, the ability for Tuesday’s planned demonstrations to be silence does not bode well, questioning whether the fledgling protest movement can maintain its momentum. Doubtlessly, the instability does not provide grounds for speculation of a Russia revolution like that in late 2004, as the Russian establishment is too strong and too powerful, but a new generation has emerged and the newly emerged middle class in Russia cities is no longer satisfied with the political situation. There is a large silent majority in Russia that has grown restless and tired but this majority, as the name implies, silent. There is still only a few hundred people taking to the streets in various cities, only accumulating to a few thousand in total. The Kremlin will attempt to use pressure to keep the demonstration silent and unbeknownst to others, and so far it has been effective. A real threat must be presented to Putin and United Russia, the grievances must be heard and the voices must be loud.