On Sunday, March 26, tens of thousands of people came out onto the streets of almost 100 Russian cities, from urban Moscow to the far-east Vladivostok, to protest against corruption. The protests were inspired by an investigation by opposition, anti-corruption leader Alexei Navalny into the real estate assets of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his friends inside and outside Russia.
As was noted by both Russian and Western media, protests of this scale have not been seen since 2011, when hundreds of thousands of people protested in Moscow and St Petersburg against electoral fraud.
The government responded harshly to the March 26 demonstrations, indiscriminately detaining protesters, including several well-known journalists, Navalny’s colleagues, and even passers-by. More than a thousand people were arrested.
“This random brutality, however, wasn’t the key thing about an event that is unprecedented in Putin’s Russia,” Yevgenia Albats wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post. A prominent journalist and editor-in-chief of the independent weekly magazine the New Times, Albats is one of the most vocal critics of President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Albats described the protests as a “remarkable development” and “a cause for hope.” According to her, the protests were unprecedented because of the people who participated in them:
What we are seeing now is that young people born after the end of the Soviet Union have reached an age when they want to influence politics in the country. They’re less concerned about prices than they are about the fact that in Russia there is a total absence of any opportunity for social mobility. If you don’t belong to the clan that has developed out of the KGB, then you have only the slimmest of chances of making a career for yourself or running your own business. It’s not just incredibly difficult, it’s also dangerous. The prisons and penal camps are packed with tens of thousands of businesspeople who have ended up behind bars simply because their businesses were successful and caught the eye of the secret police or some other state organization.
It was precisely this post-Soviet generation that came out into the streets all across the country on Sunday. And suddenly it became clear that Putin does not have 86 percent support, as the court pollsters would have us believe. A generation that never knew the brutal restrictions of the Soviet authorities is now declaring its right to take part in politics.
Read Albats’ full article here.