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Russian opposition: experiment failed?

Russian opposition: experiment failed?

A protester is arrested by police in Moscow on Dec. 15, 2012. A year after record crowds protested fraudulent elections, Vladimir Putin remains entrenched in power and has cracked down on dissidents. Photo: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

If a small number of people gather to protest a government that doesn’t listen, do they make a sound? Such is the dilemma facing the dwindling size of the anti-establishment movement in Russia, which I wrote about back in April.

This month (December 2012) marks the one year anniversary of when hordes of protesters filled the streets of Moscow to protest fraudulent elections and crackdowns on dissidence. A record number of Russians spoke out, made their dissatisfaction known. There was hope for real change, hope for evidence that democracy had finally taken hold in the former bastion of communism. Maybe the people would finally get the fair and open elections expected of a democratic Russia.

Yet, a year after the movement began, as many expected (and feared) very little has changed. Vladimir Putin was elected again this year, amid cries of impropriety. He appears more entrenched in power than ever, showing just enough evidence of democracy to let the people think they have a say. Putin has also put in place harsher punishments for protesters, and jailed or otherwise silenced key opposition figures. While some citizens risked heavy fines (of up to $9,000 for attending an illegal gathering; average annual income in Russia is just over $20,000) and cold weather to mark the anniversary of 2011’s election outcry, they were a modicum of the original crowd’s size.

What’s a populace to do when the government doesn’t seem to want democracy (or only wants it when it benefits them) and dissent is stifled? It is a great challenge to be sure. Which is why Russians could use some help in facing it. Outside pressure should be put on the Russian government to demand fair elections and allow expressions of opposition. Protests can be organized or otherwise supported (financially, in promotion) by various people or groups around the world. Recall the importance of those outside of Egypt in spreading the word about, and support for, the opposition movement there.

So change is still possible, despite the seemingly long odds. With some support and resolve, momentum will hopefully build again for demanding true democracy in Russia.



Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”