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Anti-Putin movement marks end of an era

Russia’s street protest movement, which has shaken not only the Kremlin’s autocrats but global financial markets, is the largest for two decades, and is the end of an era.

The pro-capitalist triumphalism of the early 1990s has turned into disenchantment, not just with the sham democracy which voters experienced earlier this month, but with the corruption of a mafia-style capitalism.

The demands for a fair election are part of a much bigger movement of discontent which is sweeping Russia under conditions of the global economic crisis.

On Saturday, up to 100,000 Russians from Vladivostok in the east, to Moscow and St Petersburg, right through to central London, demonstrated against the rigged parliamentary elections.

A map on Spandex, Russia’s largest search engine, showed the protests scheduled for Saturday in around 100 cities around the country, with links to details for each event on a Russian social networking site.

Placards denounced "False elections, false laws, false authorities” and protesters shouted “rogues and thieves give us back our elections”, and called for a “Russia without Putin”. Up to 50,000 came to a rally held on an island in Moscow.

Their five-point demands are:

The demonstrators defied pre-emptive strikes by the regime, which saw the arrest last week of opposition leaders like blogger Alexei Navalny, Solidarnost leader Ilya Nashin, Eduard Limonov of the unregistered Other Russia party and Oleg Orlov of the Memorial human rights group. In Ulyanovsk, Lenin’s birthplace, all the protest leaders were arrested, but the protests went ahead nonetheless.

Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks by Putin’s “cyber-warriors” also focused on preventing Russia’s 51 million internet users from accessing anti-regime media websites.

President Medvedev has announced an inquiry into voting procedures on his Facebook page, while rejecting a re-run of the election, the central demand of the protests. He was met with an immediate and often mocking response by people saying they did not believe him.

The protests are the largest since the turmoil in August 1990 when thousands took to the streets of Moscow to thwart a putsch aimed at removing the then leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Since replacing Boris Yeltsin, ex-KGB chief Vladimir Putin has reversed the democratic gains promoted by Gorbachev to enable an oligarchy to establish capitalism in Russia. When Putin was barred from standing for election for a third term in 2008, he was appointed as prime minister. He insists he will run for president again in March.

From a massive majority in earlier elections, support for Putin and his United Russia party has fallen to an all-time low, especially as the global economy has swung into a downturn. On Friday, shares in Russian companies saw massive drops as investors fear continuing political instability, as well as lower demands for oil.

One school of thought claims the Russian democratic movement is funded and inspired from Washington, pointing to financial backing from the National Endowment for Democracy for bloggers like Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov’s People’s Freedom Party and the election watchdog Golos.

But to denounce those angry with the Russian political system as pawns of the West is ludicrous and insulting. As one demonstrator said: “I don't think any citizen of the country can say he is very happy with anything. We don't have an independent judiciary, there is no freedom of expression – all this combined creates a situation where people are forced to protest.”

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
12 December 2011

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