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Challenge To Putin In Russia

  • December 28th, 2011
  • Posted by 7thmin

russia-protest-navalnry.jpgStreet protests in Russia for better standards of democracy have continued to spread to more places in the country and to grow, one Moscow crowd estimate getting up to 100 000.

A prime resource for the movement is that they can focus on a single, high-profile target, the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as he campaigns for election as President on 4.3.12.

HEGEMONY OF POWER

Mr Putin, 59, was President for eight years from 2000, standing down under a constitutional rule limiting Presidents to two terms, but serving then under his lieutenant and ally, Dmitry Medvedev.

The two enjoyed an hegemony of power, trading on some good years for the country’s export trade in commodities, and a reputation for restoring “stability” after the chaos and humiliations of the immediate post-communist era.

One golden outcome – after nearly 18 years of negotiations – was the decision on 17.12.11 by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to let Russia in, giving it both access to liberalised, general conditions for external trade, and a boost in status among nations. (*)

MOVEMENT IN THE STREETS

russia-arrest-2011-navalnry.jpgHowever the political hegemony at home is now being challenged by the street movement, with its backbone of mostly educated middle-class citizens wanting civic freedoms and justice.

The movement has gathered strength since this month’s parliamentary elections, 4.12.11, which saw  the governing alliance, built around Putin’s United Russia party, take very heavy losses in votes and seats.

It says the government are crooks, who interfered with the voting, and it’s demanding an open investigation.

RESENTMENTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

The elections have brought to a head bitter resentment over the suppression of rights in Russia, in the style, if not the full criminal force of Soviet regimes past: the gaoling of opponents of the government in power, closure or muting of opposition media, and murders of journalists.

anna-politkovskaya21.jpg(Of the latter, the most famous case of Anna Politkovskaya, picture, shot dead in her apartment building in 2006, eventually saw some underworld characters arrested – few observers satisfied that the full story is being told. See EUAustralia, “Charges laid against Politkovskaya accused”, 8.6.11).

COMMON SENSE AND CONCESSIONS

In the elections, the government still got half the votes, and Mr Putin has been proposing common sense answers to talk that he is getting on the nose in the electorate; pointing out for instance that incumbent parties can expect to take losses.

He has been refusing to meet leaders of the protest movement, accusing them of being put up to opposing him by Western interests.

“The elections are over … The state Duma is working”, he told an interviewer this week.

His party has nevertheless tried its hand at making concessions.

It has offered promises that the presidential elections will be fair, and adjustments to the electoral processes to enable more groups to put forward candidates; concessions called not enough by the new opposition.

Among other concessions being tried, Vladislav Surkov, the high-flying government political agent, was moved from his job, declaring, “I am too notorious for the brave new world.”

NEW NAMES

Things have opened up enough in Russia that names other than those of the top-dogs in government have to be considered in the news.

The name of Sergei Udaltsov, and his gaoling as an opposition leader, became the catalyst for the protests this week.

The search is on for a unifying opposition candidate; various names being brought forward, or prospective candidates naming themselves.

The precious metals oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov, 46, held to be worth US$18-billion ($A23.13-billion; xe.com, 28.12.11), says he will nominate as an independent, though  boundless money would seem to be never  enough to win support in a land where billionaires are seen as looters, who stripped off state assets when the Soviet system failed.

navalny.JPGLeaders of the protest movement are being mentioned, among them Alexei Navalny (picture), 34, a lawyer who’s become celebrated through his political web log; see http://navalny.livejournal.com [.]

Images from his “live journal” are being used with this despatch: his portrait, protest scene, and an arrest.

WINNING OVER PLAIN FOLKS

Not accustomed to effectual public opposition, the Putin formation will be working hard on the task of winning over plain folks who vote, and who may be less interested in listening than ever in the past.

If people these days feel that a stable life can be taken a little more for granted, could Vladimir Putin’s past, as an officer of KGB security, yet come to be used against him?

The security service of his time, in the 1980s, was one institution that held together and remained confident and functional, as the system around it collapsed.

Yet as the direct inheritor of an agency of terror, it would be always pitted against the kind of human spirit and democratic sentiment being invoked in the protests of the present time.

solzhenitsyn-book.jpgAn earlier dissident, the formidable writer and patriot Alexander Solzhenitsyn, often mused, about what if, under Stalin, plain folks could have stood up; as in this fragment, early in his novel the Gulag Archipelago:

“What would things have been like if … during periods of mass arrests … people had not simply sat in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang on the downstairs door and every step on the staircase, but had understood if they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people?”

Could it be the people in the streets as yet might be thinking in terms of ambush?

Reference     

(*) World Trade Organisation, Geneva, “Ministerial Conference approves Russia’s WTO membership”, 16.12.11. “Today, on 16 December 2011, Russia cleared the final hurdle to become a WTO member. WTO Ministers adopted Russia’s WTO terms of entry at the 8th Ministerial Conference in Geneva. Russia will have to ratify the deal within the next 220 days and would become a fully-fledged WTO member 30 days after it notifies the ratification to the WTO … ” http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news11_e/acc_rus_16dec11_e.htm, (29.12.11).
Guy Faulconbridge, “Putin ejects Kremlin ‘puppet master’ after protests”, Reuters, London, 27.12.11. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/12/27/uk-russia-surkov-idUKTRE7BQ15A20111227, (28.12.11).

Simon Shuster , “The Crisis in Russia: A Billionaire to the Rescue … of Whom?”, Time, NY, 12.12.11. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2102150,00.html#ixzz1hmo1LkFT, (28.12.11).

Alexei Navalny, “Live Journal”, Moscow,  http://navalny.livejournal.com/, (28.12.11).

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