Russia is one of the world’s biggest powers, but also a mystery. Politically, Russia has been all over the place recently. From the whole oil and power situation in Venezuela in the past year, to the lack of medical funding and health care recently, to the ever-lowering approval rate of Vladimir Putin. Politically, Russia is an authoritarian regime and has been for a very long time. During the 21st century, power has mostly been maintained by Putin, and something has always been fishy in Russia. Earlier this year, a Gallup poll was released, where among 20,000 people asked, 1 in 5 Russian citizens are eager to completely leave the country.
Normally, it’s rare to see uprising in Russia, where there is a strong censorship of speech, especially online. However, recently we have seen a rather large movement by the people against the dictatorial means that have been used by the government. Normally, uprisings and protests are repressed by the leaders. Usually, in an authoritarian regime, the leader is legitimized in one of two ways. Either, the leader improves the economy and the state thrives, which legitimizes the leader. If the leader can’t improve the economy, one way to legitimize their rule is to increase the cost it would take people to oppose you. If repression fails, then clientelism is another option, which is basically resources for loyalty (bribery). Putin has definitely resorted more towards repression and clientelism during his rule. He is a strong proponent of using the police to do his dirty work. Where healthy states have plenty of political competition, Russia has almost none. Instead, political candidates that Putin thinks oppose him have been arrested. Almost 2,000 candidates have been arrested under his rule.
However, People have seemed to have had enough. Russian citizens are claiming that Russia is a fake democracy. So much so, in fact, that there have been four weeks of protests in Moscow in the past month. The people want free elections and are voicing their opinions through current protest bans. The main complaint is to finally have real opposition candidates in the elections. As I mentioned, many opposition candidates have been arrested or dropped from the races. Even the city councils are filled with Putin’s puppets, micromanaging every issue that comes down on every level. People are not only wishing for the allowance of opposition candidates, but also the release of their fellow activists, as many have also been arrested. Unfortunately, the Kremlin has not really paid any mind to these protests, labelling them as insignificant. Not only did they pay no mind to the protests, but they also ordered heavy police response to protests, which matches the pattern of unpopular authoritarian leaders. The protests have obviously had little effect, which is very unfortunate for the citizens, because fewer and fewer people are showing up to these protests. Where tens of thousands has now turned into just a few thousand. However, it seemed the police are losing interest as well. A few weeks ago, August 31st, right before the vote, there was small protest and police showed no interest in stopping protesters apart from talking through loudspeakers telling them to disperse.
More recent protests from the past few days have yielded different results. In Moscow, two days ago, there was another protest, and over 1000 people were detained. Videos from the event show the police being pretty brutal towards activists. This time, beating and arresting people rather than being just vocal. This time, post-election, people were protesting because of the statistics that were discovered from the end-of-August election where Putin won in a very lopsided victory. One of Putin’s spokespeople defended the actions of Moscow law enforcement, saying that it was appropriate response. Also adding that, in other parts of the world, protesters would be shot in the head for such actions.
So, Russia has long been a world power as an authoritarian state, but people want change. Maybe the reason for the request is because of actions Putin has taken during his era of rule. Regardless, more and more Russian citizens are in demand more a more democratic Russia. But, the supply of demand is little to none. Although there is participation in elections, there is no political competition. Elections are simply a ruse to fool people into thinking they have a choice in leadership. But, I hope recent and future efforts by Russian citizens, despite repression from the government, yield success soon. Putin’s term ends in 2020, and maybe his leave of office can open the door for real change.
“Russia Is a Fake Democracy, Claims Activist, Ahead of Planned Protests.” Euronews, 13 Aug. 2019, https://www.euronews.com/2019/08/09/russia-is-a-fake-democracy-claims-activist-ahead-of-planned-protests.
“Russians Demand Free Elections in Moscow, Defying Protest Ban.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 31 Aug. 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-politics-protests/russians-demand-free-elections-in-moscow-defying-protest-ban-idUSKCN1VL0DQ.
Dodge, Blake. “Putin Spokesman Says Jailed Russian Protesters Would Be ‘Shot in the Head’ in America.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 24 Sept. 2019, https://www.newsweek.com/putin-spokesman-says-unlike-us-protesters-dont-get-shot-head-russia-1461056.