Russia’s parliamentary elections on 4th December saw the ruling party, United Russia, gaining almost 50% of the votes amid allegations of widespread electoral fraud. Political demonstrations for fair elections took place almost immediately, for the first time attracting a significant number of young people.
Videos of vote falsifications and eye witness accounts spread quickly through social networks and up to 10 thousand people began protests in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg on 5th December. Surprisingly, people in their twenties played an important role in these demonstrations. The generation that came of age during Vladimir Putin’s reign has been known for its political apathy, but students formed the majority of protesters in St. Petersburg. Hundreds of people were detained by the police that evening. For many students, their first involvement in any political action resulted in a night spent in jail.
People took to the streets mostly because of government’s audacious lies.Kirill ArtemenkoRussian journalist
The first protests and subsequent trials of some opposition leaders were completely ignored by the state-controlled TV bringing even more attention to the internet media. It has been said that lectures in some Russian universities were disrupted because everyone- including the lecturer- were reading the Twitter feed covering the trials. Foreign media saw an obvious resemblance to the Arab Spring, while Russian commentators drew parallels with the Decemberist Revolt of 1825 and compared politically motivated trials to those from works of Franz Kafka.
I spoke to Kirill Artemenko, a journalism student at St. Petersburg State University, who was briefly detained by the police while covering the events for a student news website. He said: “People took to the streets mostly because of government’s audacious lies. The vote fraud was just a catalyst”. Kirill believes the young generation wants to live in a just society and is not afraid of the authorities. He emphasises that arrests have not discouraged people from voicing their dissent even when they are aware of the risks.
University of Southampton alumnus Mikhail Grishchenko told me he was surprised to see such an active response to elections results and it made him proud of his country. “The civil society had finally won and people felt responsible for what they did” he said. Mikhail hopes the protests will remind the government it must listen its 140 million citizens. He also sees this as a chance for the opposition to show strength, decisiveness and leadership – something they lacked in the past.
The demonstrations have continued and culminated in tens of thousands of people protesting across Russia on Saturday, 10th December. The protest in Moscow attracted approximately 70 thousand people forcing both the government and the state-controlled media to acknowledge the dissent. President Medvedev has even posted a Facebook update saying all cases of alleged electoral fraud will be investigated. The opposition, however, demands that new free and fair elections are held and promises even larger demonstrations in two weeks time.
Photo courtesy of a civil journalism agency Ridus.ru