Russian Protesters Hear Pragmatic New Message
Anti-government protests made a sharp turn Saturday, as younger faces took the stage with a new message and thousands rallied to show they have the stomach for a long fight ahead.
The message was less rousing and more practical than in earlier demonstrations. With fewer chants of “Russia without Putin” and more calls for individual action, protest leaders began pointing toward the direction ahead and reflecting on the difficulty of change as they seek new leaders and to build institutions.
Their challenge is clear: Last Sunday, Vladimir Putin won a six-year term as president with nearly 64 percent of the vote. Critics attributed that as much to efforts to prevent competitive candidates from running for office as to voting irregularities. The protesters know they first have to force their authoritarian system to allow fair competition in elections. Only then can they get choice on the ballot.
“Beginning Monday, no matter what, let’s start building a civil society,” said Vadim Korovin, who was arrested Feb. 29 as he took tents out of his car to give to would-be protesters. “Like you, I don’t know how we’ll do it, but we need a society that’s free and fair.”
Maxim Katz was elected as an independent last Sunday, along with a few dozen other young Muscovites, to neighborhood groups that offer advice to the city council and that have been dominated by Putin’s ruling United Russia party. Everyone had told him it was ridiculous to consider a run for office, even a minor one, he said. Now he has taken a first step into politics, however small.
“All of our lives people have been telling us it’s useless, useless, useless,” said Katz, long-haired and 27. “The fix is in. Parents, friends, grandmothers, grandfathers — all told us that. But just go and do what you believe should be done. You will succeed.”
The crowd shouted approvingly: “Katz for president!”