Protest in Russia: Building Up the Castle Wall
IN the weeks and months after Vladimir Putin’s victory on March 4th for a new term as Russian president, the Kremlin appeared unsure about exactly how to deal with a protest movement that it had assumed would disappear on its own after the election. The signs were contradictory: tentative hints at a more conciliatory policy were followed by signs of looming crackdown, and vice versa. One day wearing a white ribbon in the street or eating breakfast in front of the wrong café was enough to get arrested; another day tens of thousands of people were able to walk along Moscow’s central boulevards unimpeded by police.
Then came the events of recent days, when a coherent strategy on the part of the authorities for snuffing out the resilient opposition movement—or at least that part embodied by large-scale street demonstrations—appeared at last to settle into view. The Duma Russia’s parliament, passed a new bill raising fines for participating in unsanctioned protests to $9,000, almost as much as the average annual Russian salary. Organisers could face fines of up to $30,000. Mr Putin signed it into law on June 8th arguing that society must “protect itself from radicalism.”
In the morning of June 12th, officers from the country’s Investigative Committee raided the apartments of opposition leaders, supposedly looking for evidence in connection with a criminal case related to the violence between police and protestors that broke out at the last big opposition rally on May 6th. Men with black balaclavas and Kalashnikovs stood guard while investigators rummaged through family photo albums and stacks of political leaflets. After all his mobile phones and computers were seized, Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and opposition leader, joked that he felt like he was back “in the twentieth century.”