The Bear Awakens: The Russian People's Movement

Harvard International Review, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

The Bear Awakens: The Russian People's Movement


Since Vladimir Putin became president in the beginning of 2000, the Russian Federation has been only a shadow of a democracy. It certainly resembles one on the outside, with parliamentary and presidential elections and a constitution set to protect civil liberties. Yet Russia today is truly more of an authoritariandemocratic hybrid. The regime is far less liberal than the Western nations it claims to want to keep up with. While it is no longer economically backward, the abuse of political power that defines its domestic politics is certainly below the expectations of modern governance. Russian politicians have often been compared to gangsters, crooks, and thieves due to their habitual overreaching of their authority. No government of the people, by the people, and for the people exists in the largest geographic country in the world. For almost a decade, the people of Russia have permitted the violation of their rights. Now, however, the people of Russia are refusing to sit back and allow the political manipulation to continue. They want the democracy they were promised and they are finally beginning to fight for it.

The Putinera government had long enjoyed popular support, but the people of 2012 are exhibiting their distaste for its characteristic rule bending and corruption. This desire for change has culminated in protests in the streets and online, such as those seen in response to the December 2011 parliamentary election. Many of the protestors hope to see a more liberal Russia - one that champions individual rights over those of the collective - and are speaking up.

Russia is a relatively wealthy and developed nation, but its middle class, relative to its Western peers, is underdeveloped in civil society and political involvement. Many political scientists have pointed out the importance of a strong middle class in bringing about revolutionary change. In Russia, it seems that perhaps it is the focus of the middle class that has kept change from happening. In the past, these citizens, on whom change is so dependent, have been more preoccupied with developing affluence than democracy. Yet recent protests and uprisings provide hope that this can change, and these recent displays of discontent may well be the beginning of a reversal of values. When political change becomes a middle class priority, the middle class begins to fight for its realization. In Russia today, the middle class and the Russian people as a whole are beginning to fight.

Social media (including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs) has proven to be a strong catalyst for the Russian people's movement, just as it was in Egypt and other recent revolutions. …

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