On December 4, 2001 the Russians voted in the State Duma election.
The outcome of the election and the subsequent protests in several Russian cities have inflamed the media on many meridians. Almost all comments on the Russian legislative election have featured quite incendiary headlines in the international media. The demonstrations in Russia were put in parallel with the developments in the ‘Arab spring’ or the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement in the US.
It has been alleged that the election of the State Duma had been evidently fixed, had not taken place in a free context and according to democratic norms and, more than that, in the initial phase (about 1,000 arrests have been mentioned), the authorities had taken reprisals against the protestors taking to the streets in major cities and particularly in Moscow.
United Russia, the party that supports the sitting premier and the candidate for a new presidential term (the third) in March next year, Vladimir Putin, obtained between 49 and 50 per cent of the votes cast (apart from the 19 per cent gathered by the Communists and 12 per cent going to other parties close to the power), losing therefore roughly 15 per cent of the votes it had presumed to get. Analyses have shown that, should results have not been defrauded, the ruling party in Russia would have actually lost one third of the total number of cast votes (just over 30-35 per cent instead of 49-50 per cent).
Protests started almost instantly. For the first time a few tens of thousands (30,000 Police said, over 100,000 according to organisers) gathered in a protest rally in Moscow on December 10, setting a record since the dramatic years of the last decade of the previous century. It would not be redundant to remind that protests were held in over 60 Russian cities simultaneously with the big rally in Moscow was, which prompted President Medvedev to post a promise on his Facebook page the next day that he would order an election fraud probe. It only shows the authorities take the scale of demonstrations very seriously and try to generate a consistent answer.
A common point of all mentioned analyses with which we have to agree is that the power in Russia, impersonated by the Putin – Medvedev tandem, is faced with an unprecedented challenge, that new social forces having become aware of their importance and civil rights, have engaged in an energetic assertion of those, that the new communication technologies show a completely different Russia than a few years back. Different in that the power, manifesting itself through the abovementioned political tandem has given the society stability – founded on a torrent of petrodollars, giving the illusion of prosperity – now needs to realise that this unwritten social pact has ceased to operate. And that anticipates a period of uncertainty inside political Russia.
First of all, this can be put in parallel to this year’s developments in the Arab space, where the authoritarian leadership of rulers seemingly eternal in power had no option but to give in to the peaceful protests of crows gathered in the squares of major cities thanks to the new communication technologies such as Twitter or Facebook. It is true that Russia today counts a rough total of 60 million internet users, the blogosphere being already a competitor for official media trying to inform on the social and political realities in the country. Apart from this obvious reality in the 2.0 society, there is also another one – the coagulation of a promising beginning of a civil society – organisations that express the will of the citizens themselves organised to face authorities’ abuses. There is also a still insufficiently robust middle class, who so far has preferred to withdraw from the public life, now seems to be willing to take its due place and the position expressed by the massive protest against the electoral fraud is seen as one first signal of such will.
Undoubtedly, the analyses on the protests against the results of the State Duma election on December 4 are going to multiply and more protests will definitely take place (rallies have been already announced in two weeks’ time), giving new ammunition to such analyses.
But what is to be retained from this whole evolution of the political situation in Russia after the latest election? In our opinion, we have seen the first harassment announcing the big clash on the occasion of the March 2012 presidential election, when Vladimir Putin is to go before the Russian electorate asking for a new term. The front line have been laid down, the opposition is effervescent and has already occupied the blogosphere, expanding its capacity of using new mass communication means, announcing new rallies. On the other side, the power is carefully devising its counter-offensive strategy.